Articles

The Metrics of Change Management

  • By AFP Staff
  • Published: 12/13/2022
It's Possible Blocks

This is part two of a two-part article about getting your data right. In part one, we covered the importance of shared organizational goals and how to work with “imperfect” data with the help of Najeeb Uddin, senior vice president and CIO at AARP. In part two, we talk about change management with the help of Ed Cook, president of The Change Decision and consultant with the Association for Change Management Professionals.

“I've heard this numerous times from leadership; they say, ‘We're putting in this new system, I don't understand why we need change management. People don't have a choice; they have to use the new system.’ And I'm like, oh, yes, they do have a choice,” said Cook.

Your people could choose to do a number of other things. They could choose to pick up the phone and blow up your help desk. They could choose to continue to use spreadsheets, or write things down on pieces of paper, or do all kinds of different things that would eat directly into your business case. There are choices — and you probably don't want them to make those choices.

“When we talk about goals and objectives, it's not just ‘I want to do this’; you have to talk about how you want to do that,” said Uddin. “If the ‘how’ requires behavioral change, you need change management.”

Here is an easy litmus test: If you send out an email announcing a change, would the readers know exactly what to do, and would they actually do it? If the answer is no, then you may want to apply a structured approach.

The watermelon and the culture

Everyone has probably experienced a time when a project was super successful, every metric was met, every business goal was met, and everything landed. But the team talks about that project as having beaten them up; broken bodies are left in the wake of the project — the culture has been damaged as a result of the project.

It might have been super successful, but when the next change comes along, your people are going to be battle worn. “That's where I think this idea of change fatigue or change resistance comes from,” said Cook.

“We have a name for those situations,” said Uddin. “We call them the watermelon situations. Everything's green on the outside, but the inside's red — and you don't know it until something breaks.”

The team matters. You need to pay attention to what’s going on with them, what their morale and mood are like, their workload and their recognition. When you do, it starts to play into the culture, and the next time a change needs to be implemented, people will lean into it because they'll see the value of what's there. And there are metrics to help with that.

Metrics that measure and lead to change

Where are your people in the change process? What should you be paying attention to in order to know whether they’re actually engaging and aware? How do you know if they understand? You measure.

Putting metrics in place is crucial to understanding how your team is adopting the change. What metrics should you include? There are three types of change you want to measure, according to Cook, which the following metrics will provide:

  1. Self-reported metrics are subjective and include mediums such as a survey, monthly pulse checks and weekly ambassador check-in meetings. Only your people truly know how they feel about the change, right? But if you pull a bunch of subjective metrics together in a survey and analyze them, you can get some idea of how things are going. Just understand that surveys are not perfect — all you have to do is look at recent political polls and the fallible margin of error to see that. The next two metrics are objective.
  2. Observable behaviors are objective and are based on what your team is doing: Do you see people acting in a certain way, such as attending information sessions? What questions are they asking? Are they asking no questions at all? This is a qualitative measure that requires interpretation, not like a thermometer measure. Ask yourself whether the observable behavior is positive or negative, and whether the trend is improving or declining.
  3. Existing metrics are the true quantifiable measures that relate to having a measurable impact on the organization, such as cycle times, error rates, transaction volume or backlog. This takes you back to why you’re doing this in the first place. If you’re putting in a new system, there are probably measurable reasons for that.

The whole point of this is to gain actionable insights. Note the changes in the existing metrics and self-reporting channels and behavior changes by those affected by the new system. Does anything stand out? What are the risks? “That’s incredibly important,” said Cook. Understanding how much time you’ll need to spend on one of those dimensions requires you to assess the size of its impact.

“If you blow the decision, that’s a risk measure,” said Cook. “So, are you paying attention to what the risk is going to be?” The three layers of metrics are not going to all agree, in all likelihood. You balance against them by having three. “It’s almost a tiebreaker,” he said.

Creating the metrics of change management

Here are three steps to creating metrics for change management:

  1. Selecting the metrics. In this step, you determine what it is you value. Brainstorm the metrics with cross-functional groups and narrow down the possibilities. When you brainstorm, you’re most likely going to come up with far more metrics than you want to spend time tracking. Once you start the narrowing-down process, you’ll find relationships, redundancies and extraneous items that can be managed into a cogent, coherent list.
  2. Testing the impact. You’ll determine the high, low and “most likely” values of each metric. At each level of value (high, low, most likely), what would that be telling you? What would you know about the change from that figure? And what action would you take, if any, as a result? If you’re not going to take action, even if the value flows to one extreme or the other, what’s the point of measuring it? Imagine your way through it to avoid wasting time, energy and money.
  3. Making contingency plans. Make your contingency plans for if/when those metrics hit the extremes. Develop your plan of action through a “premortem”: Imagine the thing crashing before it crashes. “When I was a pilot, before we would fly, we would have a brief and think about all the bad things that could happen and how we were going to prevent them,” said Cook. “And if they did happen, what would we do? Some of it’s rote, but you need to remind yourself so that in the heat of the moment, when the engine is on fire, you know what to do. That’s not the time to have the discussion. It’s the same idea in business.”

Things often go differently than expected and, in the heat of the moment when the change isn't working and the people at the top are frustrated, they're going to default to whatever stress reaction is normal for them. But if you are measuring progress throughout and conducting a premortem, you can plan your response and have a well-thought-out reaction instead of a possibly unhelpful reaction.

People get so excited about the technology itself and what's going to be put in, but not only do you have to think about the change management, but there is a real ROI to putting the pieces in place and getting everybody on board.

Are you ready to get your data right? Check out the AFP FP&A Guide: Get Your Data Right, with real-world case studies from AARP, ABM Industries, Chick-Fil-A Collective, Dell and Microsoft. Did you miss part one of this two-part article? Read it here.

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