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Episode 4: "Changing the Language" - Rich Lewis

Change is all about aligning and supporting people as to what is coming and probably more crucially how it specifically affects them. For that reason, language and communication in general is critical to success - but it is an area often taken for granted by project teams and for Change Managers out there you know the result – confusion & missed expectations.

Our guest this week, Richard Lewis Director at Planning Change takes communications very seriously. There is no getting away with loosely defined terms around this guy. In this week’s episode we explore the challenges and opportunities change leaders have when communicating change. From defining Change itself through to specific project teams and accountability for consistent use. There were so many things we touched upon in the episode but here are some of the highlights.

Change in Two Outcomes

One of the most misunderstood terms in project land is Change Management. But I’m not sure we help ourselves. If 10 practitioners were asked to describe what they do you can bet your house you would get 10 very close but entirely different descriptions of the role.

That makes it a nightmare for those outside the profession to peer in and consider how it might be useful to them and why it is therefore also valuable.

At a high-level, Richard consistently uses two key terms when talking about Change Management – Business Readiness and User Adoption. Why these two? Because for all the things us practitioners might want to tell others about what we do, nothings resonates more with those unfamiliar to change that these two terms. A business ready to adopt change.

If we are to really help position change as the value creator, we would do well to begin moving our conversations away from all the intricacies of the things we do and instead be consistent in describing the outcomes we produce. How we do it can remain a mystery until your client’s curiosity urges them to delve deeper.

Just Enough Change

If we approach Change as Business Readiness and User Adoption at a high-level, this give us huge room for manoeuvre in terms of what we will actually end up doing for this client over another.

Why is this important? Because as we all know not all change is created equal. Although these two outcomes are almost certainly what the client will need – the actions you specifically take will depend on so many factors specific to each client. Why try to second guess that before you have landed and seen for yourself what will work.

The core skills within a change managers arsenal is not the tools and techniques they have in their bag but the behavioural and social skills that they have to turn general models into context specific actions which the project and business teams can relate to and engage with and gives them “just enough” change management to get the two core outcomes achieved.

Be Consistent – Pedantically so..

How we talk about change management is just as crucial as to how we talk about the specific change itself.

There is so many communication channels spanning the super formal steering calls to causal corridor conversations (remember them!) that information is overflowing. But despite all the sources of information – people rarely feel well informed.

Of course the people impact by change are often time poor so can be easily overwhelmed by all that information but another nuance is that project teams are the worst at being consistent in how they use key words to describe the changes which are coming. Often terms are inconsistently used and loosely defined, even between project team members, so trying to ensure people know what is coming when become a smidge harder.

It is therefore a critical element of communicating change to be consistent – pedantically so. The terms we use to describe what is needed (in the case of hiring for change), what is going to be done (in the case of collaborating amongst the teams involved) and what are the benefits of change (as in the case of readying and supporting users through adoption of change) must not be left to chance of misinterpretation.

We must lead the way in driving consistent use of words between project team members and between projects teams and their impacted stakeholders if we want people to.

No matter the background the common unifying principle is that we want to make change easier on people and we desperately want people to understand how we will do it to give them confidence. If we are to achieve these two goals we must be willing to take the burden of responsibility to hold the project to account for the word we use, how they are used and what they mean to help reduce the myriad of other negative emotions people feel when change appears to be done to them. Its time we Change(d) the Language.

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