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How can I reduce the risk to my change goals?

analytics change leadership Aug 24, 2022

Written by Roxanne Brown

When we’re seeking behavior change in the workplace, measuring it can seem like a really strange thing to do. Aren’t people too unpredictable to make measuring worthwhile? What exactly would we measure? What could it possibly tell us that we can act on? All valid concerns.

The biggest value in measuring change is that it helps leaders have informed conversations about what’s happening with their people and what they can do that’s reasonable to make it easier for people to make the transition.

It’s really that simple.

Using change metrics can help you reduce people-related risk to achieving your change goals. With this outcome in mind, there are four key ideas at play:

  1. Measuring in this context does not need to be exact to be valuable, it just needs to be directionally correct
  2. Quantitative measures alone are not as powerful as combining them with qualitative measures
  3. Subjective measures are usefully combined with other types of measures
  4. The goal is to scale the measurement effort based on the level of risk

What does it mean to measure change?

Measuring change means understanding how people are impacted by the change and based on that identifying the signs of progress or risk that are worth monitoring.

To understand the impact, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do people need to do differently?
  • How big a change is that from their perspective? Why?
  • What is their expected reaction? Why?
  • What would make it easier for them to make the transition?

To narrow this down a bit, focus on the people whose behavior change is most critical or people who will likely have the most difficulty. From here you can start to understand the signs of progress you want to see. You can also understand the signs of risk.

What are change metrics?

Change metrics are indicators of behavior change. The challenge is in deciding what to measure because there may be unlimited options. To make this easier, you can use this practical model we developed to identify the signs.

A practical way to look at how people progress through change is through these four phases: Engage, Understand, Test & Learn, Adopt. As a leader, you can use this model to ask yourself:

  • How will I know people are engaged and aware of the change?
  • How will I know they understand how it impacts them?
  • How will I know they are trying to integrate the change into how they do their work?
  • How will I know they have fully adopted so that we achieve the value we’re looking for?

What will you see them doing or hear them saying? This is the raw material for your metrics.

What are examples of change metrics?

We advocate for creating a set of metrics across three categories to get the most insights:

  1. Self-reported (what will people self-report about the change)
  2. Observable (what will you see people doing and hear people saying)
  3. Existing company metrics (what measures are likely to change as the change progresses and then is fully adopted)

Here are examples:

The reason why we advocate for metrics across these categories is that while looking at metrics in one category might be useful, it’s often not complete enough to make decisions about how to take action.

For example, the team might self-report that they’re ready for change, but if you observe no one coming to information sessions about the change or asking questions that indicate they understand how the change impacts them, you might have a risk to act on.

How do you know if your change is going off track?

There are nine signs that tell you something is not right and worth a deeper look:

  1. When you’re unpleasantly surprised by the words and actions of people involved in the change
  2. When you realize people have mischaracterized the change, the reasons behind it or the intention of leaders and colleagues related to the change
  3. When what people say does not match their actions
  4. When people seem to be ignoring the change messages or just not responding to them
  5. When progress is surprisingly, unreasonably slower or faster than expected
  6. When reactions seem extreme given the content of what people are reacting to
  7. When people seem to be putting up walls against any attempts toward change progress
  8. When concerns get quickly escalated to the highest leaders without first people addressing their concerns with the leaders and colleagues involved in the change
  9. When the change metrics you’re monitoring indicate something is not right 

All of this represents risk to achieving the great outcomes you have in mind for the change. The risk is even greater when this behavior is coming from leaders or the people who are considered influential among those involved.

How can you use change metrics to reduce risk?

Once you've decided on a useful set of change metrics, look at them periodically to see what they're telling you. 

  • What changes are you seeing in the metrics over time?
  • What consistencies and contradictions stand out across the three metric categories?
  • What behavior trends do you notice?
  • Does anything stand out as a theme?
  • What risks do you see? What actions could you take to reduce or eliminate the risk?
  • What progress do you see? What actions could you take to reinforce the progress people are making?

Remember, the biggest value in measuring change is that it helps leaders have informed conversations about what’s happening with their people during change and what they can do that’s reasonable to make it easier for people to make the transition. A leadership team that is proactively seeking to understand and evaluate how well people are progressing is a powerful influencing force. Doing this as a regular practice throughout the change process will help you tune into risk and progress signs early and help you decide the best course of action, even if that means you decide not to do anything for now.

What if you don't have a clear picture of how people are impacted or how they'll react to the change?

It's okay to not know everything going into a change. It's impossible to know everything. It's more useful to think of change as a learning process because it's hard to predict all of the implications of any change you introduce, and it's not worth the effort to try to predict everything in advance in most cases. This means there's great risk with most change so it’s best to set up your change initiative to proactively learn and make decisions toward your goals in response.

That said, before you introduce change, it’s important to try to understand the impacts on others and do what's reasonable to help them with the transition. Otherwise, you’re likely to be caught off guard and will then need to take steps to repair trust. Instead, evaluate the impacts in advance and set up a learning process before you introduce change. A change measurement approach can be the backbone of your learning process.

How does a change impact assessment reduce risk?

The impact assessment questions above are meant to help you tune in to what others need so that you can be a better change leader for your people. You will not know all the answers because you’re not them but attempting to understand will help you create a partnership with those who you need to behave differently. It helps you come to conversations with them with this mindset:

“I think you’re impacted by the change in this way. Do I have that right? What else is important for me to understand?”

You can also share what you're doing to support them with the transition and ask what other ideas they have. You probably won’t be able to do everything because not everything will be reasonable for you to do. But it’s likely there are a few things that are reasonable to do. Other ideas will likely come to mind based on their reactions. This kind of mindset goes a long way to build goodwill.

Through experience, I've learned that people are not most upset by what is changing. They get upset by how change is handled. That's when you lose them. On the other hand, you can create real partnerships with your people by taking a more empathic approach to leading change.

How do you create a change measurement approach that's worth the effort?

There's a self-paced course that steps you through a process to create a Change Measurement Plan. To make it easy, the course includes a template and the impact assessment so that you develop and execute the plan in a way that respects everyone involved, including you. Because most people are unfamiliar with change measurement work, the course also includes a project task list to use in project planning.

Having a practical approach to measuring change will help you see how well your change is progressing. It will also help you decide what you can do to reduce the common risks and achieve the outcomes you're looking for.