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Hindsight 20/20: Change Management vs. The Creature of Habit

By: Frederick Hall

Hindsight 20/20: Change Management vs. The Creature of Habit


It is human nature to be resistant to change, for some more than others. Organizational change will invariably bring up resistance within certain groups or individuals. The management of change can be challenging, but with the right approach, even those that are considered “blockers” can be brought into the fold; often times, even becoming champions of the cause.

Whether the change is in systems, processes or any other part of your organization, understanding how to overcome resistance can be the key to success in any implementation.

Join us for the final part of our 4-Part Series, where Frederick Hall, Senior Consultant, shares his valuable lessons learned from real-life application of Change Management methodologies in unusual circumstances. Anecdotal evidence of success in a difficult and challenging environment, with a different point of view.

This webinar will cover:

  • Tactics for encouraging the move from the old to the new
  • Understanding the mind of the blocker
  • Getting buy-in from even the toughest of customers
Presentation Transcript

Hindsight 20/20: Change Management vs. The Creature of Habit

Presented By Frederick Hall


Hello, and welcome to the final webinar of Access Sciences’ four-part series. Hopefully, you’ve been able to attend our previous three sessions over the past few weeks. We started with assessment of an ECM or Enterprise Content Management System, and this was presented by Constantine Noukas. Our second webinar covered the procurement process, and this was presented by Josh Quintero. And last week we had implementation of the system with Ashley’s Schilling.

So, today’s session is change management. I’ll be talking to you from a slightly different point of view. And while this may seem like the logical next step in the process that we’ve been talking about, I want to stress the importance of beginning your change management effort as soon as possible, start when change is on the horizon. So, in other words, this may be the last verse series, but as you’ll see, this is a critical ongoing effort which you should begin early. Don’t wait until you’ve completed assessment, procurement, implementation, to start thinking about change management.

So, as the title of our webinars series is, Hindsight 2020. I began my process by reflecting back on my life a little bit, and my change management efforts over the years. My name is Frederick Hall, I’ve been a change management professional working with Access Sciences since 2013, so that’s about seven years. I worked on change management efforts, primarily focused around information management and records management. But I realized that my exposure to change management, and my experience began long before that, long before I’d even heard the term, change management.

So, I’ll be telling you a story about a transformation I participated in years ago, or I learned valuable lessons about the change process, and how to successfully maneuver a team organization from point A to point B, or from current state to desired state. So, change management techniques can be applied across many different scenarios, whether you’re changing a system, a process, software or hardware, or any other aspect of change that can arise within an organization or group, the fundamentals are the same.

There are many methodologies and theories surrounding change management. I find all of them useful, I’ve looked into many of them, they’re all very insightful in one way or another. At Access Sciences, we generally focus on pro side of change management methodologies. We’re big believers in the concept of ADKAR. Now, today, I want to make a conscious effort not to dwell on acronyms or industry lingo, I want to speak to you in plain English. So, there will only be two acronyms I’ll refer to and the first is ADKAR. So, this is an important element of my story, and it’s also an important element of any successful change management effort.

We’ll get to my other acronym just a little bit later. If you’ve been in change management in the past, you’ve no doubt heard of ADKAR. It involves the five steps required for successful change management, and begins with awareness. This is simply the awareness that there is the need for a change. Next is desire, referring to creating a desire to support the change, and this commonly referred to as getting buy-in. Next on the list is knowledge, now this is not to be confused with ability, this is the knowledge on how to change, how are we going to complete this process? Get from point A to point B. Next, we have the ability, now we’re talking about training. The ability to implement the required skills and behaviors needed for the change that’s coming. And finally, we have reinforcement. It’s important to remember that people can fall back into old patterns. And we’ll talk about reinforcement just a little bit later.

So, there’s a common theme throughout all change management, and that is personality types, so you’ll hear a lot of phrases, the champion, the blocker, the influencer, the decision maker. There’s quite a few, they’re all fairly self-explanatory, but today I want to talk to you about one of the toughest customers, and that is the blockers. More often than that blockers are creatures of habit, they love the old way of doing things, go with what you know, cliché is a bound, but the bottom line is, why risk the unknown when the known is predictable and reliable? These are by far the most resistant to change and the hardest to convince.

So, this is the theme of my presentation, creatures of habit love the old way, they prefer predictability to trying something new, go with what you know, everything that I had mentioned. First, here’s what I want to do, I want to find out who my audience is. Let’s find out what type of personality are we talking to today. So, we’re going to do a survey in just a second, and I want you to look at these statements, and just read them over, decide which one’s might apply to you, which ones don’t, agree, disagree. However, you want to look at it, but look at these five statements and remember the number that you agree with, and we’ll go to our survey and you’ll be able to answer the survey based on these five traits, I guess you could call.

So, let’s go ahead and go to our survey. Let’s just give it a minute here, if you think that you are not, or let’s say you’re the antithesis of a creature of habit, you are really adventurous. You just generally don’t repeat yourself. There’s got to be some behaviors that you have that maybe would be considered routine. It could be as simple as, you keep your toothbrush on the left side of the sink, you sleep on the right side of the bed, maybe you drive the same route to work every day, so there’s got to be certain behaviors that are predictable. And I want you to be thinking about that throughout my presentation, because I’m going to come back to that a little bit later. If you have any doubts that you have these habits, you might want to ask your spouse or your partner or your family or your team members, they can probably point them out to you. But anyway, just be thinking about that while we move forward in the presentation, and I want to talk about that in a little bit.

So, this is where the irony comes in, while I was learning about blockers and champions, studying change management, and then reflecting back on my life, I cannot for the life of me figure out how a diehard creature of habit like myself got into this field, how bizarre, I don’t even like change. I love predictability, consistency, I’m a classic Texan, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, if something’s working well, why in the world would you change it? I’ve learned to use this to my advantage, and I’m going to tell you how. Before I do that, I want to give you an example of how bad I am. So, there’s many examples in my life, I like the same vacation spots, I like the same brand of clothing, I tend to gravitate towards the same brand of car, but this is one of the best examples I can think of.

So, for many, many years before I was married, I could be found every morning at the same diner, eating the same breakfast at almost precisely the same time and often at the same table, certainly with the same waitress. If you’ve ever seen those movies where the waitress walks up and says, “Are you having the usual today?” Well, that was me. No menu needed, and I loved it. I love the consistency, I love the predictability, the low risk. I always enjoyed my breakfast every day, and no surprises. She didn’t even have to ask me if I wanted the usual, she knew I want the usual, same as every other day.

Not everyone would appreciate that, I definitely understand that. As a matter of fact, I’d go so far to say that some people would consider that a nightmare, they would get boring, mundane, dull. Not for me, it was absolutely perfect. I took great comfort in knowing that there were people out there that knew me that well, it could even be said that it was a bit flattery. So, this reached a point where after five or six years, I walked in one morning, sat down, and my waitress without even asking brought me my usual cup of coffee, and said, “How are you doing today?” My response was, “I’m doing great, but you know what? I think I may have those eggs scrambled today.”

There was suddenly a look of concern on her face, and she said, “Hold on, I’ll be right back.” And she rushed off to the kitchen. So, keep in mind I literally just walked in and sat down, I don’t know if they’re out of eggs or what’s going on, but I was getting concerned, like what’s happening here? So, when she comes back, I said, “What was that all about?” Her response was, “Well, when those guys in the kitchen see you walk in the door, they start making your breakfast right away.” I had to stop them before they made the eggs. So clearly, I’m quite predictable. And by the way, the very next day I went right back to over medium, and I never went back.

You may ask yourself, how can someone that doesn’t like change possibly coach people on how to change? I did. I ask myself that, how have I been able to be successful in helping people, teams and organizations change? So, there’s the simple answer and it’s empathy. Empathy can be key to success and change. I can understand what it feels like to be asked to change. I know what goes through my mind, but most importantly I know what it takes to change my mind. I know what it takes to achieve buy-in with me, and it is not easy, but it can be done. Ask my wife, she is probably the most masterful change management practitioner out there, but more on that later. So, I admit it, I own it, I’m a creature of habit, and I have been able to use that to my advantage.

So, let me set the stage for my story. Hindsight is truly 2020, and I want to take you way back here. The year was 1989, every house did not have a PC, mobile phones were scarce, video games were still played on Nintendo or Atari systems, even Sega. No one had internet, video rental was on VHS tape. These were the very early days of the tech boom. I had been asked to a lunch meeting with two entrepreneurs, they were partners that had just bought an established business and wanted ideas on how they could grow the business and make it more profitable.

So, this business was originally opened in 1962 as the print shop and publishing facility for NASA Johnson Space Center. Pretty good-sized production shop, we had a crew of about 28 people, and we had four different departments. NASA used the facility heavily from the beginning of the program, Space program all the way through the Apollo program, and then it wound down as the space race had already been won. And so in about 1973, they sold it off to private enterprise, and from then it had been held privately.

So, these new entrepreneurs had purchased it, got in the hold of it, probably six months prior to me arriving. From that point the NASA sold it off privately, it was still producing some manuals, guides, books, directories for NASA, but it branched out into oil and gas work, other branches of government, chemical industry, banking, private publishing. There was a lot of potential there. They were producing annual reports, marketing catalogs, industry directories. You get the idea.

My first day I walked into the building, and this is more or less what I saw. Now, this isn’t an actual photograph, but it’s a pretty good representation of what I saw that day. I felt like I had stepped into a museum. Most of the equipment was certainly from the early 60s if not earlier. Granted it was humming along like a well-oiled machine, it was a pretty amazing place, but it was not modern, certainly not new. This was like stepping into the past. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but something about hearing NASA, and the description of this place had me visualizing something futuristic, again, not an actual image here, but this is pretty close to what I saw. There was definitely work to be done. This is more of a challenge that I expected, not only had the machines been there for 25 years, so had many of the employees. This was a tight knit group of established veterans in the industry. I was more than just a little intimidated.

A plan was for me to work there for a few weeks, and then I would give them an assessment of their situation, where did they stand, and what would it take to grow this business? So, in my assessment, I rather bluntly told them that, while their operation was impressive, considering it’s history, it was history. We’re on the brink of the digital age here, and we were looking at a completely analog shop. Absolutely, completely analog. This was old school, no computers, no screens, certainly no touch screens, certainly no information technology of any kind. I think I had a calculator on my desk, so that’d be about the extent of it. That was the most technologically advanced thing we had there.

So, everything was being done on paper, the old-fashioned way, and now… Granted, this was 1989, so it was a while back. But keep in mind, there were cutting edge technologies coming out all the time. They were coming out fast and furious, and there was no time to delay. In order to remain competitive, we really needed to get on the bandwagon, and we were entering a new phase of industry and we had to adapt fast. So, the owners had deep pockets, and had planned on investing in upgrades, but I suspect this was far exceeding their expectations.

Nevertheless, we began looking at what was available, we spoke with Canon Xerox, IBM, Rico, the leaders in the industry at the time, we attended as many conferences and trade shows as we could, and I was pleased to hear them say on numerous occasions, if we’re going to do this, let’s go all the way, let’s not cut corners. Upon seeing all the new technology, they were realizing how big this change was going to be. It wasn’t long until we began talking about how this would impact the current crew. These people had been running these same systems, same equipment, day in, day out for years, we were investing in the hardware, but now what about the people? What about the culture? I had gotten to know the crew, realized two things, they were very loyal, and they were going to be very resistant.

They were also very leery of this new young production manager that was coming and telling them how it was going to be, gaining their trust and respect it was going to be one of my biggest challenges. I told the leadership I was committed to retaining as many current employees as possible. These were good hardworking teams and worked very well together. They quickly warned me that, well, it would be a huge challenge, and this was going to be tough, and I should expect to lose quite a few. Looking back, I realized I was pretty young and naive, but I really felt like I could bring everyone along for this ride. So, my first step was to get everyone together for a town hall meeting, and this was the beginning of my awareness campaign.

Now we’re beginning the ADKAR model. I know there had been suspicions and rumors that this was the point at which I was verbalizing the change that was coming, I explained our reasoning, tried to sell the upside. It wasn’t long before I saw the looks of dread in their faces, the blockers were already formulating their plans and I had my work cut out for me. This looks pretty much like my town hall meeting right here. So, I arranged to have departmental or team meetings with the four different groups, I wanted to hear from each group about their processes, how they felt about their current situation, and what the pain points were during an average day, where could they see room for improvement.

Without realizing it I was conducting what change professionals today called the impact assessment, an important part of the change process, which needs to be conducted early on, and again, part of the awareness campaign. Now, keep in mind awareness is a two-sided coin, we’re talking about making the users aware of changes coming, but also about you becoming aware of what’s going to be involved. What are we dealing with here? In my group meetings, I started my data gathering, and there were the ever-present blockers. The shop was filled with creatures of habit, filled with blockers, years long habits that they had no desire to change. It was at this point that I began empathizing with the blockers. I absolutely knew what they meant when I said, this has been working for great for years, why in the world would we do something different? I could absolutely put myself in their shoes, but I had a job to do, and I was able to turn this to my advantage.

So, I needed buy-in, I realized that in many cases all eyes were on the blocker. One of my biggest blockers was the woman that had led the bindery crew for years. She was their supervisor, they had all been working together forever. She had their respect, she turned out to be my toughest customer, and her team was taking their cue from her. All eyes were on the blocker. If you can gain buy in from them, you often gain buy-in from those around them. If that creature of habit can adapt to change then so can they. So, it’s easiest to ignore the blockers, and that is certainly tempting, but if you just focus on your champions and worry about your blockers later. Don’t fall for this, that’s just a bad idea.

Start early with the blockers, do not wait. It’s not at all uncommon for your biggest blockers to become your biggest champions. You may have heard this before, and I can tell you it is absolutely true, almost every project I worked on, I can name somebody that fits this, they started out rough and they ended up being the biggest champion I had. I want to show you a really quick clip here, if you were around in the 70s and 80s, you may recall this one. This is one of the longest running commercials in TV history, ran from 1972 to 1986. Very quick little snippet. Let’s see if you can spot the blocker here.

Okay. So, like I said, that ran for an awful long time, 14 years. I remember when I was a kid, this sold me on the cereal, and then my oldest son also saw this commercial. So, it was pretty amazing. I didn’t really realize till I pulled this up and realized it had been on 14 years, I think it was. So anyway, you can see there an ad campaign like that, clearly, they spotted that, you get the blocker, who of course was Mikey. Now the other two, weren’t too excited about the change anyway, but they were certainly watching Mikey to see what happened there. Again, hopefully you remember that commercial, is really great with the audio, I wasn’t able to present that here, but I thought the subtitles that would get it done.

So, Stephen Covey defines this, seek first to understand in his best-selling book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This is his fifth habit. This is critical, seek first to understand, then to be understood. Seeking real understanding affirms the other person and what they have to say. So, let’s go back to our survey for a second, how has that you’re going to generate empathy if you weren’t a creature of habit. So, you’ll recall I was saying, please think about something that you do that is consistent. You may say you mix it up a bit all the time, you’re not really a creature of habit, were you able to think of anything in your life where you do appreciate the routine? The predictable outcome? Remember the numbers from our survey, we had quite a few people that felt like they were trying new things a lot.

Let’s say it’s a simple as keeping your toothbrush on the left side as I mentioned earlier, what if someone asks you to change that? What if you always sleep on the right side of the bed? Someone ask you to change that? Your first question is, this is how… I know you’d react, would be, why would I do that? What’s in it for me? Show me some benefit to making the change. All of the things that go through the mind of the blocker, the creature of habit. You may not be quick to jump on board with that change, but what would it take to convince you to create desire?

In the desire phase, find your inner sales person. I do have a history in sales, I was able to use this, but there’s a common phrase that people love to hate salesman except when one is not around and you need one, but I’m not talking about the bad salesperson. So, there are salespeople that are selfish, they’re worried primarily about the commission check, and they will sell you anything. Even if they know it’s not right for you, he can sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo, I bet you’ve heard that one before. That’s not the salesperson I’m talking about, a good salesperson can show you the upside, he can show you what’s in it for you, with them. Now, this is the second acronym I’m going to mention, a very common phrase in change management very important, what’s in it for me.

So, how would someone go about gaining buy-in from you, the carrot or the stick, which works best for you? So, everyone benefits from a little carrot, showing someone the upside to change is sales, pure and simple. Why would I buy that new car? The old one is fine. Maybe the new one is smoother, faster, more comfortable. It’s up to the salesperson to reveal that to the customer. Sure, maybe you love your old car, but there must be something that you don’t like, are there any pain points? People will overlook those as a way of avoiding change.

During my impact assessment phase that I talked about earlier, I was watching my crew work. This is an important step when facilitating any change, every day I could see pain points, things that had become so routine they didn’t even notice them anymore, but I could see the frustration at times. If I had simply asked, instead of talking to them and watching… If I had simply just asked them to verbalize it, they may not have mentioned it, the old systems they had gotten used to over the years had issues, but they were willing to overlook it. Avoid change at any cost, but this is where I was able to begin making sales, so think about any system.

Again, I want to reiterate, change management applies to all changes, think about the ECM system we’ve been talking about in our past webinars. If people are used to doing things a certain way, storing their documents in a certain way, storing their information in a certain way, they think it’s great, but if you watch them, you can probably see some frustrations build up. And again, they get so used to it, or they’re so resistant to changing, they’d rather just keep dealing with it. And it just becomes a routine for them, they don’t even notice what’s going on.

The knowledge phase began as I explained how we were going to navigate this change. Again, the knowledge is how are we going to change? Not the knowledge to run the machines and things like that, to run the system, to run the new ECM, we’re talking about the knowledge of how we’re going to get from point A to point B. I explained that we would offer support every step of the way, training would be made available, job descriptions were not set in stone, if they saw something that interested them, maybe it was outside of their normal scope, but I was more than happy to discuss a new role. So being trustworthy is important here, don’t make promises you can’t keep.

And be sure to follow through on those that you do make, if you offer training, don’t just hand them a manual and say, good luck with that. Your team will know if you are sincere, people can quickly pick up on that. Be a straight shooter, they’ll appreciate it. If they sense you’re excited about the change, and sense that you will truly support them through this, then you’re miles ahead. Keep in mind blockers may be revealed in this knowledge phase too, people that you thought were fine, as soon as you start talking about how this is going to happen, you get some resistance.

So, as the new equipment began to roll in the door, these were huge crates coming in, big machines were coming in, there were mixed reactions. There were some skepticisms, some excitement, the most cutting-edge equipment of the day was the Xerox Docutech. Now, Xerox explained to us that data could arrive over the phone line, we had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Not why it even mattered, why would this be important? This shop still had rotary phones, I kid you not, I don’t know if you even remember rotary phones that had rotary phones. So, we had phone lines, but we didn’t know anything about data coming in over those phone lines. So, everything was still done on paper, remember file cabinets. This place was old, there was no internet at this time, but we bought two Docutechs which was a huge investment, and now we had to invest into the people that we needed to operate it.

So, we began the ability phase of my change management effort. Surprisingly, my biggest skeptic, the bindery supervisor, she was the first to come over and investigate while this thing was being set up. Wait, we have two of them, they were setting them up simultaneously, she began asking the technician questions, no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t help, but be impressed, they got the thing running, she was watching it. I was sitting in my office I could see her from where I was, so she came in at a certain point a couple of days later and started asking me questions about it and I considered this a good sign. This was someone who had operated the same machinery for years, and remember whether it’s a machine, a process, a system, software, hardware, when people get used to something, getting them out of that comfort zone is going to be challenge.

In this case, my blocker had begun to see the upside and I was anxious to promote that. She began to realize that it was possible for this shop to move into the age of technology, and she could benefit. Once I sensed her interest, I asked if she’d be interested in becoming the first person to be trained on the new equipment, I hesitated at first, she hesitated at first, she had… Again, she was a bindery person, this was a machine that was far outside of her scope, but she ultimately agreed, and she brought her coworker along with her, one of her teammates. So, my biggest blocker had become my biggest champion. This isn’t uncommon, I’ll reiterate this, I have seen it many, many times. Remember the life cereal commercial, everyone took note, and she was speaking to people differently about the things to come.

Other blockers slowly turn the corner, and our transformation took place. Ultimately out of the original crew of 28 people, we were able to retain 24 of our employees. Some were in new roles, many were learning new skills, and some stayed in the role that they were enjoying less stress, more productivity on their new machines.

In the slide, of course, I’m talking about the actual hands-on experience. If we were talking about an ECM here, let’s say that you have not implemented your ECM yet, people are used to share drives, they’re probably not going to be jumping on board with this new ECM right away, but if they can see it with their material, with their content and actually use it, this is the hands-on experience. This is a powerful thing, because you can talk to them all day long. You can show them all the brochures and pamphlets and even send them video training and things like that, until they actually start using it for themselves. It’s going to be hard to build that desire and that… But just the ability, and everything else they’re going to need to run these new machines, new systems, whatever it is you’re installing.

So, when I finally left the company about four years later, I recall that I turned around, I was barely able to recognize that original shop I had walked into. It had transformed from this to this. Again, these aren’t actual pictures, but they’re very accurate to what you might’ve seen. If you walked into that shop four years later, you would not have recognized it. Most importantly to me, I was able to bring most of the original crew along with me on the journey, productivity it increased by leaps and bounds, job satisfaction, of course, that it increased along with it, the same number of employees, more output, and that’s an understatement. I had navigated my way through a huge change, and while I had learned a lot, it was at least 10 years later that I first heard the term change management. So, without realizing it, I had cultivated skills I would use much later in my career.

Now, I want to talk about reinforcement, for your creatures of habit it’s entirely possible that even though they may change successfully, they can easily revert back to the old habits, unless there are specific measures in place to prevent it. Reinforcement mechanisms can include continuing education, process improvement, coaching, mentor programs, support groups, power users. There’s many tools for doing this, but just don’t forget, change is always happening, we should plan for change. If we’re going to have this shop that I was working at moving into the future, I hope it looks like this today, I don’t know, but changes going to happen, and let’s keep people moving forward, don’t let them fall back, give them the tools they need for reinforcement.

So, I’m going to summarize here, start with change management, don’t wait till the end. Conduct an impact assessment, this is critical. Don’t avoid your blockers, engage them, almost embrace them. When you have the blockers, you may be looking at a champion down the road, so engage your blockers early. Empathy is key here. Don’t forget, seek to understand. Gain trust through transparency, be a straight shooter. Any promises you make, be sure to follow through, follow through on the training you’ve told them you’re going to give them.

So, odds are if you have a spouse, a family, a group of friends, a team at work, you’ve also had to navigate some change and deal with similar challenges. This happens throughout life, it’s not just the corporate world, not just with ECM or equipment. This happens all the time. As I said earlier, my wife as a skilled change management practitioner, not professionally, but learning to live with me over more than 10 years has honed her skills to be razor sharp. Imagine telling a creature habit like myself, “Hey, let’s try that new restaurant down the street.”

Naturally I’m not excited about this, my response, “I’m not so sure about that.” Our usual place is perfect, already know what I’m going to order, we don’t even need the menu, I know everyone there, wisely she begins the process of creating desire. I heard they have great desserts there, my attitude begins to change, might be worth a shot, let’s try it. So, if you’d like to hear more success stories, please take note of the URL that we’re showing here, and visit our case studies area, our Access Sciences’ website.

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