To improve the odds of being successful as a change manager in an organisational change project, you need to familiarise yourself with the people most affected by the change and their working environment. There are two primary reasons for doing this:
- Guiding people through a change is only possible by being respectful and emphatic towards them. Physically and mentally being in another person’s world, is also the perfect antidote against prejudice.
- Our environment tends to mould our behaviour. Without a sound understanding of this, you will not be able to assess the impact of the initiated change correctly.
From this perspective, I am a firm believer and advocate of ‘Gemba presence’. ‘Gemba’ is a Japanese term that means ‘the actual place’ and can be translated into business terms as ‘the place where value is created’, like the work or factory floor. You can be present at the ‘Gemba’ by doing a combination of the things below:
- Do your work as change manager amongst the people on the floor, if it is feasible. If you’re working on confidential topics or if you need to concentrate, you’ll have to find another place to work. However, visit the floor regularly nonetheless.
- Observe people during their day-to-day activities. Observe, don’t audit. Not in a secretive way as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but by disclosing the intent and getting their permission first. If possible, you can even sit next to them. You’ll be surprised how forthcoming and also thankful people are when somebody takes a genuine interest in their job.
- Hold actual individual interviews. These interviews will allow you to gather in-depth knowledge of each person. What are their personalities, what are their tasks, how do they feel in and about the team, how do they see the current situation, how might they react to the upcoming change, do they need additional training,…? In a short time, you’ll be able to gain trust, a better understanding, and the capability of tuning your communication to your public.
In any change project, you will encounter some resistance*; it’s even suspicious if there is none. For that reason, it is vital to be physically present on the ‘Gemba’, actively listening to the employees’ worries or fears so that you can correctly gauge the possible resistance and distil the cause of it. Find out what the impact of a measure will be before you implement it, or you might be in for some unpleasant surprises.
(*) This is why you should always proactively deal with resistance, something that got ingrained in my mind during the insightful, comprehensive ‘Master Class Changes’ by Kristien Manteleers. More on that later ;-).