When your Change Management Process and Strategy don’t go to plan

What do you do when your Change Management Process and Strategy start to derail?

Recently, I had an opportunity to work with a leading Telecommunications company in curating* a Change Story as one of the key strategies of their major IT Change Management Plan.

My task was to

1. Curate the Change Story involving 9 Business Divisions involving conversations with over 100 staff

2.  To equip the leadership team to tell the story in a way that people would feel motivated to want to be part of the change.

Whilst I was working on the project I had a very interesting question from one of the senior leaders.

The  question was phrased like this , “Anjali, I get the story, it is authentic, it is about our people, it will connect and I feel I can tell this but what I am interested in knowing is when things do not go per the change management plan, what do you say to the team? It is exactly at that moment skeptics who never believed in our change management strategy will jump in to obstruct it.”

An example of things not going per plan would be : Our new IT system testing fails and the project gets delayed.

So what do you do and say when your envisaged change is not going to plan?

My response to the question asked. 

Let us look at an extreme situation of things going wrong, an air crash, to see if there are parallels in how we can handle it. How do leaders who are acknowledged for handling these catastrophic situations well, handle them? When AirAsia’s QZ8501 crashed, how did Air Asia’s CEO Tony Fernandes respond?

So, what I have done here is to draw a parallel between Tony Fernandes’ response and the questions and responses we could think of in the corporate field when things like testing for a new IT system go wrong.

. Tony Fernandes’ Response A question for a Corporate Leader?
1 Despite being a minority shareholder with 49% share of AirAsia Indonesia, Tony Fernandes stepped up to the plate to handle the situation and took complete responsibility. If the IT Testing fails, what do you do? Stand up in front of your team and take responsibility, shift blame to the core team handling the change project or show frustration towards the vendor who is implementing the IT Transformation ? 
2 AirAsia took on the responsibility of dealing with the crash with Tony Fernandes making public apologies and saying in a statement he would honour the airline’s obligations to the victims and families. “I apologise profusely for what they are going through. I am the leader of this company; I take responsibility. That is why I am here. I am not running away from my obligations.” What statement do you make when things go wrong? Do you apologise for things not working or join the team in the “bitch fest” that often occurs in pantries, smoking areas, canteens and elevators. All places where the real corporate culture lives. What we often fail to recognise is that the Change being implemented is not for the benefit of the Change Team, its for the company’s and employee’s benefit and we need to support and work with the Change Team.
3 To keep people consistently informed, Tony Fernandes immediately took to Twitter to provide updates on the plane. Reactions to the outpouring of positive messages relayed on the social media platform by Fernandes was immediate. Moreover, the constant updates from Air Asia’s corporate head itself surely diffused unwarranted rumours from forming. What do you do to provide the team updates on why the testing failed and what is being done to ensure it doesn’t fail again? There is also great power in saying,” I don’t know what is going on but I am looking in to it”. To care to communicate that I am looking in to it is also a communication. Do you do that or just say,  testing failed again!!
3 Tony Fernandes’ actions certainly matched his tweets, when he met families of the victims personally to speak to them at Juanda International Airport, Surabaya. He tweeted, “On my way to Surabaya where most of the passengers are from with my Indonesian management. Providing information as we get it.” Another note-worthy mention is that he flew to Palembang to personally escort back the family of a  crew member to the crash area. When you say I will find out what is going on, do you say it to avoid further questions or because you genuinely wish to get more  clarity on what is going on, to be able to respond appropriately? Do your actions match your words?
4 Tony Fernandes’ tweets were very human. Some of his tweets were – My heart bleeds for all the relatives of my crew and our passengers. Nothing is more important to us.” In another tweet he says, “The warmth and support from the people of Indonesia has been incredible. Everywhere I go. Nothing but pure support.” These messages have been very personal, very real and very touching, adding such a human element to Air Asia’s whole communication strategy. Indeed in a crisis, messages signalling care and concern are the type we respond to most kindly. Do you really express the difficulties and concerns in the minds of your staff? Do you say ” I am as concerned as you are about having to learn a new system that we are still building” “I understand some of you have concerns about your efficiency and productivity. We will work with you and help you to overcome this”

The key things that stand out on what to do when our change management plan derails.

It’s in no one’s plan or interest for something to go wrong with the change you are planning, just like it was no ones plan for a plane to crash.  But the fact that when your change went wrong, you were there, you apologised, you communicated is what makes a world of difference and puts your staff at ease. 

The effect of an IT Testing failure is no where near an airline crash and if by being present, by apologising and by communicating, Tony Fernandes can garner support, why can’t you?

Change Management Communication

( If you are unable to view the image clearly, please click on it )

*( I use the term curate because this is not the kind of story that we create in a boardroom with key stakeholder. It is curated by  involving of people on the ground with a clear insight that Change Management Storytelling is neither about giving reasons for change nor creating pretty motherhood statements  )

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