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Episode 3: Change strategies, wins and future outlooks with Katie Thompson

Diary of a change manager podcast

What makes a change strategy succeed? In this episode, host Samantha Kinstrey is joined by Katie Thompson to discuss what makes change stick.

Together, they cover significant success stories, overcoming resistance, and the work of Inform’s Change Management Office in developing frameworks and strategy for successful change.

Change manager Katie Thompson recording the podcast, a quote reads "what does excellent look like?!"

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Episode 4: Triumph in the face of adversity
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Episode 4: Triumph in the face of adversity

Building frameworks for change

Episode highlights

Welcome to Diary of a Change Manager. The podcast that makes change management easy. Today, your host Samantha Kinstrey is talking to our Head of CMO, Katie Thompson.

Browse our full transcript below, in simple, scannable sections.

A journey of discovery

Sam: So, Katie, you and I first met, I think it was six or seven years ago. At the time, you were a civil servant. You were working in a major government department. And you guys had a really ambitious programme ahead of you.

Katie: Yeah, that’s right. We were delivering the programme Smarter Working across the whole department of about 7,000 staff across 15 different sites.

Sam: So, as I remember it, your team was fairly newly formed. It was fairly immature when it came to change management. And so, you engaged us as a team of experts to come in and support you with discovery to help you build out a strategy for that change programme. And as I said, it was fairly, fairly ambitious. So, can you tell us how we enabled you to take that programme forward and how we supported you through that?

Katie: We were a team of operational delivery professionals, but we didn’t have the change management expertise. And having the recommendations from the discovery was really important to give us that structure and those really clear objectives.

Working alongside The Inform Team and being sort of embedded as a team was great. I mean, one of the most important things was that there was consistent role modelling all the time and coaching.

The team, as we went on actually, went and did our change management qualifications. But the way we came together, we were learning how to engage our sponsors, we were learning how to engage and talk to different audiences across the department all the time. And so, that and the fact that you were helping us to sort of set up in terms of our structure and how we were delivering and what resources we used really set us up for success, I think.

The impact of a successful change programme

Sam: I seem to remember that there was a bit of a win here for you.

Katie: Yeah, massively. One of the things, as well as achieving Smarter Working maturity, which was a really big thing for us, not many government departments actually achieved this. We were then recognised across the wider civil service in two different awards. One for learning and development and one for project of the year in terms of our focus on people and culture.

And most importantly, what we found was when we went into the pandemic, both our leaders and our staff were confident to be able to work from home and to collaborate effectively, and that was huge. That was a really big thing that the staff felt supported. They still felt engaged and could be part of an organisation during that time.

I think another huge win for us is that as a result of what we learnt and I suppose the fun we had, was that most of the team internally carried on to work in change management, myself included.

Sam: That’s great, actually, isn’t it? Having that sort of inspirational start on the change management career. I’m absolutely chuffed to bits about that, actually.

The power of empowerment

Katie: It was a real success, and it was an absolute joy. And both the trainers that we still work with everyone else kept in touch. But like I said before, us being set up to deliver it for ourselves was really important to us because as you know, public sector you never know when you’re going to have that continued budget.

So being able to invest in our people gave us the confidence to then deliver our champion’s programme and actually speak with credibility and continue to deliver when you weren’t with us anymore.

Sam: Yeah. That was always the objective, wasn’t it? It was to leave you in a way better place than you were when we first met with you.

What is a change management office?

Sam: So if we now think about where we are today, Katie. We are now two years, I think, into your journey here at The Inform Team.

Katie: That’s right. I had so much fun that I got in touch and said, to look if there were any openings for me to come and join the team. I’ve been really lucky to do some client-facing work, but more recently, I’m very privileged to be asked to set up the change management office.

Sam: I think we’ve got to a place now in the development of the business where we’ve got lots of customers. They’ve all got different programmes. There’s lots of new employees coming on board all with their own special ways of doing things. And what we’re looking at now, really, I think, is to come together with this central change management office to think about how we can be more consistent and coherent in our approach and how we can perhaps use the 4E’s methodology that we developed some time ago. So that’s the establish, excite, equip, and embed methodology to make that happen.

Establishing frameworks for change

Sam: Can you talk me through, Katie, how you’re doing this?

Katie: As you say, we’ve got such a range of expertise in the organisation. And often when we’re client facing, we’re not talking to each other about what we’re doing. There’s always a risk of duplication and of us not being able to pull that expertise.

Using the 4E’s as a structure, what we wanted to do was talk to all of our change management professionals and gather the tools and the techniques that we’ve been using and make sure that we developed a structured methodology for how we do things in Inform.

So basing it under the 4E’s we would sort of develop certain templates. For example, a change impact assessment or developing a change strategy. And then really talking to the change managers about you know what does excellent look like, what have we learned from each of our change projects that can help to refine these.

One of the things we’ve done as a result actually is embed that into our induction. So it’s not just the change management community, our wider organisation that have that awareness of those tools and how they can start to develop their change management expertise and understanding as well.

Sam: So, how did you start on that journey, Katie? What was the sort of catalyst for pulling that disparate group of people together to get that knowledge out of them?

Katie: I would say it was having a number of conversations, but it was also Inform Together events earlier on this year that really sort of gave some very strong evidence that people found that they wanted to come together. They wanted to collaborate, share their experience and be part of a wider community, and just have another person to be able to sense check things with, to be able to sort of test.

So we use that as our basis. We consulted with change managers, and we developed something that we’ve called the strategy and change community. We have a monthly forum where we come together and we’ve got sort of a forward look of topics that people have voted on. We’ve set up Microsoft Teams community as we would.

Sam: Absolutely. And we do love Teams, don’t we?

Katie: It’s been fantastic for collaborating in between meetings and for being able to highlight in the framework.

Building a change management community

Katie: For me a real win is when someone gets in touch and says, “Oh, have you got a copy of a resistance management tool?” and so forth. And we’re able to just share the link. Even better when they know exactly where to find it themselves.

I mean, as a community and through our meetings, what has been lovely is that we’ve been to have a range of topics, whether it’s sort of celebrating success and lessons learned or whether it’s taking certain topics such as the impact of good qualitative assessments and bringing that into sort of a group and learning from each other.

Sam: Yeah, I remember that session. That was so powerful because we had people from across the organisation that weren’t change managers that decided to join that session because it was run by a great expert.

Katie: Yeah, that’s right. We were so lucky to have John Miller from John Miller Consulting come and join us as a guest speaker. And I’d worked with John previously learning more about the impact of qualitative review and how we can really work with our clients in the best way and the end users to be able to find out more about what their needs are, what their views are.

As you say, it was a great session. It was attended by a lot of people, and we’ve continued to benefit from that. So I hope it shall continue. I’m looking for more guest speakers all the time.

Measuring the impact of change

Katie: One of our topics coming up is going to be about measuring the impact change and that’s something I’m really excited to get into.

Sam: That’s going to be a humdinger that one, isn’t it? So congratulations on winning those awards, Katie. That was an absolutely incredible outcome for you. Tell me what was it that made your submission so compelling?

Katie: Really it was about having that evidence. We were continually measuring what was happening, what we were doing, whether it was the right thing, what was happening as a result.

So, the actual programme we had, for example, for training at the end was significantly different to where we started because we were evaluating. We were checking in with people through conversations and through our evaluation forms to see how they were finding it but also what they were doing with the training as a result.

The stories that we could share that were business specific and really showed what a difference it was making not just to staff but end users as a result.

With frameworks for change, agility is key

Sam: So Katie, one of the things I remember really clearly about our time together when we worked in the large government department was that we went and did our agile training together. And we’re talking six years ago so it was very early doors for agile.

And we were really I think concerned at the time that it was very focused around product development, and we were a people change function. Do you have any reflections on that?

Katie: I think it was brilliant that we did it all together. We can move as a team rather than one person coming back with a new toolkit and no one else knowing why we’re doing this in the first place.

I think what was also really important is when we started to apply the tools and techniques, we quickly worked out why we were doing it and make sure that we were being proportionate to what we were actually delivering. We’re not taking everything from the toolkit, but actually being able to apply what made sense.

Sam: I think in those days, do you remember, there were people that were real disciples? We thought we can’t apply all of this, can we? Let’s just think about what matters and what’s going to really benefit our programme.

Katie: Exactly. And like you say, we’re people focused. It was about having that quality of conversation.

So for me, what really worked was when we had fortnightly retrospectives. And we were doing that sprint planning and then we were actually making sure that the whole team came along to say what’s happened and why, and what needs to change, and how can we be empowered at a delivery level to make some of those quick changes, but then also have the structure of a strategic review every six weeks where we’d again come as a team but discuss those meatier decisions, those things that were sort of bigger in terms of changes to the programme.

I love the fact that we changed so much as a result. I love the fact that we had that leadership. We were all empowered to be able to make those suggestions and have that continuous focus on how can we be better.

Change management is not project management

Sam: Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because I think people change management isn’t like project management. We’re not ticking tasks off a list. We’re not moving in a linear line. We’re having to constantly evolve because people don’t behave like machines. No. Human beings, you never quite know what they’re going to do.

Katie: Exactly. It’s about asking that question so what and why are we doing this and what impact is it having? Should we still be doing the same thing? Is there a point to this? I think that was really important.

If I think about the fact that we started off training in a classroom and people were very clear that they didn’t want to learn in a virtual environment. But being able to actually sort of focus in a trial-and-error kind of way we could actually show people examples of what could be done.

And as a result, some amazing things happen. If I think about the fact that our virtual training techniques were then adopted by the HR function and commercial function because they realised that they didn’t need to spend money on people travelling to be in a room, they didn’t need to use the meeting room. They could actually deliver this in some cases mandatory training to more people, and do it a lot quicker.

Sam: Yeah, those are unintended consequences of doing the right thing.

Katie: Absolutely, yeah. And it was so exciting to see when people really got it and started to do the work for themselves.

Developing in-house change management skills for clients

Sam: So, what’s next, Katie?

Katie: I have a long list, but I think one of the most exciting opportunities comes from the change management framework.

One of the things we’ve done recently in talking to a client about their needs, where they’ve wanted to develop their change management maturity, we’re looking at how we develop some of these tools for them to use within their environment and actually provide them with some change management coaching.

Again, just to be able to support people to be able to do this for themselves and to be able to engage their own staff and coach them internally.

Sam: I think that’s an absolutely great idea. And I’m pretty certain I’ve heard that we have two customers involved in those kind of conversations right now.

Katie: Yeah, that’s right. And again, going back to the community as well, talking to people about how they use Teams or other techniques to be able to develop those communities and actually to get people on-side. It’s another fantastic opportunity, I think.

Sam: So what is it exactly then, Katie, that the customers are asking for?

Katie: They want to have a toolkit, a range of things that they can adapt for their own business and that they can understand and confidently use for themselves. I think it’s about them being able to then sustain the work for themselves and actually be able to grow their change management capability internally too.

We know we’re not going to be with everyone forever. And in fact, the real success is when people have that confidence to be able to do things for themselves.

A framework for change is more than a template

Sam: So I guess what’s great about that then is it’s not just the templates that we’ve developed and the whole process of change, that methodology. It’s that coaching that was so important to you way back when, Katie. That package actually it’s really powerful.

Katie: Yeah, it’s never about just having the templates, is it? It’s about bringing it to life, making it relevant for the customer, helping them to adapt it, to understand how to use it for themselves and to be able to talk confidently with their stakeholders and their sponsors as well.

The 4E’s methodology for change

Sam: So Katie, can we circle back around and talk about the 4E’s? We mentioned that earlier. Can you just talk me through how you’re bringing that to life?

Katie: If you take the example of establish, one thing that is so important to us is to understand the situation. And whenever we start a change programme, we do a discovery. It might be a short one, but we make sure that we’ve had that time speaking to stakeholders and speaking to our main client to understand the situation and what good looks like for them.

Sam: Yeah, I think without that sort of situational awareness, it’s almost impossible, isn’t it? To build a tailored programme for the customer because they are all different.

Katie: There’s always a risk that you go in and make an assumption, and you don’t want to get too far down the line and realise that you’re going in the wrong direction. So, I would say that’s one of the most effective things.

And depending on the nature of the project, we’ll do different things, thinking about one of our clients at the moment, they wanted to develop a champions programme. And hopefully that will become a wider training programme for them at some point, but they needed to understand where their staff were. And before us identifying what training they needed, we needed to get out there and do a training needs analysis and ask them what do they need, what are their current skills levels, but also, how do they learn best.

Even tailoring sort of the format of learning or the types of materials, it’s really important to have that conversation and to think about how the materials will work for them.

Sam: And it’s interesting, isn’t it? Before you can get to that whole thing around equipping the employees to be able to use the new tooling or change the way that they’re working, we need to get them excited. How do we do that?

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, being able to talk to them about why they’re doing that and what’s in it for them is so important. And we’re lucky, we have a fantastic comms team that can help me to shape that message and really sort of reflect back what we’ve learned in the discovery and actually use that to be able to communicate with a user about why it matters, what’s in it for them, and also what’s next.

As you say, trying to get them excited about it and use sort of a variety of techniques to do that, that are meaningful to them and the work that they’re doing.

Sam: Because our creative agency has got some incredible skills, haven’t they?

Katie: Yeah, absolutely amazing. And just the skills, the ideas, the design, but also being able to take a company’s brand and make people feel that they own it. It’s them that are doing it. It’s not us doing it for them. I think that’s really important.

Sam: Yeah. And then how about embed? That’s the bit that so many programmes really, they just get that bit wrong, don’t they? They don’t think about how they’re going to make it stick.

Katie: Yeah. And as you know, that’s something I’m really passionate about. I’m a very practical person. So, it’s one of those things where you’re, especially within a champions programme as an example, wanting to empower people to do it for themselves. To know they’re on the right lines, to talk to them about things like having a good induction plan, having the right sort of future proof materials that they can continue to use long after we’ve gone. And then been able to sort of support and sustain.

I think one of the best things that I’ve seen is where you may go in and deliver the training and have a certain presence where you’re answering questions for people. But the minute you start to see people answering each other’s questions and doing it for themselves or identifying a good opportunity, looking for their own opportunities for innovating.

We’ve seen that with one of our clients we’ve been working with as part of our adoption service actually. When they can identify something for themselves and actually start to develop it, they grow in that confidence to be able to keep it going.