A Day in the Life ... of a Change Manager
It's 7:45 and you are arriving at the office early because you have a meeting with the Senior Leaders booked for 8:00 (that was the only time that everyone was available, and that's because the work day doesn't officially start until 8:30).
The meeting goes over time, and you walk out a bit drained. There was a lot of discussion about why things aren't on track for a project's timeline. In these meetings, you spend a lot of time watching the behaviour of the people involved, and the language they are using, because your role is to share this information with the business in the right way - to give an honest and transparent progress update to all stakeholders, without causing distress and uncertainty; To let people know that things aren't on track, and there is still a lot of work to be done to be ready for rollout and people are working hard to make sure it is successful and rolled out in the best way.
You get back to your desk and, in the 15 minutes before your next meeting, you start to draft up a communication for the Executive Sponsor to send to stakeholders. You save it and head off to the 9am "stand-up" with the project team.
9:00am stand-up meeting
The stand-up is a short 15 minute meeting where everyone working on the project stands around a wall and gives an update on the work they are doing - what's going well, what is being held back and where they need help. (The wall is covered in cards representing the activities everyone is working on). There are both project people and business leaders in the the standup, which gives you the opportunity to get a read on what people in the business are thinking and feeling. After the standup, your assessment is that there is a lot of defensiveness in the project team and frustration in the business.
9:20am side conversations
On your way back to your desk, the project manager pulls you aside and asks to have a chat. She is clearly under a lot of stress and is quite forceful when asking you for an final version of your change strategy and plan to manage the people-side of the change (to get impacted teams and stakeholders ready for the rollout and wanting to adopt the new software). You tell her that you can update it to reflect the decisions this morning, but it will never be a finalised document because things are constantly moving and you need to adapt your activities as the stakeholders needs change. In addition to this, there are still a number of decisions you are waiting on from the project team, such as how they plan to implement the software and to which teams and when, all of which will guide the change management activities for the transition phase - so really its only accurate on the day its created, but still useful as documents to give everyone a guide to the activities you are thinking of doing.
10:30am checking for urgent emails + side conversations with the Sponsor
You get back to your desk and look at the list of 150 emails that arrived in your inbox this morning. You quickly scan for anything urgent - there is one from the Executive Sponsor asking to see you. You head over to her office. She wants your help to rebuild the morale of the project team, which has dropped considerably over the last few months. While this is not part of your role, you draw from your knowledge of human behaviour and psychology (what motivates people, and why they do the things they do) and offer to give the project manager some ideas on how to re-inspire and motivate the team during this difficult period.
11:30am update to the boss
You head back to your desk and your boss wants an update. She has heard some of the noise across the business and wants to know your plan to get on top of the narrative.
12:30 quick lunch and team update
It's lunchtime, and you grab a quick bite to eat before heading to your next meeting, which is one that you booked with your change team (communications people, training people, champions from across the business, and human resources). You give everyone an update on the project and then everyone gets involved to workshop what needs to shift in the change strategy and plans. Everyone leaves the meeting with the actions they need to complete and you head back to your desk. You have an hour break to get some work done.
2:00pm celebration of past project success
You finish off the communication draft from this morning and send it to the comms team to review and format. You head to your next meeting, which you are quite excited about. It's an afternoon tea "celebration" for the change that finished last week. After 18 months of long hours, managing high resistance, and helping people understand a complex CRM system that fundamentally changed the way they worked - it was rolled out a month ago with huge success. Impacted teams were fully on board and excited about how it removed a lot of their mundane work and spreadsheets. Adoption rates reached 100% in the first week and feedback and testimonials from across the business were extremely positive. It was a huge change management effort that you and your team (of 5 comms, training and HR practitioners) worked hard on and delivered really well. It took every bit of your knowledge and understanding of human behaviour to come up with innovative ways to engage resistant teams and get them to "try" the system as well as to get involved in redesigning their work and roles.
As you enter the room, there is a lot of handshaking and smiles - the complete opposite experience to your meetings this morning. You sit down as the Executive Sponsor starts talking. He congratulates the work and effort of the project team and gives a breakdown of the challenges they faced in building the software solution and integrating it into the business. This goes on for a long time, and then eventually he turns to you and thanks the change team for their support... and adds "the change went so smoothly, I feel like we may have overcooked the change management. We probably didn't need it".
3:10pm transit to next meeting and trying to shift your mindset
You leave the room satisfied that the change went "smoothly" and knowing that it was in large part because your team did an amazing effort with a tough situation. You're disappointed that this wasn't acknowledged properly, but also know that this is a part of the change role. When things go well, people think you aren't needed. When things go poorly, that's when there is huge demand for your services - and the work is hardest. The best time to get involved is before things go wrong, so you can get on top of the issues early and start to shift mindsets and behaviours so that people are ready for the change and it has a chance to go smoothly.
You head off to your next meeting a little late and trying to shift your own mindset from the celebration back to the difficult project that isn't going well. You are starting to feel a little frustrated with this project yourself. They brought you in late, after all the discovery interviews with stakeholders had been completed - so you missed out on learning about the change issues direct from the stakeholders (watching their words and body language) that included an understanding of their history with this software - which is apparently long, they have tried to roll out this software 3 times in the past and failed, and you missed out on being able to ask them how they want to be engaged. On top of all this, the project team hasn't been set-up well - roles haven't been clearly defined and people are stepping on each others toes in some areas and things are falling through the cracks in others, there's a lack of trust between the team and the business, and there is a lack of transparency around decisions and lack of shared learnings (particularly from the past attempts to roll out this change).
You notice the notifications on the email on your phone - your team have started to send you the updated documents to review and send out (the change strategy, the change plan, the revised support plan for implementation, the revised training plan and the "Progress" communication for the Executive Sponsor).
3:15pm late for project planning meeting
You spend close to 2 hours in a project planning meeting with the project manager going around the table person-by-person asking them for updates to their plans and activities, as well as reasons for delays. You feel like this could have been approached in a different way - more efficiently for the people involved - if it was done in one-on-one face to face meetings with a group meeting to discuss "whats changed", or even as a workshop where everyone received an update on the current state of the project and then we workshopped changes to the plan on a wall with post-its and could contribute to each other's plans. You try to put aside your frustration, and get back to watching the language and behaviour of the people in the meeting, so that you can "read" the real situation in the project, to assess where to adjust your approach to the change, as well as to be able to represent an honest and transparent view of the project to stakeholders, your change team and the Executive Sponsor - in a way that is respectful of the people involved, reflects the real situation and doesn't cause disruption (either over-reaction or under-reaction).
5:30pm getting to work on your deliverables
As you finally get back to your desk, you spend the next hour reviewing the work of your team and getting it back to them so that you aren't holding them up. You also send the draft communication to the Executive so she can get it out to the business tomorrow, and give them an update that is timely and clears up any confusion and rumours.
You do another quick scan of your emails and see that the IT team have announced a new "change management" email address for the business. You guess that this is in relation to the new change-and-release process they have implemented as part of their process improvement initiative. You send a calendar invite to the Manager leading the initiative to find out more and start to prepare yourself to have the conversation about how its confusing for people if they are calling their process "change management", when your team are delivering people-change to the business under the term "change management".
As you go to close down your computer, you notice an email from a business leader who was particularly resistant during your last change project. His email is asking for your advice and help with a change he is thinking of rolling out. As you read through the email, a sense of satisfaction waves over you. He hasn't yet started the change - its still an idea and he says he is reaching out because of the amazing support you provided in the last change, the way you listened to what people needed and understood them at a deeper level, and then added a bit of novelty and fun to a change they didn't really want at the beginning. You helped them see how the system would benefit them, and now they are loving it. If you can do that with the system, he is hoping you can coach and advise him on his idea for change.
You accept his calendar invitation and leave the office feeling as though your work is mentally and emotionally difficult, and makes a huge difference in the lives of other people - and every once in a while you see a mindset shift in a business leader.
As you head home, you think through all the things you need to do tomorrow, including the half day workshop you are facilitating with team leaders from across the business to set them up to support their team through the rollout. It will be another tough day, and a good day.