Bite-size change is the new buzzphrase across organizations undergoing transformation. The concept, which was introduced by change managers to effectively execute large amounts of change, involves partitioning lofty transformational or change initiatives into incremental portions so impacted audiences can better understand, digest, and manage change. So why are we still experiencing change fatigue and resistance if many organizations approach change in a bite-size manner?
In our experience, there are two primary factors contributing to this phenomenon:
- The lack of sync between the pace of introducing new change and the pace of absorbing existing change. The amount of time required for change to be understood, digested, and adopted by the people impacted is at best underestimated or completely ignored. Transformational success is often measured by hard performance indicators such as deadlines, cost reduction, and headcount. Yet there’s no consideration for measuring the pace of introducing new change compared to the pace of digesting it. This creates pressure to keep pushing “incremental” change out the door, even if the previous increment hasn’t set in yet. This challenge is particularly prevalent in digital transformations, where it’s common practice to deploy new releases in a production-line fashion even as end users struggle to complete training and adoption initiatives related to previous releases.
- The multidirectional reaches of change. A single, isolated change has never occurred in any business transformation. With transformation efforts ongoing, organizations introduce change from many different directions. Innovative technologies, organizational restructuring, and new streamlined processes all impact employees at the same time. As multiple changes affect the same user groups from different sources, any lack of alignment or siloed operation of the projects creates a challenging environment for impacted audiences, who fail to understand a common narrative around what is happening, why it is happening, and the value to them. Multiple and multidirectional change, not isolated change, is the common denominator of business transformation.
Essentially, a “bite-size change” grows in size, complexity, and confusion, quickly becoming far more than what the impacted audiences can chew. By no means should organizations embrace the false dilemma between changing and stagnating; on the contrary, the question at hand is how to more effectively keep up with the volume of change required to compete in today's environment.
Our recommendation is to manage change at both the project and portfolio level, taking a consistent approach to change, dependencies, and narratives throughout all transformation initiatives:
- Identify and analyze a portfolio of projects. Conduct wider project intake processes and change impact analyses to create a portfolio view of projects.
- Develop a project management and change management operating model. Embed change management within your project management structure to create common and consistent communications that resonate with your impacted audiences.
- Establish structures that measure and manage the value derived from your transformation. Strengthen your leadership alignment and focus more deeply than program management to account for real business success and value delivered. Expand on the change management strategy for program-level sponsorship, communications, change, and resistance.
- Harness data and technology. Collect information from all available data sources to monitor your progress toward the adoption of change. Use advanced analytics to regularly review and assess the effectiveness of your different communications channels and training initiatives. Develop sandbox environments for your technology products to observe how your users behave, and address any bottlenecks and areas of hardship that are identified.
- Make the new behavior tangible. Move away from vague concept exhibitions and use real-life examples that are relevant for your impacted audiences. Listen to their feedback, and co-create scenarios (for training or communications) they can relate to.
- Collaborate, share, and communicate with other teams. Break down silos by including other teams and/or impacted audiences in your planning ceremonies, and share your plans, hard deadlines, and insights. Collaborate when you need to deliver communications and knowledge transfer initiatives, and adjust if necessary.
Maximize the chances of success for change adoption by managing and executing change in a coordinated and consistent way, harnessing data analytics, and leveraging a combination of traditional change management and agile methods. There’s no limit to the volume of change an organization should be making—people don't get change fatigue when change is working. Failing to evolve, however, opens your organization to the risk of stagnation.