Change management

Daniel Defoe should have added public sector change programmes, when he said the only certainties are death and taxes. Whether it’s a simple re-structure, the latest service model, or culture and organisational development, we all have first hand experience of change. Most of us, many times.

We should be experts, so where does it go wrong? In business, 70% of change programmes fail to deliver the benefits envisaged at the start. In my experience there are two themes to these failed programmes, first change management is the last thing we think about, an add-on rather than built into the strategy. And second, services and children’s outcomes are really complicated so during the life of a programme the goals, environment and methods are going to shift.

This is where the idea of dynamic change management is a practical improvement on the ordinary Kotter, Kubler-Ross and Deming models. For example, dynamic change management helps us understand the route envisaged will not be the one followed (it will look squiggly, and feel like navigating a mountain). When people get involved with your programme, they will react emotionally and force you to modify the aims (emotions may go up and down… and up and down). And what looked like a technical problem turns out to be complex, with feedback loops and opposing priorities (your plate spinning skills will be tested).

One of the projects I worked on was a large children’s services transformation where we needed to change quickly, but also bring the many staff and partners with us. Initial efforts to involve people in the change were met with resistance and staff who were not bought into the change. We set up stakeholder groups and gave them genuine ownership of the changes – testing out commissioning questions in the mixed groups. We also set a clear vision and included emotional messages – partly to recognise the personal change that staff experience – but also to show the potential benefit for children and families’ outcomes.

The actions we took were based on a diagnosis using the DfE Change Jigsaw. This tool from the Department for Education, helps to design the core change activities in advance, and then identify what is going wrong and how to fix it. The Change Jigsaw has nine pieces – all of them essential to a successful change at any scale. You can use the green text to plan any size of change programme, and then the redtext to diagnose what’s gone wrong.

So next time you find yourself in a challenging change programme, or even washed up on a beach with Robinson Crusoe and wondering how to win-over the locals. Remember there are some tools out there to help, and that we are all experts.

  1. Burning platform – What is the compelling reason to change? This term comes from the oil industry meaning: change or die. People will go to extraordinary lengths if they believe in change. But don’t assume that because you feel the burn, that others do too.
  2. Vision – A compelling vision is even more important in complex systems. Sometimes a vision is the only way to set a route map for the many different agencies, services, staff, communities and families where more traditional methods will fail. Visualise the impact of change on daily behaviour and make it personal: How will it feel for each stakeholder? What are the benefits? Sell your dream for change.
  3. Leadership – It’s essential to have visible and adaptable leadership to incentivise support. Leadership cannot be centralised in a complex system, so change plans must identify and coach leaders at all levels (e.g. partners, politicians, frontline staff, user groups).
  4. Capacity and capability – Without time, finance and the skills to effect change the programme will falter, leading to frustrated, de-motivated and stressed stakeholders who will be wary of future initiatives. Change programmes need to be practically planned and activities prioritised within available resources.
  5. Communicate and engage – There is a rule that to effect change we should communicate ten times more than you think you need to. Keep repeating the same messages using different channels. Always seek regular feedback from practitioners, partners, families, etc, and be seen to act on feedback.
  6. Ownership at all levels – Ownership by key stakeholders is essential to find innovative or efficient ways to design the new system. Disseminated ownership is key to riding the dynamic shifting and moving in a system, learning quickly and embedding change.
  7. Quick wins – Often change programmes get bogged down by over-planning and little action. Successful change will find quick and visible deliverables to make change real to staff and communities. Quick wins can be used to get buy-in, communicate the messages, or destabilise the status-quo.
  8. Personal impact – A change programme based on rational thinking is only part of the answer. We need to appeal to and manage self-interest and emotional responses to change. Try to understand personal fears and goals, using emotional arguments such as the impact of a successful change on children’s lives.
  9. Embed change so it’s business as usual – Too often we think we have implemented a change programme and stop, only to find people returning to their old ways of working. Stick your finger in a blamange and then pull it out – the pudding will return to its old state. So don’t let up!

First published in CYPNow: