Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.


Top 10 Project Initiation Questions – People Change Management

Are you launching a transformational project that demands cross-functional participation or adoption for success?

If your organization’s track record at such projects is less than stellar, or this is bigger than any other similar project the organization has undertaken, then you might want to consider how to improve engagement and commitment – traction.

People Change Management (PCM) describes the discipline of helping people change how they think about their work (in this application) and how they deliver.  It encompasses culture (at the macro level) as well as models, processes and tools (at the tactical level) for improving the evolution.  

How do you know if your organization is ready to benefit from these best practices?  These questions are directional and are intended to undercover expectations and readiness:

1.   How risky is the project(s)?  How complex?

  • Has the organization attempted this, or similar projects, before? How did they go: on time, on budget, on ROI?
  • Do people have to change the way they work? New technology, new processes, new standards?
  • How will you know if the organization meets the initiative objectives? Do you have success metric s? Are you prepared to track, analyse, report and review?

2. Who is the Sponsor? Is he/she prepared to be active and visible? Does he/she have influence with the stakeholders? Does he/she have dedicated support?

3.  Have all of the affected employees, suppliers, business partners etc (stakeholders) collaborated on the solution?

  • How important is the stakeholders’ involvement, support or conversion? Are the stakeholders changing the way they work or are there others, e.g. front line employees?  Will adoption (speed, quality and duration) of the new ways affect ROI?
  • Is there a shared vision statement?   Is it clearly aligned to the desired strategic outcomes?

4. How much impact will employee (or other stakeholders’) engagement make to your ROI? How much impact will resistance make? What are you prepared to do to get to your ideal adoption rates? 

5. How much change is the organizational current undergoing?  How much change has the organization experienced in the past 3-5 years? Re-orgs, systems, etc. How do employees feel about change?

6.  Have you assessed the organization’s, these stakeholders’, current readiness for change, i.e. PCM readiness assessments?  What kinds of results do you see on Employee Satisfaction Surveys, employee turnover / absenteeism?

7.  What will success look like at project end? 1 year post? 5 years post?

8.  Have you considered building this competency for re-use in other initiatives?

9.  Are there any other factors that would shape the success of this scope of work?

10.  Are there any questions we have not asked that you wish we had?

These typically uncover the tip of the iceberg.  Few organizations in North America have developed beyond a level 2 Maturity Model: “Some elements of change management are being applied in some isolated projects” (Prosci Research). 

There is great opportunity to capture ROI benefits earlier and more deeply (thus aggregating more of the benefits) by leveraging the three factors that most positively affect ROI (Prosci content used with permission www.change-mangement.com):

  • Speed of Adoption: How quickly are people up and running on the new systems, processes, and job roles?
  • Proficiency: Are individuals performing at the level expected in the design of change?
  • Ultimate Utilization: Of the total population, how many employees are demonstrating “buy-in” and are using the new solutions?

This is about far more than communications and training, although they have important roles.  It is about getting people past the failure to see, failure to move and failure to finish (“It Starts with One”, J. Stewart Black and Hal Gregersen, Wharton School Publishing, New Jersey, 2008).  

 It is about fully realizing the vision efficiently and effectively and moving on to the next major opportunity.



The business of changing a country – Reflection 1

Much has been made of Obama’s election campaign – on the public rhetoric of change. Certainly one cannot argue its effectiveness – regardless of your political persuasions – this man has become the ‘leader of the free world’.

I am currently reading “The Audacity of Hope”, author Barack Obama.  It was a gift from a friend – we often talk politics and she had read it. I was skeptical – figured it would be a thinly veiled marketing pitch and, perhaps it is, but it is actually quite … good. 

It is interesting to know learn what he professes, in his own (or authorized) words and to consider whether he is walking his talk.  A couple of quotes to give you an idea:

  • “… what’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem.” (p22)
  • ” When we dumb down the political debate, we lose. For it’s precisely the pursuit of ideological purity, the rigid orthodoxy and the sheer predictability of our current political debate, that keeps us from finding new ways to meet challenges we face as a country.  It keeps us locked into either / or thinking.” (p40)
  • “What are the core values that we, as Americans, hold in common?  That’s not how we usually frame the issue, of course, our political culture fixates on where our values clash.” (p52)
  • “In every society (and in every individual), these twin strands – the individualistic and the communal, autonomy and solidarity – are in tension ….”

These are not the typical manifesto rallies – these are more complex arguments.  The challenges of getting enough of the voting public to understand these concepts to give him room to make complex change happen in an adversarial political arena is probably why most have never taken this approach. But it may be the only right way. 

This is not to say that his politics are ‘right’. It is to say that the notions of a higher bar of political debate, developing resolutions for apparently contradictory policies, focusing on the values that bring a group together while recognizing the tensions that pull them apart … these are the real challenges of leadership. 

It has become clear that no political leader is perfect (certainly Opposition parties never lets the public forget it) and that the current political environment focuses on those imperfections while real issues are undermined in the interest of getting elected in the next term.

Certainly a new order of leadership is required.  After all, to quote a more widely recognized brilliant mind:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein

The honeymoon is over for President Obama. Although it does not appear that he has taken his foot off the gas from the moment his win was announced (something I do admire), the glare of the media and the frowns of the hawks must be wearing thin. Now begins the real tests of a “president” – action under the most intense pressure.  This is a job I would not want – it’s grueling nature will run down the soul of any mere mortal, as lesser men have discovered some earlier some later.

His platform has been clear from very early on – some could argue from before this book.  He has sought the counsel and engaged of both experts and partisans. The fact that he has not wavered much from his platform should not be surprising – the planks are macro in nature and he has also stated that his bi-partisan interest lies in how one gets there. 

Is he an active and engaging sponsor – certainly publically this is an easy feat when compared to his predecessor but is it enough?  Can he maintain enough Democratic support? Can he penetrate the political requirements of partisanship to  get traction for his BHAGs?  This is not for the faint of heart – at some point one hopes that the players will take a step back and consider that some are all or nothing propositions.  The healthcare initiative faces extraordinary challenges from reaching a consensus (or close enough) appreciation for the definition of the current situation to understanding the agendas of the stakeholders (from the different segments of the population, to the different states, different government levels and agencies to healthcare providers).  This cacophony alone would torpedo many an effort. 

We have a unique opportunity in history – a President who has placed a value in transparency, in engagement (despite its risks and challenges) and front row seats.  It promises to be an interesting four years.