Friday, March 1, 2013

How to Plan Business Performance Change, Part 3

Executive Summary:
Successful performance change comes from changing behaviors.  Not only must we deliberately configure those things that influence behavior, we must have a plan for managing and monitoring the change.  Here is a useful tool for planning and tracking behavior changes.

The Rest of the Story:
Part 1 of this post series discussed the importance of behavior on business performance and, particularly, on the strategy of making behavior the primary focus of our plans for directing and facilitating a business performance change.  Part 2 introduced a few of the major influences on behavior that we can control to help drive the desired behavior and outcome.  Here we will examine a relatively simple tool for planning the behavior change process.

Leadership and communication are the most important tools for driving behavioral change and developing a culture that we have thoughtfully designed.  Consistency is the key to helping everyone perceive the new way of doing things and adopting it and adapting to it quickly and easily.  The tool below is a single-page communication and planning tool that we can use to quickly and effectively share the plan for, and the progress of, our change.

Some of the lessons that I share on my site are things I have picked up from my own observation and created myself.  Many of the things I share are lessons and tools that others have shared with me to help me grow.  This particular tool is one very similar to a matrix used by a former employer. 

While I have taken some minor liberties for the sake of this post and for making it easy to communicate the important elements, it is not my own creation.  If I knew who the genius was who introduced it to the company, I would gladly give him or her credit and acclaim. 

It evolved somewhat from its original introduction format and I was given to understand that it was modified from a plan for personal outlook and behavioral modification that the “originator” picked up at a self-help workshop.  Just as what I present has evolved to meet particular needs for others, so should you feel free to modify it to meet your business and communication methods.

As you customize the tool, be careful not to lose sight of the important elements, which I will point out, nor to sacrifice the effective beauty of this tool’s efficient communication.  Even when applied exactly according to template or as presented herein, it can lose its effectiveness when it is overcomplicated.  Keep it simple, make it fit to a single page, or a single poster if absolutely necessary, and keep the language clear and concise.  There will be room for detail and explanation elsewhere.

Figure 1 and Figure 2 show an example of the tool.  It is a simple matrix.  In this example I have notionally laid out a plan for introducing a Design for Reliability methodology into a product development organization and culture.  Make a screen shot or copy of the figure to which to refer while I break it down below.

Figure 1:  Example Behavior Change Planning Matrix

Figure 2:  Optional Baseline Row of Matrix

The first thing that becomes apparent is that the matrix clearly focuses on behaviors as the primary topic and that the change or development of those behaviors is planned in stages.  Also, a glance at the last column demonstrates that we do not expect behaviors to settle in and become habit overnight.  Change is a process.  It takes time.

We can build the matrix top-down or bottom up.  In this example the beginning and baseline, starting place are at the bottom and the utopian state is at the top.  If it suits your way of thinking and your organization’s habits to build it with the beginning state on top and the final state at the bottom, feel free to build it that way.

The baseline row of the matrix can come in handy to clearly communicate what behaviors we are trying to build upon or leave behind, but it doesn’t otherwise contribute to the plan and it does take up valuable space.  I recommend it if you must establish a common agreement about the current state and what is well or poor about it, or if you are finalizing some earlier initiative to stabilize the organization and want to build upon that.  Otherwise, it is not especially valuable.

I strongly recommend at least three levels of cultural or behavioral development, a beginning stage, a developmental stage, and a “achieved” or success stage.  In the example above, a rather lofty vision is described in the highest level.  Many leaders like to set a vision of world-class virtue and encourage followers to aspire to it.  I agree with this approach and encourage it.

I like the idea of developing to a level that we are improving upon what we were taught and making the entire process or concept or methodology better than we learned it.  This is a good goal for the top level. 

If we set those high expectations then we definitely want to drive and strive for them, but we should understand that the development of the behaviors is successfully fulfilling its business needs at the level below, which we describe as “success” or “habit” or “fulfillment” or some other similar state in which the organization is truly executing and living by the behaviors we set in motion.  The best way to think about how to fill this level of the matrix is to answer the question, “What does ‘done’ look like?”  Build your answer into this row.

Below the success or fulfillment stage is a stage wherein our people are developing their proficiency with the new skills or methods and becoming more comfortable with the behaviors that we expect.  This takes time and leadership and practice.  This is where the learning curve is taking place and we, leaders and personnel alike, are learning from our mistakes.

The beginning stage is where we introduce the new behaviors and set expectations.  In Part 2 we discussed the importance of having leaders, both natural and leadership-role leaders, spearheading the change and demonstrating the new behaviors for others to witness.  This is the stage where that element must be set in motion.  This is also the stage where much of the training and communications concerning expectations takes place.

The baseline row simply describes the current state.  We can include our strongest traits as building blocks, or we can display the behaviors we want to leave behind, or both.

Examining the columns from left to right, the first is simply assigns a name for each stage.  Use language that fits your organization’s personality or culture.  Active verbs send a signal of activity.  In the example above is a title for the stage as well as a few key words describing the objective or focus for the stage.

The second column describes the specific behaviors you need to establish or expect to see that enable and power your business performance change.  In the early stages they are often behaviors linked to training and learning, or otherwise becoming familiar with the new skills, methods, rules, processes, and behaviors.

As the matrix moves through the development of our new habits we modify the behaviors in the second column to describe the process of developing from learning, to practicing and developing proficiency in the second stage, and finally to demonstrating that the new behaviors are habitual in the third stage.  As mentioned above, the final stage might describe a state where the population is improving upon the new behaviors.

The third column is our feedback section of the plan.  This column focuses on describing how we know that the behaviors are happening.  Alternatively, it may be used to identify metrics that we believe will inspire and drive the behaviors we want.  Be careful with the latter.  Many times our metrics don’t necessarily drive the behaviors we want, but inspire behaviors we don’t imagine until they manifest.

If we use metrics to inspire behavior, I strongly advise coupling them with simple audits or data points that will only measure how often the behaviors we expect are actually taking place, and in the manner we expect.  I believe that leadership is a better tool for guiding the development of behavior than are metrics.

The fourth column lists the support elements that must be installed in order to facilitate the new behaviors.  This might include training materials, equipment or equipment configuration, policies, data systems, processes, templates, software systems, committees, positions or new roles, experts, and etc. 

In Part 2 we discussed how systems and programs that don’t cooperate with our new expectations and behaviors can and will inspire resistance and often sabotage our initiative for change.  This column is a place to record and communicate the necessity for various programs or systems important to the change process. 

The development of programs or systems often must change and can afford to develop along with the progress in our behaviors.  Line the element up with that understanding and vision in mind.  Sometimes we want to identify the obsolescence of certain systems or programs.  That is also a valid line item for the fourth column.

The fifth column is, in my opinion, the least important, but also the most unavoidable in most business cultures.  It is true that where there is no deadline, there is no urgency, and we can’t allow our initiative to languish and die.  However, we must recognize that any dates or deadlines that we put in the target completion column are arbitrary.

We, none of us, really know how long it is going to take for the behaviors in our organization to develop.  Sometimes it takes less time than we think to train everyone, but more time to lead everyone through the development of skills.  Sometimes getting everyone through training seems to go on forever, but people adopt the new methods immediately because they are a vast improvement upon the status quo.

My advice is to set targets in the last column, leaving room for a change process to occur, and then encourage everyone to demonstrate that they have moved to the next stage before the target date arrives.  Offer positive incentives or inspire friendly internal competition to do so.  If it’s not possible to meet the target you set when you dreamed up the matrix, accept it and adjust.

Concerning tracking progress, use any method you like, such as color, or strikethroughs, or check marks, to note on your matrix when one of the behaviors, measures, or systems, or programs is successfully completed, established, or fulfilled.  Fight hard not to let anyone backslide and force you to remove your mark from the matrix.  If that happens, make a big deal about it.

When the items in each block of each row are checked off you can claim that you are truly in the next stage.  If you find yourself checking off behaviors in the next stage before you have completed the systems in your current stage, then this is your warning that your pace of system and program development is not keeping up with your organization’s development of new behaviors. 

If your systems don’t develop fast enough, you can run into trouble and can sabotage your so-far-successful culture change.  Be very alert to this and adjust quickly.  If your programs and systems develop faster than your behaviors, there is less threat.  Instead, it becomes your opportunity to drive your leaders to push harder to facilitate the behavioral change.

Let’s briefly discuss the titles of the various blocks.  In our templates for this matrix we may set specific titles for each block if we like.  We could name the behaviors, measures, and programs blocks at the beginning level, “Communicating Expectations,” “Setting Expectations,” and “Establishing Program Elements,” respectively, for example.  This can be useful since it creates a standard or pattern and everyone becomes accustomed to the typical change plan.

However, we can also use the titles of each block to concisely communicate a theme or objective for each piece of the matrix.  Some category ideas for the behaviors might be as follows.
  • Creating consistency
  • Improving understanding
  • Building proficiency
  • Setting new expectations
  • Sharing best practices
  • Setting new standards
  • Learning new methods

Some block titles for the feedback (measure, metrics) column blocks might be as follows.
  • Setting expectations
  • Monitor the initiative
  • Monitor growth
  • New focus
  • Consistency
  • [Behavior] observation
  • Observing progress

Some block titles for the systems or programs column might be as follows.
  • Installing program elements
  • Support and Leadership
  • Expansion and leverage
  • Obsolete elements
  • Establish elements
  • Building the infrastructure

The point is to use the block titles to create a meaningful context for the very brief phrases of key words that are inside each block.  Remember, the idea is to make the matrix fit on a single page of some practical size.  It is a communication tool as much as a plan and tracker of progress.  Therefore, every character should fulfill some meaningful purpose.

The magic to the matrix is not the matrix (unless you appreciate the elegant simplicity of putting an entire plan for cultural change or development onto a single piece of paper); the magic is in your plan, which is only communicated through the matrix.  Use the matrix and the elements listed in Part 2 of this post series to inspire and list the important elements of your plan, but make a very careful plan around the ideas the matrix and the list mentioned inspire.

Your plan will no doubt require much more detail than the matrix above can contain.  For example, if your plan requires developing or modifying a data system within your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, that very system element will require some careful thought and planning.  You may produce as much supporting information, or as many diagrams, lists, charts, or dashboards as you need.  Just keep the matrix simple so that it fulfills its purpose as a means of concisely communicating your plan to everyone affected.

Be creative, take your time, be careful, and most of all, make the matrix work how you need it to for your needs.  It’s just a tool.  Use your own language.  Make it bolder and more colorful than the generic black-on-white shown herein.  Make it interactive with links from key words to deeper levels of the plan.  Just don’t sacrifice the elegance by making it overly complicated.

Behavior is key to performance.  To change the latter we must modify the former.  It seems to be a crucial understanding that is left out of the various business improvement methodologies we seek, learn, or introduce.  Please give some serious thought to how, as you introduce your new methodologies, whatever they are, you will plan and facilitate the necessary behaviors that will make your successful institution of the methodology.

Behavior change is certainly more complicated than a short list of behavior-influencing elements and a single-page matrix can capture.  However, I hope that the list of elements I provided in Part 2 and the matrix tool described above give you a solid starting place for planning the behavioral needs mentioned in Part 1.  The thoughts I’ve provided are those that most often mean the difference between success and failure in my own experience in driving change.

Take a look at your methodology, initiative, or program plans.  If there are elements described in this three-part post that you have not addressed, use the ideas discussed to fill in the gaps and be successful.

Stay wise, friends.

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