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Leading change - how to reduce the time commitment

Leading change - how to reduce the time commitment

Nicola Hopes

15 July 2020

I’ve been talking to my network of Sponsors – some of whom I coach – about how they are finding life at the moment. One actually said

 “I am using 90% of my time for work. I don’t have evenings and weekends.

Between the operational pressures of my role and the projects, I don’t how it’s possible to do less.”

Wow!  The resounding conclusion is that although it’s always been hard for those leading change, it’s now becoming impossible.

So why are these ravenous change projects consuming work and personal lives? 

Lots of organisations have prioritised their change portfolios (unfortunately, some have taken a hatchet to theirs but that’s another story…) and that’s put pressure on those projects and programmes that survived the cull.

Programmes I’ve seen survive this year include a rollout of MS Teams to support remote collaboration; a programme to increase online customer functionality e.g. self-serve for bookings and account management; and the rollout of new HR tool that increases self-serve for things like holidays, sickness, payroll and reduces admin.

This surviving change is now in the limelight and has to deliver – in many cases the very future of the business is resting on it!

At the same time the whole process has got harder:

  • We face a more uncertain future that change leaders and sponsors are expected to predict, design and deliver.
  • Teams need more support right now – more face time (which at the moment means more screen time), more reassurance, more guidance. You may also have fewer team members to deliver through due to furlough.
  • The pace of decision-making is slower – what used to be a 5-minute conversation by a desk or in the coffee queue now has to be a call, or worse, a scheduled meeting.
  • Those who have to be persuaded to sign off the budget are not readily available in the coffee queue to be sidled up to and convinced.

Sounds stressful right?

So, how do you navigate through the haze and reduce your work time from 90% to a more manageable number?

Finding a way through 

You can probably tell by now that I used to get a lot of business done in the coffee queue – oh to be able to use that strategically bought flat white – but I digress.

1. Firstly, revisit who are your allies are and how can they help you. Your steering groups and project boards are there for a reason – they have expertise or access you may not have, and they have their teams and their network - illustrated by a favourite quote of mine from John Kotter:

“Producing major change in an organisation is not just about signing up one charismatic leader. You need a group – a team – to be able to drive the change. One person, even a terrific charismatic leader, is never strong enough to make all this happen”

2. Secondly, how are you managing your time? Presumably you have a day job to deliver too…?

    • How can you step back and empower others? No, I mean really empower them.
      • I was talking to one coaching client of mine last week about a programme he is leading, and we concluded he needed a right-hand person across all of it to help deal with the day to day on his behalf. He’s now considering who he can ask to do it.
    • Have you reviewed your team responsibilities and prioritised what’s possible?
      • A difficult conversation now about something else that has to be delayed or handed over will save a much more difficult conversation later when a ball gets dropped that nobody has been able to prepare for

3. Have you thought about what you can just stop doing?

    • I remember I was working with one organisation that was spending a lot of time writing reports – hundreds of them in fact. When asking stakeholders which could be dropped or combined, the Finance Director was met with a stony silence, so he took a risk... He just stopped producing all but the monthly Exec report and waited for the calls to start coming in demanding data... and he waited... and he waited. Of all the reports they switched off, only 8 were re-instated with some tweaks. The business had somehow coped without the rest.
    • I bet you can stop doing more low value things than you think you can… I dare you!

4. Finally, are you breaking the change down into chunks that you have a better than halfway chance of delivering? Nobody can foresee 5 years out at the moment - we would struggle with 5 weeks in fact.  So take that into account with your planning and budgeting and bite off one piece at a time

Try these steps and let me know if you’re able to chip away at your 90% worktime. What’s your new number?

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