Which Way Success? Navigating Through Uncharted Changes

Jeff Cole

There are many ways to roll out a change. Which way works best for you? This month, columnist Jeff Cole takes us on a quick tour down several paths to faster change.

What is the best strategy for actually rolling out a process change? Trick question – there are multiple ways and you want to pick the best one for your situation. From a human perspective, process change can be confusing.

As the illustration below shows, you have a clear understanding of where you are today – your status quo. You may even have a solid vision of the desired state. But how you get there is ambiguous. There are many paths that get you to your destination, but that cloud is often filled with fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

It’s up to you as a change leader to carve a path through the confusion, and lead your organization to the desired state. That route however, may not be a direct path. Your organization’s culture, change readiness status, current levels of change saturation, competitive or strategic situation, personnel impacted, etc. can dictate one path over another.

How many "resting points" do you want along your path? Say you have a morbid fear of snakes (or flying, etc.) that you would like to conquer. Some psychologists employ a "desensitization" approach. Rather than go straight from a fear of snakes to having one curled around your arm, it may be better to build off of small moves in the right direction. For example: They may first get you comfortable being in a room with a picture of a cartoon snake – win #1. Next step, feeling ok being in a room with a big, fluffy stuffed toy snake – win #2 in the right direction. After that, perhaps being in a room with a photo of a real snake, etc. You get the picture. Ultimately you take several smaller steps toward the final destination of being around real snakes. Metaphorically, this is breaking your change into smaller bite-sized increments rather than trying to eat the whole elephant at once. Instead of one big leap that may crater your productivity, you might take smaller, non-threatening steps toward that final destination.

If a direct move from current to desired state will not work, consider synch-point planning. In "synch-point" planning you lay out a very detailed rollout but only up to a "synchronization" point – a rest stop on your change path where a milestone behavior or change element is secured. The journey beyond that synch-point is only generally laid out. Once you arrive at your synch-point you can evaluate your progress and current situation. You may then continue down your generally planned path or, based on your analysis, deviate toward a faster, better path. A next synch-point on the path is determined and your short-term journey to that destination is detailed out.

This phased approach is just one of several ways to address a change rollout. There is a "shotgun start" where every impacted organization starts full implementation at once down a pre-planned path. Rollouts can also be phased or sequenced geographically by location, function, or department. Split study experiments can be conducted where you try different process change rollout approaches in separate locations or organizations. Methods can be mixed and matched into hybrid approaches as well.

Since you are doing a process change, another facet to explore is shutting down the existing process in favor of the new process. Several ways to engage in that include the flash cut. For example: Starting at 10:30 a.m. Monday the old process will be shut down and the new process will start. Alternatively, you can run the processes in parallel for awhile, eventually shutting down the old process. Example: For the next week, any patient admitted will have their information entered into the old system AND the new system. Perhaps most invasive is the "shut down and outsource" solution. Turn off the old process and redirect all the incoming work to another location while the new process is brought to life. Once the new process is up and running, transition work back to the new process.

So, pick your options taking into consideration the criteria above. There is not always one best path. Determining the appropriate change path is kind of like the old joke: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" -- practice!