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August 26, 2016
Thoughts

Change Management, a Dog’s Best Friend

CFO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?
CEO: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”
–Attributed to Peter Baeklund

They might use your hardwood as a bathroom, that’s what. No, not the employees — my dog. I can’t blame him; we are working on the big picture, one step at a time.

Enter Maverick. My fiancée and I are new parents to Mav, our Bernedoodle puppy. He’s a game changer; he’s turned our lives upside down – twice. Maverick is a wonderful dog, and a blessing to our family, but he’s been anything but easy. We knew from the outset that our lives were going to change, so, like any consultant worth their salt, I embarked on a journey to understand what those changes were going to be at the start of the project. More importantly, Emily and I attempted to understand what our family’s priorities would be, with and without a new puppy. We knew bringing a puppy home would require us to be proactive.  How else could we ensure the law of nature didn’t supersede the law of the house?  After much deliberation and planning, “Project Puppy” got the greenlight.

The above quote from thought leader Peter Baeklund, who overheard this interaction at a conference, introduces an important theme for all businesses. It can be asked another way: “Can one sustain and grow a business under-investing in the organization’s people?” Although this question is referencing the organization as a whole, it is just as applicable at a program or project level. So, what is it that leaders of successful projects and successful companies do differently? Put simply, they make a concerted effort to understand the priorities of everyone involved — the business units, the departments, and last but certainly not least, the party that so often gets overlooked, the individual. Those who have been a part of a successful team or project know that success is a result of many individuals communicating and collaborating effectively, but individual behavior isn’t governed by a well-intentioned plan. It is governed by an individual’s priorities, and if those priorities aren’t aligned with the rest of the team’s, change will need to be managed.

When Emily and I first started discussing the idea of adding a pup to the family, I knew, due to what some may call obsessive-compulsive disorder (I call it my “consultative approach”), that we needed to map out a plan and discuss our priorities before we committed. We needed to develop clear objectives, evaluate the potential risks, understand how our lives were going to change and discuss how we would handle financial and emotional setbacks, all while making sure the dog’s best interests would be kept at the forefront. We discussed our priorities and what we thought Maverick’s would be, and, most importantly, how to make sure said priorities could be aligned in a systematic way over the long run. These details were fleshed out and accepted before we executed “Project Puppy”. It wasn’t enough to decide to purchase the dog and let him run rampant through our apartment while “figuring it out” along the way. It was imperative we fully understood the changes that would accompany this project in order to manage them effectively.

Change is a process, and change management should be incorporated at the onset of any project. Structure, discipline and training are prerequisites, but flexibility is also key. The ability to swiftly identify issues and risks allows for quicker mitigation. If proper measures aren’t taken before purchasing and raising a dog, the results are costly and you may have yourself a disobedient, rambunctious pup in a potentially dangerous environment for him and those with whom he interacts. Liken that to a corporate project being kicked off without proper change management being addressed. Consequences can be dire.

In my professional experience, I have too often seen these details overlooked. An idea to implement a new program, incorporate a change or optimize a business process starts to manifest only to result in lost time and resources due to insufficient change management. Millions spent to implement a solution or re-tool a workforce means nothing if no one is taught how to use the new tool or why the project is worthwhile. Leaders who take for granted that their employees are making decisions with full knowledge of their organization’s priorities will be inviting rogue agency; the same goes for owners and their dogs!

When Emily and I sat down and scoped out “Project Puppy” and gathered the requirements necessary to make our new addition a success, we made sure we took the following measures: We “puppy proofed” our apartment, we discussed required schedule changes and made adjustments to our budget to account for the dog’s medical care/food/toys/etc. Like any project, Maverick requires a large investment of time, money, energy and resources. However, it wasn’t enough to draw up a plan; Emily and I needed to communicate with all of our project stakeholders. We had to let work know of the schedule adjustments, reach out to training classes and our apartment complex and constantly remind ourselves (myself) that Saturday morning golf is currently a lower priority than puppy class.

Successful change management allows for those involved in the project to realize the true benefits of what was implemented or optimized—in our case, truly enjoying the new member of our family and for him to enjoy his new home and environment. Change Management ensures that everyone in the organization is working towards the strategic priorities leadership has decided are important. We decided that a trained and well-behaved dog was important. Effective change management is a process, and one that doesn’t start and stop with the project deadlines. Instead, it requires a complete commitment to the change until it becomes a natural behavior. Are you a change management professional, or a novice looking to learn more? Either way, we’d love to share some of our best practices and / or learn some of yours. Let us know at info@kenwayconsulting.com.

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