How to Manage the People Side of Change with Tim Creasey

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Today, I am chatting with Tim Creasey. As well as being the Chief Innovation Officer of Prosci, a global leader in change management solutions, Tim is a researcher, a change expert and author, having published “The People Side of Change” and many other papers and articles. Tim doesn’t just talk the talk but works to enable change teams to catalyze adoption and usage to deliver results and outcomes by implementing holistic easy-to-use and research-based models and tools for managing the people side of change which is our topic for discussion today.


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Can you tell us a little about your journey and how you come to be the king of change?

Well, I don’t know about that. So, I’m Tim Creasey. Chief Innovation Officer at Prosci. Prosci is a firm that is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations build change capability, to build the understanding of what makes successful change work and then to bring that to life, either in their role as a change practitioner, a senior leader, as a people manager or as an organization to build agility as muscle. I lead the research and innovation at the development side of the house, joined in January 2001. So, a little over 20 years ago.

Prosci was much smaller at the time, but the beginning was really a curiosity to understand why some projects delivered results and outcomes and others didn’t. We are founded by just a curious engineer who started to say “Why do these ones look different than that?” And it turns out how well, we prepare, equip, and support our people through the change journey they experience is one of the biggest gaps created between outputs of a project and the outcomes we really want to achieve.

So, we’ve spent 20 years researching what do you do right, what do you avoid doing wrong, and how do you bring structure and intent to helping your people more effectively adopt and use the changes you bring to life, so that they’re successful, the initiative delivers results and the organization is more successful.

What are the main pitfalls when we’re implementing change or transformation in an organization?

Yeah, great question. Well, I think that people tend to be one of the biggest pitfalls. The buttons work, the buttons almost always work. It’s around how do we get people to understand “Why do I need to invest the time and energy in learning this new system? What’s wrong with the system I used to be using? Is it okay to step out of what’s been going on?”

All that’s happening against a backdrop of the change that we’re all living through in our lives, right? So, I think that’s the first stumbling block is not recognizing that the individual is the unit of change, right? It’s Andy, Becky, Charlie, Debbie, individuals bring the change to life when they do their job. So, acknowledging that the organizations don’t change, individuals do.

The second is losing track of why we were changing in the first place. I was teaching a workshop a couple of years ago. We have a change scorecard where we really document the metrics of a change. The very first quadrant is the results and outcomes. This organization was two years and many millions of dollars into a project. And so, I click the results and outcomes button and said “All right. Tell me what to type in here. Right? What are we, what are we trying to achieve here?” It’s like crickets.

I was like “What? You are years into this journey.” Somebody pulled me aside and said, “Tim, someone, somewhere, at some point in time knew why we launched this initiative, knew why we invested the time, the energy, the political capital, why we did this instead of all those other things, we could have been doing.”

But that reason for why the change happened evaporates over time. So, I think that’s our second big stumbling block as we lose the connection with why the change was happening. And that’s the very first building block a person needs.

I think a third big challenge we run into is not translating our project challenges into the adoption challenges they represent. We think about change in terms of this CRM system we’re rolling out, not how it’s going to impact, Dan, my salesperson, and the way that they show up each day. How is it going to impact his processes, his tools, his mindset, his behaviors. Then if we try to manage change at the organizational level, instead of understanding what it means at the individual level where we can activate and support people through it. That’s where we end up installing solutions without results. So, those are three of the big, big challenges that projects run into.

How do you translate that message from the top as it were to me coming into work every day and embracing the change?

I think first we need to understand what the change actually means to you. Right? I think that’s the very first step as a project we take the step of defining the change impact at the individual level. And so we have a tool in the Prosci methodology, where we actually look at 10 aspects of your job. What we would say, is, does this change impact, does this change and how does this change impact each of these ten aspects for you? Does it impact your processes, your systems, your tools, your job role, your critical behaviour, your mindsets, attitudes, beliefs, your reporting structure, compensation review, location?

So that’s the first step. I really think that’s bringing empathy and the projects, to define what the change means to our people. It means that we’re now starting to steer where people centering our change effort. And in the second is, “How do I make sure to connect and message the change to you effectively?” That’s where something like the Prosci ADKAR model helps us understand what those goalposts are. ADKAR begins with awareness of the need for change and desire to participate, support the change.

So, if I’m going to introduce the change to you so that it lands for you, I need to make sure I answer why, why now, what if we don’t, why this instead of that? That’s that awareness. I need you to internalize those right where you really bought them. I thought into why, why now, what if we don’t. That second building block, is the “What’s in it for me? What are the personal motivators, organizational motivators that aligned with where I’m trying to go? that shows me stepping out of the comfort of the current state into this change is worthwhile.

Because we all have free will and you can maliciously adopt a solution, right? Have you ever seen this? It’s one of my favorite forms of resistance. This malicious adoption. One of my favorite pictures to describe, this was, you know, somebody’s out, painting the lines on the road. And you see the dead raccoon laying in the middle of the road and the paint lines go right over the raccoon. That’s malicious compliance.

Like “You told me to paint the lines.” And if we don’t get people engaged in the change to really step out of what they do and into the change, we can end up with like, malicious compliance. So I need to understand what it actually means to you by defining change impact. And then message to you with the messages you need is an impacted employee, awareness, and desires, those buildings blocks.

So, we’ve got the idea for change coming at the top. And now the person at the bottom, what about the poor person in the middle, the project manager? Have you any tips for them? A few little short tips about how we still engage people, and we join the building blocks from the top to the bottom so we’ve got a good solid foundation within the organization?

The project manager and the project team and the change team become that kind of connective tissue in many cases. And I think my biggest advice would be that change management and project management needs to be incredible allies on this journey – that project management prepares the solution for the organization; change management prepares the organization for the solution.

So when we bring the two together, we are most effective especially the earlier we can bring what does adoption and usage mean to the table. Today’s change is iterative by necessity. We can’t see five miles down the road anymore. We can see that the bend and our goal is to get to the bend as best we can and be in the best position for whatever is on the other side of the bend.

The earlier we can ask the question, you know, the Lean, I’m not sure if you have a background in Lean, the first question we ask is “What’s the problem we’re actually trying to solve here?” We had a client that was a big Lean shop and then they have really embraced change management. The second question they began asking was, “Who’s going to have to do their job differently and how?”

Can you define a transformation for me? And I hear you have a little pal, the Easter Bunny. Could you tell us a little about those?

Defining transformation is an interesting one. I think it’s probably the most overly used under defined word out there. So, rather than give you a definition, first, I want to tell you a story about the Easter Bunny and I use this to talk about the importance of shared understanding that when we use a word or a concept it’s important, we both have the same things in our head when we’re talking about it.

Transformation is one where we have no idea what the other person’s thinking. But the story goes back to 2006, sitting on the couch with my partner at the time. There’s an ad on TV probably for Cadbury eggs, and I looked at her and I said “When you were a child, and I tell people your religious affiliation matters not to me because, you know of the Easter Bunny and, you know it’s magic.” So, my wife had one in her construct.

I said, “When you were a child and you envisioned the real Easter Bunny, the one that came to your house and hid the eggs each night on Easter at your house, how big was it?” She said oh about six feet tall, like the size of the guy at the mall. I start scoffingly laughing at her. Like how on Earth can be my partner in life be so wrong about something? Because in my head, I know the real Easter Bunny was about four feet tall. And neither of us has seen him because he’s magic.

So, then I got really interested, and I started emailing people on my email list. “If you had the Easter Bunny, in your construct, growing up, how big was it?” And the answers come back across the board. Six feet tall. That’s the most common answer. The second most common answer was the size of the actual rabbit, like the actual rabbit size.

There’s a small subset of the population that envisioned a Bigfoot size, a 10-foot-tall Easter Bunny and I have no idea how they went to sleep, you know, the Night Before Easter. Of course, the right answer is about 4 feet tall. That’s what I had in my head. So it’s interesting. We can all have our own idea of what it is. Until I ask you to go get me a box that would fit the Easter Bunny and then we need to have a shared understanding about what this thing is.

We throw the term around, but we never understand if we’re thinking about the same thing. If we’ve not taken the effort to create that shared understanding, so change management happens all the time. Even the term change management. For some people, it’s been used for the hardware, software versions control. It’s been equated with just communication and just training and, of course, we know that that’s necessary but insufficient to help people through their own change journeys.

We talk about it even in our office meetings inside a Prosci. All of a sudden, we would be like “There’s an Easter Bunny”. When we are using the same phrase, but we don’t know if we’re on the same page yet, and I have a sneaking suspicion we’re not. So, transformation is one of those. And it’s kind of got buzzy. Like “Oh, we don’t do change here, we just do transformation.”

I’m much more interested in what it is you’re trying to deliver than the label you put on it. And if you’re fundamentally shifting the way people show up every day to deliver new value in a new way to the client. Let’s go ahead and call that transformation.

I think what was interesting is, we spent so many years obsessed with the digital revolution. The zeros and the ones without really getting into the transformation. Like how does it shift the fabric of who we are because we have this new technological enablement that came out from this revolution? So, wild times. And then we all got digitally transformed overnight in the face of the global pandemic. So, there are all kinds of learning that’s going to be coming out of that.

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