Layering Change: What my attempts to keep a tidy house can teach you about change management
Remembering the importance of change tasks
I have a lot going on in my life: my full-time job, my family, friend's whose company I enjoy, and all my independent projects (like this website). With so many things for me to juggle, my house is often less clean than I would like it to be.
It's hard to find a dedicated block of time to organize the clutter. Do I want to move all my daughter's toys back to where they belong, or do I want to keep working on my book? If I'm honest, tidying up isn't as much of a priority as doing some of the other things that greater term value in my life.
However, that doesn't mean it isn't a priority.
This same phenomenon happens to project teams and project managers. There are so many things for the team to do that every individual action is a trade-off where you've decided something else of lower priority is not getting done.
Change management activities --while we usually recognize them as being important-- often fall into this category "not getting done."
I know this firsthand because I'm often responsible for the change management activities on my projects. My tasks often have to beg for attention (though I hope I provide them with a good advocate).
Habitual change management
Despite the distractions, there is a simple rule that I found for keeping my house clean that applies to project teams and change management: habit stacking.
The idea is straightforward: when I leave one room to go to another, I should make sure I have something in my hands. I want to return that something that is in the wrong place to the right place. I was already going into another room anyway, so it wasn't an added effort. All the times that I have to move from one place to another add up, and things tend to find their way back to where they belong.
I heard a similar type of habit from an interview with a professional organizer who works with hoarders. He suggested that the best way to avoid hitting the point of needing professional intervention is to spend a little time every day to keep the situation under control.
Specifically, he said to pick one 1' x 1' square surface area every day and make sure that you clear it completely. Pick a new square every day and progress slowly builds. This act focuses you on something manageable and immediate.
This combination of layering one action over the other and the process of picking individual areas to deeply clear provides progress over both the house at large and your specific areas of need. You then stack these habits on others: grab something whenever you leave a room, and clear a square before you brush your teeth at night.
You can do the same with your change management activities.
Structuring the habitual change management approach
By focusing in-depth on one area (identified as a priority by your plan and assessments) and also doing little things layered on top of other tasks that you're already doing (that cover a broader assortment of opportunistic activities) you will be improving the change initiatives across the board.
Just as I might take something from one room to another because I'm already on the move, think about meetings that you're already having. What other elements of change could you incorporate into those meetings? What messages could you share with the stakeholders? What information could you get from them?
Meetings are just one example. If you have to go some to some other part of the building and pass the offices of a stakeholder, this is an excellent opportunity to stop in for a (less than two-minute) conversation.
You don't have to say much, and you don't have to change the world. However, merely stopping in to show that you're interested in how the stakeholders are doing and getting their insights might be helpful for your overall change results.
Some of my best results have come from hallway or elevator conversations that start with "How do you feel about the project? Anything you want to discuss?"
You can also find messaging opportunities to layer onto other communications that are already happening. This messaging piggy-backing is particularly helpful with executive leaders.
Layering is vital with executive leadership because it's unlikely you will get large blocks of time with them to devote to your topic. If you can find ways to get change messaging woven in or embedded in other messages, more will get shared.
The art of embedding comes from doing it in such a way that you don't dilute the message. I can't really diminish the value of taking one object to another room I'm going there already --it's binary. It happens, or it doesn't. However, communication is less binary. It's easy to lose one line in a conversation with many other topics being discussed. You know what it's like when the audience takes only one point away from a discussion --and misses the most crucial point you needed them to hear.
To avoid this, try layering your message at the beginning or end. This position in the conversation is where that message is more likely to resonate and remain in memory.
Also, try to incorporate some novelty. As simple as it sounds, standing up and walking to the door before starting your new points can make a difference because the situation changes which triggers the attention of your audience.
(You can learn more about effective change communications in the Present Like it Matters Mini-Course, available for free here.)
The deeper sweep
Now we are at the point where we can do a deep, but very targeted sweep (like our 1' x 1' square).
It will be helpful if you can identify an area that's going to give you the most return on your investment. Usually, you do this in your stakeholder assessment and knowing who support is critical to the success of your project. Once you have them identified, pick the tool that you think will have the most benefit with them and that you can fit into the time you have allotted. Say 15 minutes every day.
This activity could result in a short, in-person conversation. It could mean a tweak to a communication you already have (to make it more relevant to your audience). It could mean talking to someone else entirely to understand the stakeholder's position better and figure out what might be driving an information gap.
You may need to prepare a communication for them that helps resolve such an information gap (if you know what is causing that information gap).
Bringing it all together
The following should help change happen on a more consistent basis:
- Identifying the person that you're going to talk to (based on priority)
- having a plan for how the intervention will work and ...
- ...choosing to do this every day consistently while...
- ...keeping the scope of that intervention time-boxed
By focusing on small tweaks to habits that we can incorporate in what we are already doing, the triggers are there to ensure that they happen consistently. That means that things go back to their home in my house more often than not.
Then there is the element of focus and attention. By minding the amount of time you have available and consistently applying these practices, your best efforts for change are more likely to realize benefits. Any of those 15-minute interventions or layered communications could result in a shift in the attitude of stakeholders. Any stakeholder that moves in the direction of your change could result in a positive outcome for your project.
I hope this habit stacking and stolen moment's approach to change proves beneficial for you as it has for me.
If you have any other ideas of things that work for you, please do share them!