Change Management – Performing Through the Learning Dip

When you’re faced with change and having to do things in a new way, have you noticed that it takes longer to get things done?

When you change your mobile phone or your television, this can be really frustrating. Suddenly the buttons are in slightly different places and simple actions take longer, things that you would normally do without even thinking. Or perhaps you’ve upgraded your computer to a new version of your word processing program – now it takes longer to find your way around, and do things that used to be ‘second nature’.

The smallest changes in a process can be disruptive – a different way of filling in your expenses form, where to get the new form, understanding any new fields, what is expected, who should it go to etc. Before a change took place, you didn’t have to think about these things. You just did them automatically without really having to think about them, you had reached ‘unconscious competence’ with these activities and could achieve them competently entirely ‘on autopilot’. But suddenly, something new is thrown into the mix and now you need to think quite hard to figure out precisely what the process is and this slows you down. You’re back to an earlier stage of the learning process, and you feel as if you need to deal with it, and fast, as it’s slowing you down! Which can just lead to more frustration!

In a business management environment, it’s easy to assume that we can maintain normal levels of performance when faced with change, at any level. Very often project plans not only assume people can perform their daily tasks at the normal level but also are expected to take on extra workloads during change. This usually doesn’t work, and performance drops in spite of our best efforts. This is called the ‘learning dip’ – you can’t avoid it, but you can be aware of it and take action to minimise its impact:

• Don’t expect to sustain normal performance levels during change – allow for the dip

• Support your teams to help them through. This could be as straightforward as acknowledging that things may take a little longer

• Remember that a drop in performance at this time is not a sign of failure or incompetence

• Where frustration sets in, judgement may become clouded and mistakes can be made – set realistic expectations

• Acknowledge when performance begins to climb back and celebrate the improvement that results

The steps outlined here are really simple, but can make an enormous difference to your change programme and the results you get!

Change Management – Strategies For Managing Change – A Practitioners Masterclass

“One key reason why implementation fails is that practicing executives, managers and supervisors do not have… a good understanding of the multiple factors that must be addressed, often simultaneously, to make implementation work.” [Fevzi Okumus]

Change management is a messy business fraught with complexity and many things that can, and usually do, go wrong. This is reflected in the 70% failure rate of all change initiatives.

Underlying the many things that can and do go wrong, are a number of related factors:

# The over-emphasis on process rather than people

# The failure to take full account of the impact of change on those people who are most impacted by it

# The lack of process to directly address the human aspects of change

# A lack of clarity and lack of communication

# The lack of a language and contextual framework to articulate and manage the necessary processes of change

# Failure to address the energy and emotions associated with change

# Failure to understand the difference between “new capabilities” and “realised benefits” [and why it matters]

# Failure to understand and apply the “business as usual” test to establish whether it is “incremental change” or a “step change” [and failing to understand why this matters]

To navigate these pitfalls and achieve a successful change initiative requires attention to 3 key domains, namely:

(1) Leadership that directly addresses the transitions and emotional dimension of those impacted by the change, and provides inspirational motivation.

(2) A change model and methodology that covers “the multiple factors that must be addressed”

(3) Action management that shows and assists people with the specifics of exactly what is required of them.

Here is a brief Practitioners’ Masterclass highlighting key themes within these 3 domains.


Change initiatives need to be led and managed. The major failure of leadership in most change initiatives is that there isn’t any!

What is required is leadership that recognises the importance of the emotional dimension, and specifically that understands the 2 levels of change impact:

(1) Organisational change – new processes, procedures and structures

(2) Personal transition – emotional and psychological

Most change initiatives employ methods that ignore the emotional dimension of the personal transition. Ignoring the transition is a major cause of change resistance and change failure. Leading your people through this transition is as important as managing the organisational change

Leadership that is capable of addressing these factors requires high levels of emotional intelligence – which is frequently not evident in senior executives.

So, for any business leaders reading this I will say this: “Your level of emotional awareness – and the extent to which you embrace and harness the emotional dimension of your organisation – is directly linked to change success and ongoing organisational performance.”


Culture can be defined simply as how people behave within a group context.

Organisational culture is the single biggest determinant of how an individual will behave within an organisational environment. Culture will over-ride education, intelligence and common sense

So, you cannot make a successful step change [and realise the benefits] without changing your organisational culture

To change the culture you need:

(1) To identify it and understand it

(2) A framework and language to communicate it

(3) Tools and processes to change it

Change models and methods

“A good understanding of the multiple factors that must be addressed” is arrived at with a change model and methodology that bridges the gap between the high level “big-picture” strategic vision and a successful implementation at the front-line. There are a number of change models that are popular and frequently used, notably John Kotter’s “8 Step Change Model” and the Prosci “ADKAR Change Model”. These, and other models, have great merit and provide a structured focus to the management of a change initiative.

The difficulty with these and most established change models is that, quite understandably, they tend to cover one major aspect or dimension of the totality of what is involved. That does not invalidate any specific model and supporting methodology, but it does leave gaps.

The main specific criticism that can be made of most of these models is that they are tactical and project focused; they are not strategic and they are not sufficiently holistic and broad in scope to fully address the human factors that are the commonest causes of failure.

There is currently not a change model that sits between the leadership dimension and the strategic review process, and the lower level of project and task-level management and implementation.

Programme level implementation

For this reason, I have adapted some of the core concepts and processes of programme management added a preliminary cultural analysis combined with a pre-programme review and planning process utilising my EEMAP processĀ©, and I offer these to you in the form of a simple, programme-based model, designed to fill the strategy-project gap.

In summary, my programme-based model is designed:

# To facilitate the key thought processes that are necessary for a successful change initiative

# To support the leadership processes outlined by Kotter, Bridges Transition Model and to provide a framework and context for the project / task level ADKAR model

It has 5 main objectives:

(1) To bridge the gap between vision and implementation

(2) To ensure that the “cultural analysis” and “pre-programme review and planning process” do take place

(3) Clarity about how and why things will be different after the change

(4) To identify, assess and mitigate the impacts of the change on all those who will be affected by it

(5) Ensure that the envisaged organisational benefits are realised

Task level implementation

A common mistake that many managers make is to assume that because they have told people what they want to happen then it will happen. It won’t!

Although people will hear what you say when you outline your vision and strategy, and will probably agree with you, at the individual level, most of them are not able to translate it into productive purposeful action.

People are very different in the ways they process information, interpret life, and in the ways they are motivated. This is not because they are stupid, and does not necessarily mean that they are resistant to your vision and strategy, but it does often mean that the jump from vision and strategy to practical implementation is too big for them to make – without support.

This means that managing change, at the task level, requires hands-on detailed management [micro management on occasions] in the specifics of what to do and how to do it. This is especially necessary during the early stages.

As change leader, it really is your responsibility not to make assumptions, and to “grind out” and communicate those actionable steps.

So often, this just doesn’t happen. Leaders don’t lead and managers don’t manage. It is assumed that: “they’ve been told what to do and they’ll go away and do it”. Wrong! It is assumed that there isn’t time and it isn’t necessary to take the time to translate the ideas communicate those actionable steps. Wrong again!

It is up to you to define and communicate those actionable steps, and to manage your people through the process of implementing and integrating those steps as the new modus operandi.

Change Management In Projects – 10 Success Factors

According to change guru Peter Senge (1999), most change initiatives fail simply because they fail to produce hoped-for results. Given that project management is all about changing the status quo, effective change management is critical to project success.

Whether this is the latest ‘flavour of the month’ programs that senior management rolls out, implementation of an IT system or an internally-driven team initiative, it is important that the change and expectations are effectively managed.

Current thinking indicates that good managers are the key to successful change management. In general, managers who see the need for change are usually correct in their assessment. Senge (1999) says: “companies that fail to sustain significant change end up facing crises. By then their options are greatly reduced.”

It can be quite difficult for managers to view their work on change in a holistic fashion. Personal attitudes and political agendas can lead to bias towards HR issues or IT issues specifically preventing the big picture focus.

Based on this I have constructed 10 success factors to help project managers manage change in small projects or large organisations:

Factor 1 – Plan first

Take time to understand the central need for change. Know what you are trying to do and why. Think about the links of the change to real-life problems and create a vision of what it will look like when those problems are resolved.

Factor 2 – Involve the Team

Create opportunities – especially in the early stages – to discuss change with the team. This will not only create enthusiasm for change but also be a source of ideas for improved processes and ways of communicating to others. Negotiation will be easier if the team is on board from the start.

Factor 3 – Support the Team

Introduce the change clearly to the team. Explain the current performance level and why the change is needed, what it will involve and the objectives. Reassure staff throughout the change process – particularly around issues of changing roles.

Factor 4 – Lead by Example

Showing your own commitment to the change will act as a signpost for others in the team to also commit. Make your commitment evident in the decisions you make.

Factor 5 – Put Yourself in the Team’s Shoes

Try to anticipate what will be the key issues that concern team members. Plan how you can best deal with them should they arise. Concerns will most often be about changed ways of working, new reporting structures, changes to job roles and services and unfamiliar systems or tools.

Factor 6 – Manage Resistance with Compassion

Resistance to change may be frustrating but it is a natural human reaction. Team members might resist change if they think that job security, the way the work, or work patterns will change. Managers need to source, analyse acknowledge, respond to and deal with staff concerns throughout the change process.

Factor 7 – Communication is Essential

Tailor your communication to the audience and their needs. Make it frequent and use different methods tailored to different preferences and accessibility. Methods might include one-on-one briefings, workshops, formal training programmes, advertising, briefing papers, blogs, RSS-feeds, e-mail and intranet postings.

Factor 8 – Review and Evaluate

Review and evaluation throughout the change process is vital. Continually check objectives and achievement against them. Celebrate ongoing success with the team and identify where you can improve.

Factor 9 – Know What You’re Up Against

Change fails most often due to lack of understanding of the need for change, setting unrealistic goals, poor planning, and insufficient communication. Failure to properly manage change leads to problems with trust in change in the future.

Factor 10 – Don’t Forget PM Tools

Great project managers use good tools to achieve outcomes. Tools such as SWOT, Gantt charts, Risk Assessment, Communications Planning and a realistic schedule will be useful in planning and delivering the smooth transition to success.

The Upshot

Change is all around us, and is happening every day. To some, this is exciting; they find it thrilling to be part of the action and to keep up with trends. But, to others, it can be threatening or even frightening.

As greater focus is placed on achieving business success and as projects are becoming more complex, project managers need to adopt the principles of change management in order to deliver the desired outcomes. If done right, change can be a force for ongoing innovation, growth and success. Implementing the right factors to manage change successfully gives teams and organisations new skills that set them up to be change ready in the future.