The Simple Answer to Change Management

By Vanessa Pineda on August 16, 2015

“How do we get people to do things?” It was only the first week at my new job here at Cultivate Labs when a client asked about how to increase participation in their prediction market. It’s the million-dollar question that undoubtedly comes up in every work project that requires any sort of change management effort... ever.

For years, as a change consultant, I worked with leading organizations to keep employees engaged and motivated during times of business transformations and programmatic changes. Now that I’m at Cultivate Labs, I’m excited by the idea of revolutionizing how management decision-making gets done through our enterprise crowdsourcing technology – but it’s no easy feat to try and mobilize crowds of busy individuals, even when they know it makes good business sense.

That’s why the politically correct response to my new client’s question is that there are many components that go into driving people to action. A successful change effort requires a captivating vision, leadership sponsorship and action, direct manager reinforcement, involvement, training and communication, alignment of supporting systems… I could go on.

Yet there’s an even simpler way to think about change. If you want people to do anything, make it easy for them!

What I like about this idea of “making it easy” is that it pushes you to place emphasis on the external factors of a situation, or the organizational context, rather than focusing on just one element, like what communications you’re going to send out next. Instead, it gets you thinking: What’s the new process? What are the new roles and responsibilities the change imposes on people? What are the barriers to the task? How are they influenced by their interactions with others (i.e., leaders, managers, peers)? Getting to the organizational context first, in a sense, then forces attitudes and behaviors.

The typical change management strategy tends to be flipped, starting by looking at people’s attitudes. For example, a common change tool in business is the Kubler-Ross change curve, or variations of it, which depicts a rollercoaster of an individual’s emotional change journey. It goes from denial to frustration to acceptance to integration. It’s believed that this understanding helps us quickly move people along the curve, which then leads to behavior change, and eventually to organizational change.

You don’t have to look hard, though, for instances in which thinking first about a situational context led to quick adoption. Some of the most impactful campaigns that drive people to action result from “making it easy.” Apple’s graphical user interface revolutionized desktop computing by making it easy for people to use computers. Volkswagen Beetle’s groundbreaking “Think Small” advertising campaign made it easy, through a minimalist aesthetic, for customers to see the product and created a lifetime of brand loyalty. Companies that make it easy for new hires to be in retirement plans by auto-enrolling them get nearly double the participation rates than companies that require people to sign up.

The benefit of working in technology is that in rolling out new projects, we can try to make things easier through our product’s features, design and functionality. On the client’s side, we walk them through what “making it easy” might mean at their organization. Maybe it’s giving timely updates to leaders so they can cascade communications effectively or creating and rallying a group of change champions to motivate peers. It could mean putting a real stake in the ground through the integration of the change into the talent management system, like adding it to employee year-end goals and tying results to compensation, or more simply, sending out personalized reminder emails and follow-ups before a big milestone. Regardless of your next change endeavor, think about how to “make it easy.” Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience and ask yourself how external factors can be manipulated to achieve the desired end-result. It’s easier said than done, but you might be surprised at how much more practical and thoughtful your change tactics become.

Vanessa Pineda is the Director of Professional Services at Cultivate Labs. Follow us on Twitter at @cultivatelabs

change management enterprise crowdsourcing