change management

Reporting on activities vs problem statements & outcomes

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Recently I was invited to be part of a review meeting for some corporate initiatives. The team members made a presentation that had a list of activities they were doing, the status of those activities & the planned next steps. This presentation would later be made to the senior management as part of a larger change management initiative.

What I observed was that the complete focus of the presentation and the thought process was on “activities they were doing and not on why they were doing what they were doing“. Somehow the purpose of the activities they were doing, the problem statement on what they were trying to solve, what were the business benefits, what outcomes they were looking at, how would the next steps scale or be fed into organizational processes — in short the bigger picture was not at all there.

In my opinion; the aim of reporting, for any change management program initiative, should be to make the message viral and memorable. One of the key success criteria of reporting on change management initiatives should be to make the message reach the corridor & hallway conversations (in a +ve manner). This becomes more important if the presentation & reporting is for senior management who are crucial in propagating the message further.

So, ensure that the first slide of your reporting/presentation is about the bigger picture, problem statement, the why, business benefit, outcomes…. and only then state the activities you are doing for the above. That will make your audience get it — in a dumb proof way and the message can be propagated further without dilution.

If you are not doing that, then reporting (on just activities) is purely for the sake of reporting & all you will hear in the hallways would be: “yeah they seem to be doing something… but..

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What do you want? User adoption or compliance?

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I believe that successful KM initiatives & professionals pay a great deal of importance to the change management aspects. If, there is one place where “build it and they will come” doesn’t work, it is KM. After all, users are tuned to a way or working and majority of them would resist any kind of change. It’s a natural reaction and for various reasons a very tricky area to deal with.

Now to counter this tricky area of change management, KM initiatives/professionals rely on approaches which could be counter-productive to what their intentions are. Once such approach, that is commonly adopted is the “top down” mandated approach. On the surface of it, this looks simple, obvious, fast, scalable, logical and the most powerful approach that one can envision. What could be better than the top most management sending out a ‘memo’ asking people to do things a certain way.

I have seen this approach and have observed that this works best when you need ‘compliance’. Areas such as ‘time sheet entry’, ‘filing expenses’ etc are best suited for this approach. Anything transactional can be rolled out on a mass scale using this approach.

The issue arises when you try & roll out KM initiatives with this compliance driven/top-down method. Chances are that more often than not this will not yield the desired results and one can get in a vicious cycle of asking for more ‘top down compliance support’. This can frustrate the hell out of people who are leading these change management initiatives as they can’t fathom why on earth the seemingly obvious method of top down/compliance driven approach is not working.

We all know the results of a top down approach that mandates submission of 2 documents to the knowledge repository every quarter by each employee. On the last week of the quarter you will have a deluge of submissions and most of them would be not worth the bytes contained in them.

On the other hand, KM initiatives/professionals that rely on the adoption approach have greater chances of success. On the surface of it, the adoption approach looks to be an insurmountable obstacle but with patience & a long view of time this can be achieved. Adoption happens when people ‘buy into’ things and not because they are being ‘told to do so’.  Adoption happens because people see that things actually help them, appeal to them on an emotive/cognitive wavelength. Adoption happens when people, who we trust, tell us that it is good, they are using it & it makes sense. Adoption happens ‘through’ people… (We adopted facebook, twitter etc using these principles of adoption.)

The key to adoption approach also lies in finding the right set of people, who you will work with initially. They are going to be your evangelist and believe me they will be like customers who “tell 1 more person, at best, if they satisfied and will tell 100 people if they are not satisfied”.  Starting the process of adoption is slow and takes time. However the growth over time can be exponential and usually has a more stable foundation which is not only dependent on ‘top down’ directives. Adoption approach is akin to trying to move a heavy flywheel… lots of effort & commitment is required initially to even move the flywheel but as the revolutions go by the speed increases and over time the flywheel literally moves on an auto-pilot mode.

I have also observed that a combination of adoption (at a macro level) & top-down (at a micro level) also works in several circumstances. The key is in knowing which one to use when and for what. And that’s comes from experience & losing your hair over the years 🙂

Compliance is best achieved through systems & adoption is best achieved through people. So, if you need compliance of initiatives then build systems that monitor themselves for the compliance automatically. However; if you need adoption then be prepared for the long haul & work with people