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Street Smarts for Change Management

Root Beer and Process Change

Contributor: Jeff Cole
Posted: 10/05/2016
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Root Beer

What does root beer have to do with driving successful process change?    A lot as it turns out!

When I was a kid, it was always a treat to go to the local A&W Root Beer drive-in for a frosty mug along with a hot dog. A&W started in the US and Canada in the early 1900’s and was named after founding partners Roy Allen and Frank Wright.     Originally you could only get the brew at their stands but in the 1970s it hit grocery stores (although nothing beats one fresh off the tap).  Their distinctive logo always makes me thirsty – a Pavlovean response I’m certain their marketing department is thrilled about.

So what?   In the world of process change A&W is also very important. Why?  If we were to decode why people aren’t following your instructions or requests, not engaging in your new process, are absent from meetings, (insert any other unwanted behaviors here…), etc, that diagnosis begins with two letters:  A & W.   Ability and Willingness.    If people aren’t doing what they should, it’s typically because they either (1) want to but are unable to  or (2)  are able to but not willing to.    

In the world of process change, ability issues sometimes are easier to address. These are issues involving getting people the knowledge, permissions, tools, access, etc. needed to follow your prescribed change.

Willingness issues often go undercover disguised as ability when you hear reasons such as “no time”, “spread too thin”  and “my plate is too full”. All those are code words for “I could do it, but have placed higher priority on doing something else”.      

Tips for Handling Ability Issues:     

  • Go through the process change yourself first to ensure every I is dotted and t crossed. If you can’t get through it, don’t expect them to!    
  • Pilot your new process with a variety of people first to understand what issues you may face in your full rollout.
  • Proactively check in with people during the rollout, asking them if they have everything they need and any suggestions for making it easier or more intuitive.

Tips for Handling Willingness Issues: 

  • Get people involved early on in designing the change so they feel a sense of ownership.
  • “Seek first to understand, then be understood” – do a lot of listening – understand their concerns and sincerely address them (vs. the steam roller approach).
  • People tend to do what their boss asks them to do -  cascade the request/requirement to follow the new process through the chain of management.     Make sure the management legitimizes the change.
  • Implement a monitoring system to understand if people are engaging – you can shut the monitoring off after it is running smoothly.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Now, if you’ll excuse me, all this writing has me thirsty for an ice cold root beer…   Happy change!

Contributor: Jeff Cole