Sustaining Change: Think Dolphins, Not Whales
In my last post, I discussed the use of agile development techniques to implement new sales tools, training strategies, methodologies or processes for the sales organization. But a successful deployment only makes the tool or process available. The real effort is in ensuring long-term adoption and lasting behavioral change that achieve the desired return on investment.
A great deal of research and more than a few models, books and blogs addressing organizational change are available. One of my favorite analogies comes from David Feeny – a prominent British academic and authority on business transformation – who compares dolphins to whales to demonstrate the right way to sustain change.
As Feeny explains, dolphins surface frequently to take short breaths, communicate and ensure contact with the rest of the pod. The level of effort required for each breath is small. Whales, on the other hand, tend to take long breaths, dive deep and stay submerged for long periods of time. The level of effort to surface for another breath is significant.
When applied to organizational change, the “whales vs. dolphins” concept involves dividing large projects into a series of short steps or phases – similar to how dolphins breathe. Each step delivers quantifiable benefits, recognizes success, encourages members of the organization who are leading the change effort, and moves the organization closer to embedding the new behavior as standard practice.
SiriusDecisions has identified three common guidelines for maximizing post-deployment effectiveness of any project:
- Communicate, and keep communicating. Change is difficult, and the reasons for the change need to be clear. A communication plan addresses key stakeholders, participants, executive sponsors and members of the project team. It keeps them informed of progress, reinforces the project benefits, answers the “what’s in it for me?” question and sets expectations.
- Lead by example. Executives and managers cannot take a “do as I say, not as I do” approach. They must visibly and actively incorporate the new process, terminology or tool into their daily routine. For example, if the organization is implementing a new sales force automation (SFA) platform, leadership must use the SFA for forecasting, pipeline management, opportunity management and account planning.
- Set consistent expectations. Make behavioral expectations clear and hold sales reps accountable across all regions, geographies and units. Establishing expectations at the organizational level takes the issue out of individual managers’ hands and empowers them to enforce a set of requirements. For example, set the expectation that forecast calls will be conducted using the SFA platform – not spreadsheets or external documents. Managers must be held responsible for ensuring data in the SFA platform is accurate and current.
Business change initiatives should always be driven by benefits that support strategy. Taking the dolphin vs. whale approach – also often described as executing in small, manageable chunks (SMACs) – decreases the risk associated with large, complex projects, allows project managers to make mid-course corrections and delivers quick wins that provide momentum for the ultimate success of the project.