Consequence management for better process change

Jeff Cole

Jumping man

Ever wonder why some changes go smoothly and others hit roadblocks? Sure, the list is lengthy, but one thing aspect many organizations face is a failure to manage the consequences surrounding adoption of a new or updated process. It’s often better to proactively manage a risk than to roll the dice and hope for the best. The concept is simple – it’s just a matter of putting it in place.

The bottom line is people in your audience will need to stop doing things the old way and start doing them the new way. Like many things in life, these audiences often follow a normal distribution or bell- shaped curve. Some small portion will be early adopters – they love the change and will be first to adopt it.   A big chunk in the middle will wait and see if they need to do the change – they’ll come around but it may take a bit. And there is often a small portion of people who will hate the change. They think the change is lousy, they hate you and they’ll work as hard as they can to do things the old way – you probably know who these guys are in your organization. So, what do we do with this information?

Nothing breeds excitement like success

Success builds momentum and by leveraging your early adopters you can create that in your organization. Reward the heck out of early adoption and feature them in your communications. Marketers have been doing this for over a century. Say you want to sell your new exercise program – by putting a couple thousand people through it you will find a few that are super-responders, many that get ok results and a few that actually get worse. Which group do you think will be featured front and center in the marketing [along with the fine print that your results may vary]? Think about ways to get your early successes featured to help draw out the “wait and see” group. What positive consequences can you implement that will reward those who get on board with the change quickly?

Dealing with non-adopters

The part some managers don’t enjoy dealing with is enforcing negative consequences for those that don’t adopt the new process. You can escalate up a scale of intervention when it comes to this ranging from “hands-off” to very invasive techniques.   

At the hands-off end of the spectrum, there are roll-out strategies that can be employed that make it extremely hard if not impossible to do things the old way.  By making “following the new process” the path of least resistance, you not only win over many of the wait-and-see crowd, but also some of the entrenched non-adopters. Principles of Lean and poka-yoke tell us a goal state is that there is only one way you can execute the process and that one way is the right way.    

Mid-way up the intervention spectrum is the notion of getting extra attention. If you have ways of monitoring the progress of process adoption, the metrics can point you toward those hot spots where non-adoption is occurring. Perhaps those individuals go on a “bad boy” list where they can enjoy receiving extra communications from leadership, or calls, visits, or invitations to meetings to discuss how adoption is going. Always important in our communications to have a feedback channel so those who are resisting can voice their concerns. By doing so they are doing us a favor – maybe we will uncover a potential risk or problem we never considered. Plus, we can address possibly faulty assumptions people are making.

More invasive efforts reside at the top of the spectrum. Ask, then tell, then threaten was a management sequence from the 90s. Things like building successful process adoption into one’s performance appraisal, making it a gateway requirement to receiving a bonus, one-on-one discussions, and so on are more 21st century approaches. “Seek first to understand before being understood” was one of Covey’s 7 Habits of Successful People. Before making any direct orders or invoking other negative consequences, it’s important that the people resisting your change feel that you listened and understood what they had to say. Do-it-or-you’re-fired is an option of last resort, although sadly, some pockets of management still like to lead with that approach.    

That said, proactively think through who your early adopters are and how you can reward and leverage them, how you can not only make it easy to do things the new way, but also hard to do it the old way or incorrectly, and what your spectrum of consequence options will be for those who are dragging their feet, hiding, or otherwise obstructing your positive progress.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I appear to be on my wife’s “bad boy” list regarding some evidently neglected home repairs. Wish me luck and happy change!