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Episode 6: Why people are your most important asset in change management with Gareth Evans

Diary of a change manager podcast

Your people are the most important asset in any change programme. In this episode, veteran Change Manager Gareth Evans explores what it means to put people first through change.

From acknowledging individual contributions to fostering a culture of recognition, Gareth and our host Sam explore what it means to bring your people with you on a change journey.

Change manager Gareth Evans recording the podcast, a quote reads "people want good training and development!"

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Episode 1: Leading change
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Episode 1: Leading change

The people side of change

Episode highlights

Welcome to Diary of a Change Manager. The podcast that makes change management easy. In this episode, your host Samantha Kinstrey discusses the people side of change with expert change manager, Gareth Evans.

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

People are the key to organisational change

Sam: Welcome, Gareth. Today we are talking about a subject that is really close to our heart at The Inform Team, so it’s people in change management. So Gareth, do you want to introduce yourself and kick off?

Gareth: I’m Gareth Evans, I work in The Inform Team. I’ve been there for about three years now as a change lead, working for a couple of different government departments on major change programmes, transformative programmes.

Sam: Let’s talk about people in change, Gareth. What do you think are the key components? What makes it so important?

Gareth: I think it’s really important to, first of all, understand the people that you’re gonna be changing for. And not just the company but the actual individuals themselves. You’ve got to involve them in the process. There’s no point in trying to do it from an ivory tower, you’ve gotta get them involved and very close to them.

And then there’s preparing the people for the change. How did you do that? How to tell the story to them?

And then ultimately getting them involved in the future. So how would you exploit the investment of any change programme to the best you can?

Personalise your users and stakeholders

Sam: Yeah, okay so understanding your people, I mean, it’s a very commonly used term, isn’t it? So most people think about stakeholder analysis, is that what we’re talking about here?

Gareth: That’s where we start, it’s a useful tool but I think it can be a little bit reductive sometimes. There’s lots of things you do, your stakeholder map, you do a bit of analysis, you think, right the people that are affected think, feel, and do. What do we want people to respond to? How do you want the people to respond to us?

But ultimately, I think a lot of the stakeholder management at the start is very much driven towards the influencers, the decision makers, so by name. So we talk about those individuals as specific people. People get very excited about that, particularly project managers and the like. And ultimately that’s fine but those people get well served by reports and government structures and stuff like that.

And when you look at the stakeholder analysis, you get down to maybe two or three lines at the bottom that said, user group one, user group two, and it’s just an amorphous group. Yeah. It doesn’t really talk about the person. And we’ve really gotta understand what the motivations is of the people. What is it that we’re going to do that’s gonna make a difference to them.

If we think of individuals as customers rather than just as a group, then we can sort of think of the way we can change the way we think about how we need to engage with them.

Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Sam: That really makes sense, Gareth. So how do you unpick that?

Gareth: I think if you understand Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which to say it again about psychology, psychological sort of construct where basic needs about food, shelter, security, all that sort of stuff. Then it’s about the psychological belonging, being part of a group, having some recognition. Then ultimately it’s about, set about self-actualization, being the best you can, doing things beyond just the norm. We can actually use that in an employer’s or employee’s world as well.

So if you think about why people go to work. First of all, they go to get a job to get some money to support their Maslow’s basic needs of food, shelter, and water. The next bit is about the social belonging because I think if it… You know what it’s like? You go to work or you go to a new contract, you pick up a new client, you come back on your first day, the first question somebody ask is… isn’t “What’s the job?” What you think it is.- Yeah. It’s “What are the people like?” That’s so important. That tells you about the culture, it tells you how they’re working, how they work as a team.

But also, you can get a sense of their purpose. What is it that’s driving them? And that also then goes back to the company. So why is the company there? You’d understand is the company about serving the community? Is about saving lives, is about selling more product? And that will give you a sense of why people are going to work and what makes them tick.

But that’s still just at the basic level so you’ve got that. But then again, people are looking for employers, particularly nowadays to provide good training, good development. The right tools for the job as well. So the right hardware, right software, good applications, a system that works. When you turn it on, the computer’s gonna work, you’ll get to where you want to get to.

And then finally people think, “That’s fine, I can do my job really well, but what’s gonna make me stand out?” And people like to help. They want to get involved, they want to be listened to, they want to influence.

And that’s where we could go back to the Maslow’s Hierarchy. That’s that self-actualization at work. How do I get respect and recognition for the additional work that I do?

How to design a change plan

Sam: Yeah, so I think that’s really interesting and it’s a bit theoretical. So how do you use that construct, if you like, in actually designing your change plan? How does it all come together?

Gareth: I think there’s two elements of that construct at work. One is the purpose and that sense of belonging. So what is it that gets people up in the morning to keep going back to work? What is it that really motivates them? What’s the better… the better organisation that they’re there for? The other thing is how do we get recognised? How do we involved them?

So those are the two elements which I would then use to start to inform a change plan about how we get people closer to the project.

Sam: I guess what I’m interested in now is thinking about does that apply to the large transformative programmes that we’ve been talking about? Or does that apply to smaller projects as well? I mean, does it apply almost universally?

Gareth: It does, I think it does. I mean, obviously the more resources there are and the longer you’ve got, the more you can start to bring people in and involve them. But there are other ways to try and get the user’s voice inside. So again, that customer voice.

I think as change managers, we need to be the voice of the customer, always listening, always looking out from that. Because what we want them to do is to help us shape the solutions.

So I think the whole idea, is as well as the Maslow’s element and that construct, if we start looking at how people operate. So we bring out other data into the thought, so we can look at behavioural data, we can look at maybe some employee satisfaction and look at their attitudinal stuff. And then look at some of the performance as well.

That gives us the whole round then so we understand why the project’s there, what it’s trying to address. We can look at some of the metrics that we might be trying to influence, and we can see how people are engaging with the organisation on that cultural level. And then we can say, “Right, now we understand all those aspects. Okay, we’ve now got enough to then start testing some these out in the real world.”

Sam: So how do we do that? How do we get people involved? Yeah, well I think it’s… I mean, the old term was sort of, particularly a marketing perspective, be a focus group. We prefer to talk about working groups.

I think the Japanese industry used to have working circles and things like that. And that was all about improving management, Agile approaches to getting to better and better performance in it, in a workspace. We’re no different from that.

I think as change managers, we go into a project, there’s lots of different components of a project but we are somebody who can knit all that together. And we can do that by really getting into the heads of the users.

By having focus groups, we can get them to help us design the solution, identify problems, and look at where we can do things better.

Never develop an idea in an ivory tower

Sam: That sounds great. How do we know that those insights that we’ve gained when we are doing those sessions, when we are running with those focus groups, how do we know they’re gonna work?

Gareth: I suppose you never do until you hit there. But the risk of not doing it with the user is you can develop an idea in ivory tower. And you could just try and impose it, but that could end up being quite a misfit and putting a square peg in a round hole.

You’ve got much more chance of getting something to be successful if it’s led by the users for two reasons, A, one is they know how things work and what’s gonna work. And if it works in your working groups, and they’ve tested it and kicked the tyres, and all the rest of it, it’s more likely to work in the real world. But also it means that they’re speaking on behalf of lots of people.

So even if you’re working in a multinational company or an organisation with hundreds of thousands of people you could get representative sample to look at different elements and make sure you’ve got as many views as possible to say, this is gonna work for us.

The role of a change manager

Sam: I’ve heard it said that change managers are just getting all the users, all the people to do their work for them. Do you think that’s true?

Gareth: I think we need to as part of our job. That’s absolutely critical because again, we could be just another person writing things on a spreadsheet or on a PowerPoint and just saying, “That’s the solution.” But without going out there and finding out we won’t know.

Sam: I think you’re absolutely right there. We won’t know will we? How on earth are we gonna know?- Yeah So can you give us any examples where you’ve had to actually get out there and meet with the people? And what kind of insights is that been able to give into a programme? Some real life examples would be great.

Gareth: Yeah, yeah so there’s an example one time before Inform but again, it was a change programme. So it was looking at a health and safety programme for a large construction company.

They’d been having some problems with their performance. It wasn’t going as well as they wanted to and it was an opportunity to change what was going on. So had a number of focus groups with some supervisors and some operators in the company, went on an onboarding process to find out what the system was like, messaging and all the rest of it.

And in the focus groups, I think the important thing is not to come with you a solution at first and say like, “What do you think of that? Great, isn’t it?” Or I lead the witness.

First thing is just ask them about their job. What do you like about your job? What’s going well? What’s going wrong? And it’s interesting for the first hour, people are just venting this, that and the other about imagine construction company. They weren’t short on coming forward.

Sam: Yeah, I could imagine!

Gareth: But after a while you started to get a bit of insight, bit of trust and yes, a trust between yourselves. And we were able to then use some of the insights that were there to sell back to the senior management team. So this is us as change managers talking to you, this is your own staff, this is what they think’s going on.

At the back of that, we identified that some of the managers weren’t behaving the way that they were telling their staff to do so there was disconnect between the management speaking, the management actions.

There was also a disconnect and the way that people were treated was not a respectful way. And it was very much top down, adult-child kind of transaction rather than a… Or parent-child transaction rather than adult to adult.

By having all those insights, we were able to turn the message around, make it a much more positive thing. Give it an air of personal responsibility, but also mutual respect, mutual trust. So that everybody followed the rules, not just the people that were told to follow the rules and turn it into a positive story.

The performance when we delivered that was so much better partly because we used the peer stories. So we used quotes from the peers, we got them to actually front the message as well. So it was very clear of people receiving this change message that this was designed by people just like them.

What’s in it for them? Engaging people with change

Sam: You’ve used those insights then to shape the solution and also to shape the narrative from the sounds of it.

Gareth: Absolutely, yes. Cause again, the narrative has got two elements the purpose of the organisation so you should never throw that out.

There’s a reason why somebody wants to change something in their organisation. Whether it’s a health and safety programme, a new IT system, a Teams collaboration type of thing. There’s always a reason for that. And that should never be forgotten about, ’cause that’s the benefit, that’s where we want to get to.

But you’ve also got to understand from a user perspective how that’s going to tap into their social needs. How’s that gonna help them deal better with their peers? How is it gonna better them in their career so they could be recognised.

As another example for a large retail organisation that was looking to change its way of working and its systems for its branch network. And again, there was a disconnect there with the culture.

So again, there was a great desire to move things forward and everybody can see the benefits of doing that. But there was a lack of trust and a lack of connection really. So again, talking to people, understanding looking at performance data, you could identify where there were some issues.

So rather than going gun to the wind to just trying to just push something in, let’s try to address some of those fundamental issues first. So as a change programme, what you don’t want to do is just to replace one thing with the other and in the end, it all goes back to how it was. You’ve not made the benefit of the big investment.

Maybe that you either have to just take stock for a bit to a little bit preparation before the big change programme, or you refine the support package that you give to different people so you can tailor the support and the approach that you take depending on the insights that you’ve gained.

Change management should never be an afterthought

Sam: It’s an interesting one, that one, I think I know the programme that you’re talking about. And I think one of the key takeaways from that, was as a change team to be there quite early on in the development of the solution because had that not happened, I’m not sure that we would’ve understood what all of those preparations might have needed to be.

So do you think that’s a key component for success, Gareth, being there really at the very, very conception of a programme?

Gareth. Ideally. It’s often not the case. First comes the business case and then the financial case. Then you set up an… You’d set up with your IT team, your solution design, you’d get your solution architects, your business process analysts. Yeah. They do some work then go, “Oh, hang on, we’ve got some people we’ve got to deliver this to!”- Yeah, hang on! “Oh change, they can come and do that can’t they?” “We’ve got three months, can you just push that in?” That’s never gonna work.

You’ve gotta do the best you can, obviously, but the sooner you get in, the better. Because A, as I’ve said, you can try, with the best will in the world, from the centre you can come up with a good idea but until it hits the actual coalface, you won’t know what’s going on.

The sooner you can get those insights, sooner you can then start to adapting your programme, your solution to fit the culture. I mean sometimes you have to try and move the culture a bit but you’ve gotta fit with it, you can’t change that overnight.

Change can help, obviously that’s why change is there, is to try and move things forward. Companies do change, they evolve. They go from A and they end up in Z and be a completely different organisation. But it has to be incremental approach, I think. And so as change can get in there as early as possible, that’s good.

For transformative programmes, obviously the earlier are the better because it’s gonna be a big change. But even for the smaller change programmes, the sooner you can get in there, bring the users in there and show them that they’re involved, that that incrementally improves a relationship. So next time you come out with a change, people are receptive to that. Less resistant and more likely it’s going to succeed. Then the next one will be more likely to succeed as well.

Going live with change: the work begins

Sam: I think that’s all really sound advice. So we’ve talked about understanding our users or our people. We’ve talked about involving our people and we’ve talked about preparing for that change. What comes next?

Gareth: Well, in any change programme the biggest relief for the project team is event day or D-Day or whatever. We delivered it, we got there. Didn’t get too many calls, too many calls but that’s actually when things start.

When I used to work in marketing, it was like you would have months or a years developing a new product. You’d come up with some focus groups there. You’d come up with a new branding campaign, get the advertising sorted out, buy your channels, get your advertising out, and then that’s when it actually starts. That’s the first day the customer sees it. That’s the first time the sales guys are out there speaking, the customer support are taking the calls. That’s when it actually starts. Change is no different.

So you deliver it and that’s when it happens. That’s when service management kicks in, you find out, have we got any issues or not.

It’s important to exploit the investment you made in your change programme, whether it’s an IT programme or some other one. Yeah. And so I would suggest you actually double down. So rather than saying, “Thanks very much for the working group, you’ve all done now, we’re done.” It’s actually, come closer, what went well? What didn’t go so well?- Yeah Could we have done things better? Because the next stage, the next day some new joiner’s gonna come in and they’re gonna get the training and the new systems or whatever. So again, you want to make sure that it lands better the next time.

But also the people who have been involved, they’ll come up with new ideas to take it the next stage. So they’ll come up with new ways of doing things. Maybe a new widget or something could help them do it even better. And that ultimately will then be your change programme being designed by the users rather than by imposed from externally.

That’s where you want to get to. You want to get the people who are using it, coming up with the ideas and informing the improvements. Because again, it’s more likely to succeed than if it’s been imposed from the outside.

People change is about continuous improvement

Sam: I think change nowadays, it’s not really that sort of one and done anymore is it? It’s about iterative, continuous improvement. And I think the approach that you are talking about there is really gonna support that development and support that continuous improvement within the organisation.

So give us some more examples, Gareth.

Gareth: More examples… oh, there are many! I think organisational change is an interesting one. I’ve talked about some companies move from A to Z. As they go through that process, they evolve from being one thing to being something else. It maybe that they’re providing services, then they start to buy in services. Then they become a body that can be representative of what they’re trying to do but they buy services in.

If they’re going through that change then what’s happening there and I’ve seen this happen, is the people who are doing all the training or the people who are doing all the booking for all for training courses, they’re not required anymore. So people move out. And what’s important is that you recognise that they were part of the story, you recognise what they’ve done, they thank you for what you’ve done and then they are your alumni. They’ll go out and they’ll hopefully take the things that you’ve taught them elsewhere.

They should never be forgotten because the next people, the people who are then moving out or next, will be the next part of that journey. So an organisational change is still about people. And even though the people might change and the evolution of the company might seem a bit odd, it’s all part of the same story.

That’s important. Again, that’s where people are completely at the heart of it all.

An organisation is a collection of people: invest in them

Sam: Yeah because I guess a company is just a collection of people, isn’t it?

Gareth: Absolutely. All working to a common purpose. Yes, totally. So that works really well. So do you want to sum up then, Gareth, what do you think are the key components then? Why is it so important to involve our people in change?

Gareth: Well, I think people, as you said, people are the heart of the company and that’s what it’s about.

People have a choice. We can either choose willingly to embrace change or to go along unwillingly and there’s a resistance and stuff like that. People have a skin in the game for both the change but also for the organisation. And ultimately they want to do a good job so the more that we can provide them with the right tools and the platform from which to do that, then the more likely they are to succeed and to get where they want to in their careers.

Sam: So you mentioned resistance just now, Gareth, can we sort of circle back and just have a little think about resistance and how that impacts a change programme and what you can perhaps do to try and avoid resistance to change in the first place?

Gareth: Of course. I mean I think one of the things you can bring people closer to you. So again, if you’re hearing some voices, bring them into the room. Understand what the motivations are, what their challenges are. It could be that there’s something in the existing world that’s not working for them, and it may be that the change is gonna help with that.

Sam: They’re often important voices, those voices, aren’t they? They raise issues that otherwise just don’t get surfaced.

Gareth: Yeah, absolutely. And they do make the biggest noise. It’s like anything, you go on social media you’ll always hear the bad stories you won’t hear the good stories. So it’s the same in that instance as well. Yeah. Most companies though, probably 4% of people will be the advocates, the real sort of pioneers that will go out there and embrace any changes, “Just give it to me.” The early adopters, they’ll go and do it, and they’ll plant the flag and other people go, “Oh, help me as well, I’ll go along as well with it.” You get 2% who will always be holding back. Maybe don’t try and undermine it but just be a little bit slower, slow to join in.

So again, if you can get that voice, understand what it is again about that, the motivations, sell the benefits as much as you can and push that along in your narrative, and in the sort of support guides, that’s fine.

You also need change champions. So it’s maybe talked about in previous conversations as well.

Sam: I think that was with Jack that we talked about champions, yeah.

Gareth: But it’s really important, particularly in a large organisation where the communication and the team that are trying to take the message out there and the training teams can only get so far. Yeah. But the tentacles are so far widely spread, you need people that are everywhere to be supported by a local person. So if you can get somebody in their peer group to help get over the humps and the bumps in a normal change programme, then that’ll be a real, real help as well. Because then they’re talking to somebody just like themselves.

Ultimately there may be some people who just don’t want to come along, but that’s part of the cultural change. If the culture changes, people might not feel they fit anymore. That’s acceptable.

Sam: Yeah, it is an outcome for some people when there’s these large scale transformation programmes, that it’s ready for them to perhaps move into a different organisation.

Gareth: But hopefully for the things that we are looking at, the IT sort of transformations and team collaborations, and all those sorts of good ways of improving the way people work that will help enhance that social connection. And then maybe that’s why people are resistant, because there’s there’s something not quite right in the way that they’re working and what we’re delivering might actually address that.

Sam: Yeah, yeah absolutely. I couldn’t agree more, Gareth. So thank you so much, it’s been great talking to you today, thank you.