Painting the Picture of Change

In my previous article I discussed outlining three simple, yet powerful steps to bring humanity back into the change equation. This article expands on the first of these concepts, Painting the Picture of Change.

Gather materials

I recently completed an engagement with a client that wished to reverse a low employee morale situation. I start such engagements with a review session with the sponsoring executives to determine their specific issues and needs. In this case, my sponsor wished to validate his assumptions that low morale existed, why it existed, and what to do about.

I scheduled focus group sessions with staff to understand their perspective. It soon became apparent that the employees believed they possessed great motivation toward their jobs and the organization. However, they felt that management (my client) caused the low morale. To the employees, management displayed this attitude through minimal to no group communication, no status update meetings, strong adherence to assigned roles, and limited recognition for creativity or extra effort. The employees felt powerless to make changes, which generated an employee malaise, viewed by management as low morale.

I observed the organizational interactions over time to validate this assessment. I also checked with colleagues who had similar engagements with other clients. These served to validate the findings.

I now had the core materials from which to craft recommendations and paint a change picture.

When considering a change announcement, start by gathering the materials required to paint the change picture. Tap into the “hard” data available within and outside the organization. This may include historical experience, current market trends, organizational performance, emerging technology, new laws or regulations, supplier adjustments, researched strategies, etc. Collectively these provide the grounding and rationale for change.

People outside your organization, including recognized industry or market experts, can be tapped to provide additional, unbiased information. Incorporate their data with that internally generated.

Also include your own personal thoughts and feelings. This “softer” information has just as much validity as any metric or factual data. It places your personal emotion and drive, your humanity, directly into the change picture.

Putting paint to paper

When it came time to actually craft my change recommendations, however, I struggled. I found that I had so much material to pull from, be it client supplied statistics, focus group notes, observation notes, external ideas, or personal thoughts. I had to determine what had the greatest relevance, which addressed the client’s concerns, and what provided the best leverage for change.

As I sorted through this material I found myself asking questions such as:

· What’s the key message I wish to convey?

· What’s really relevant?

· How should I present the material?

· How could I interest you, my sponsor?

Painting the organizational change picture requires similar considerations. Review your collected facts. Filter these by the questions I posed above. For example,

· What is the key message? Can you state it clearly? Can you make it concise without losing its meaning?

· Can you keep the key message focused on the one or two main ideas? What “clutters” the key message? Can this “clutter” be removed?

· Of the balance of the materials, what really matters? What must be shared? What can be set aside?

· How can this material be presented or displayed to emphasize the key message?

· Will the audience, your staff or other stakeholders, find the message interesting? Will they “get” it? Will they be able to use it?

The right angle

When consulting, I place myself into a role and view the engagement from that perspective. I then mentally change roles to see other angles. This provides me with a holistic picture of the client and their situation.

In this case, I had gotten “stuck” in the employee’s perspective, which created a concern that my findings and recommendations would receive a fate similar to that of an employee making an improvement suggestion. In short, I had lost sight of the engagement.

Once I realized my dilemma, I mentally shifted my focus. I shifted my “employee” perspective to that of an external agent needing to make potentially difficult findings visible to an unsuspecting client. By gaining that angle, my thoughts started to flow. Through this shift, I found that my message did not change, only the view of how I would present it.

You may also struggle painting the change picture; you may get “stuck” in a single perspective. If so, stand back and view it from different angles. Consider how the intended change will affect your product or service, your suppliers, your competition, your staff, internal work processes, technology, on-going project efforts, etc. Identify the elements common across all groups. Recognize that any of these may provide the proper angle from which to paint your change picture.

Determine the angle that best conveys the message. Apply those materials that make the greatest use of the key information and best resonates with the majority of the audience.

Preview showings

Once I had my recommendations ready, I removed all references to the client and asked trusted colleagues for their input. I’ve found that this small circle of advisors provide insights I hadn’t considered. Each sees the findings from their unique perspective, collectively adding richness to the recommendations. I build their insights into my work, recognizing that others may view the change picture in a similar way.

Preview your change picture with a small set of trusted individuals; solicit their honest feedback. Your preview group may ask questions about the intent of the change, the meaning of specific elements, the results you hope to realize. Their input will typically highlight areas you may have overlooked or downplayed that may be significant to your audience. You may choose to build these insights into the picture, or simply be prepared to address the potential remarks.

On display!

When presenting recommendations to a client I always take the time to double-check the facts I’ve compiled, the recommendations I’ve made and the presentation approach I intend to use.

In this case, I used a role-play / case-study presentation approach. I created a scenario in which my sponsor and his direct peers had to act out the management malaise perceived by the employees. This served to make the issues vibrant and real, and remain non-threatening.

We debriefed the client’s experiences. I provided my findings, supplementing their role-play experience. I asked for their suggestions on possible change, enabling them to self-address and “own” the issues. I added my recommendations to theirs, strengthening their thoughts. And, throughout, I kept the experience lively and fast paced, which added to the sense of urgency required to take action.

Likewise, take the time to double check your facts and figures, the key change message and the overall change picture. Correct any areas of potential confusion that could clutter the picture.

Anticipate how you’ll present your materials, and how your audience will receive it. Choose one or more methods that enable the audience to clearly understand, and perhaps directly experience, the issues in a non-threatening manner. The change picture should elicit strong feelings – yet avoid defensiveness.

Allow the audience to consider the actions they need to take to address the issues, supplemented by your recommendations. And remember that the more energy and passion you exhibit, the easier for them to match your enthusiasm and drive toward action.

About the Author

Alan Hirsch is a Certified Change Management Consultant and Registered Organizational Development Professional (RODP). He possesses over20 years experienceconsulting with and advising clients on technology driven change initiatives. He can be reached at

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Posted on 06/02/2009 by

Painting the Picture of Change author sourabhhajela



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