Managing Change on a Project Team

If you’re trying to get your project team to adapt to change, there are a few simple steps that will be essential to win the day.

I hate change. I need to be completely forthright about that as I write this blog. I like my favorite foods, my favorite chair, my car, my dog, and my wife. Total desired change? Zero. And yet change is on the way. In pre-retirement (as my lovely wife calls it), we are making some pretty radical changes to the world around us to ensure we can live very comfortably when retirement actually gets here. That includes leaving our current home in Maryland.

I was not always on board with the changes. And like many on our project teams, I would have preferred if we could just stick with the status quo. If you’re trying to get your project team to adapt to change, there are a few simple steps that will be essential to win the day:

  • Clarify the nature of the change (and non-change)
  • Express the rationale for the change in a way that buoys them
  • Acknowledge the emotions
  • Create the future state

Clarify

Clarification of any change includes both the “what will change” perspective, as well as the “what will not change” view. The latter is very important, as it affords a perspective that there will be a degree of constancy. Even though we’re moving, my belongings will remain the same. I’ll still have my dog, my chair, my foods and my wife. The environment in which they exist may vary, but they’ll still be there. If we can explain to team members what they get to keep, they are less likely to bristle at the concept of any change as a whole.

Express

When sharing the nature and rationale for making change, there should be a clear view of the classic WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) argument. Maryland has the fourth-highest cost of living in the country. Washington, DC is the fifth most expensive city to live in or near. Put them together, and pre-retirement screams, “It’s time to move.” The Pittsburgh area made the top 20 ranking for best places to map out a retirement. Go a little to the west, and you wind up in Ohio, which is one of the better states in which to retire. Coupled, those arguments make the sales pitch for a move easier to tolerate.

Going for a new software? Forcing someone to use a new interface? Clearly expressing what’s wrong with the old one and what’s positive about the new is a very good plan. The fact that it’s time for an upgrade is a lousy way to express it. Offering the team member better speed, access or capability may be a step in the right direction.

Moving someone to a new team? Explaining their role in the new team is not the important component here. Expressing how the move improves their posture career-wise is.

Acknowledge

Change = Loss. That’s one of the key tenets of understanding the nature of the reaction to change. And all five stages in the Kübler-Ross cycle of grief come into play. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. If team members are going to buy into change, they must be allowed to process the loss of the status quo. To suggest that somehow they should not feel however they’re feeling is a serious lack of leadership and empathy.

It’s a great big beautiful tomorrow. Embrace the change.

Create

In the 90’s, our family went to DisneyWorld, and our family traditions there include a visit to the Carousel of Progress. (Insert It’s a Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow music here). This “ride” is supposed to give you a glimpse of the not-too-distant future. I remember my wife laughing at the notion that everyone in the family was in the same room, but each one had his/her own screen and each had his/her own computer. They were all running. All at the same time. What a silly future.

Today, the same scenario would look commonplace. Someone at the theme park was able to capture the vision of what reality would look like just 10 or 15 years down the road.

Want to get team members on board with change? Don’t talk about the process. Talk about the future state of being. Create the great, big, beautiful tomorrow. When the change has become the normal state of affairs, how is the world around them functioning? Where do they fit in that universe?

In creating future states, there will be challenges in managing the change. The best change management, however, comes when there is a shared vision and understanding of the impact of the changes on the team and on the day-to-day.

Pick your change.

A move. The November elections. A new hardware interface. A new software package. Those leaders who can convey the most positive vision of the future state of being will be the most likely to win your heart. By contrast, those who invest time and energy trying to get you to understand the process or the pain may make some really outstanding points. But they will likely lose the change management battle because the team won’t be invested in the future.