We often hear that ‘change is the only constant’ or, during a business transformation, that ‘the key to success of this transformation will be effective change management.’
Given the degree of leadership focus we see on this topic, it’s unfortunate that most of the time this is just lip service, with neither thought nor investment of people and resources being put behind these sometimes lofty statements.
Let’s examine how we can view this issue from a different perspective altogether. In this article, we will try to apply some of the key product adoption principles to adopting change during transformation. We read about researched key drivers of product adoption, and if you look at the most successful new product or process adoptions, some key aspects emerge that are very insightful.
End users adopt ‘experiences’ not service, product or initiative
If you look at successful services or products that have been rapidly adopted, the core truth that runs through them all is that end users are attracted to the experience of using a product or service, not to the product itself. For example, Apple products provide a unique and seamless ‘experience’ through the user interface, ‘App’ ecosystem and also make the user experience ‘cool’. This was the key reason for the rapid adoption of iPods, iPhones, iPads, etc. It is instructional to note that PDAs and tablets that were released earlier than the Apple products have not got the same adoption rates.
Similarly, travel is about the experience, not the destination. Different hotels, airlines or travel providers can therefore provide very different value at the same or different price point, depending on the experience they provide. In the context of adopting change, the same logic of focusing on the ‘experience’ is key.
Change is tough; everyone knows this. But if the leadership focuses on breaking down the problem and asks the right questions in terms of what an employee or stakeholder will undergo as an ‘experience’ due to the change/transformation event, half the battle has been won. If the change is thought through, driven and positioned in a positive, motivating and exciting manner, it will fi nd many ‘fathers’ and champions. On the other hand, a staid, mundane or worse still anxiety causing change experience is destined to fail even if it has the most robust change management resources behind it.
Of course this is easier said than done. But like in all things, keeping it simple works well as an approach:
- First, deconstruct what the change means from EACH stakeholder’s perspective.
- Second, understand in detail and focus on HOW the stakeholder will typically ‘experience’ the change. What could be the positives and negatives? This can be done through dipstick surveys, focus groups and open ended feedback questions as well.
- Third, once you have a clear tested hypothesis on what to focus on as ‘positives’ and what ‘negatives’ to mitigate to drive a ‘great experience’, build your change management plan around that.
Ease of use drives virality of adoption
The second principle is about ‘ease of use’ driving the viral adoption of any product or service. Therefore, the principle of building something for ease of use is another analogous principle from product design that we can adopt in change management. Any product that is easy and intuitive to use will get adopted very quickly and have a viral propagation. Think about it – the ‘App’ ecosystem of Apple was so easy to use, build on and consume for all stakeholders, be it phone users, the actual app builders, etc. That led to a viral growth of apps being developed for solving multiple consumer problems and then consumers downloading and paying for them.
The Uber example of a service that went viral is another key one. The Uber service concept and thus the app was very simple and easy to use; essentially you could order taxis on your phone with one tap, have a choice of class of taxi to order, know exactly when you would get the taxi and get out without time wasted for paying or waiting for change, etc. Just look at the ease of use! This translated into viral expansion and customers even being willing to pay extra for the ease and convenience.
Now if we apply this to managing change, the key is how easy are you making the change to adopt for stakeholders through process, prioritization, phasing, incentives (both carrot and stick) and the right tools. We all know change is hard, so we have to work extra hard to simplify the process, phasing and prioritizing aspects rather than undertaking a complicated large change in one shot.
The simplistic approach to do this in the change context is:
- Once you have the end change goals and overall broad plan identified, prioritize and phase the change plan BUT from a viewpoint of how EASY can you make it for stakeholders to adopt the change.
For example, in an M&A-led reorganization, where people are moving roles and new hires are being made, focus on making sure the transition is short, the switch to new roles is clean, the interim/final KPIs are clearly laid out and the right tools, communication and oversight are provided.
- Test that plan with individuals and a ‘test focus group’ of different stakeholders on what would make it easy for them to adopt the contemplated change and to get their input on the change plan itself.
- Refine the plan and execution on scope, prioritization and phasing. Most importantly, focus on the actual execution i.e. the tools, organizational support and communication focus you will provide to drive the change.
‘Friction’ in any form kills adoption
The third principle is the unwavering focus on reducing ‘friction’ in any form towards adoption. This could come from the organization, customer, technology or human interface, sales & distribution, or organizational processes.
To carry forward the analogy from the product & service adoption world, imagine a product/service that is great, fulfills a critical unmet need, is easy to use but that has other ‘friction’ issues. For example, an ‘App’ crashing frequently or being too slow, or a new phone being too heavy/unwieldy, low battery life or heating up, a product/service not being easily available or any post purchase services being too difficult to get, etc.; all of these are reasons that the product/service adoption will massively suffer even if the first two conditions are met fully in a product and service. In a nutshell, friction in any form kills adoption.
When it comes to change adoption, the same principle fully applies. So to solve it, here is the suggested approach to follow:
- We need to focus on identifying ALL relevant friction issues preventing adoption be it organizational, people or process-led.
- Next, we classify these friction issues into ‘critical non-starters’, ‘key to sustainability’ and ‘irritants that can be overcome’.
- Then refine or, if needed, redo the change management plan first to eliminate ‘critical non-starter’ friction points and then to reduce (or maybe eliminate) the ‘key to sustainability’ friction elements.
As a post event test, we looked back on our breadth of experience of driving change in large transactions and transformation projects. Interestingly, this theoretical construct fi ts perfectly both in successful change management initiatives and also where we fi nd that clients faced challenges or, worse still, failure. The only issue is that in successful change initiatives, this is often followed intuitively rather than through a structured process or framework as discussed above. That could cause the difference between the success and the failure of a change event if for example a ‘critical non-starter’ friction point was overlooked.
In conclusion, we realize that every change event is unique and complex, but a structured and powerful framework such as this one, in conjunction with a robust change management process and resources, will definitely ensure a higher change implementation success rate.