Change Management: Avoid the Noise and Focus on the Big Picture

This article will go a bit on a limb for me, but I think it is a nice slice of life that most people would enjoy. In my day-to-day as Master Data Manager, I play many roles: Manager of two teams, Business Analyst, Project Manager, and last – but certainly not least – Change Agent. While I am certainly not the only person in my company that handles more than one role, I will say that I am in a more unique position than most as my roles are a huge disruptor to the way we have been doing things. Master Data Management and Data Governance have been around for a while now (I’ve talked with some companies that have had the MDM role since 2005 or earlier), but they are both new to my company (< 2 years now). Some might say it’s a blank canvas I’m working with, but I usually relate it to flipping a house – you’re tearing down walls hoping you don’t find mold. And with all this change comes the inevitable resistance. In probably one of my most heated moments, a friend/colleague/manager called some of this resistance as “noise” and that has stuck with me ever since. While I am no expert on change or change management, I will lay out some things I think are important to understand and that I have to put into perspective for myself.

Reality No. 1: No one cares as much as you do (most likely). Stay persistent, stay patient.

I think we’ve all experienced this at different points in our lives. We have this fantastic idea that we believe will save time, money, or make everything more enjoyable, but no one seems to feel the same. This is the moment where after days or weeks of talking about it, you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels. To this I say “Keep the faith!” While you might feel like you’re all alone in your battle, persistance and patience is the name of the game. Big change doesn’t happen with one conversation, it happens with a hundred. Some might expect you to give up – they might even tell you to give up – but this is just noise.

Who-wants-change-Who-wants-to-change

Reality No. 2: No one sees it like you do. Try to see your change from another’s viewpoint.

This is probably one of the toughest things to do. We are littered with our own biases, whether we want to admit it or not. I often reflect on how my day went and think about where my beliefs got in the way of what I actually experienced. Did my resistor get my point, or did I just shove viewpoints down their throat? Are they agreeing because they actually agree, or did they just want me out of their face? Did I see something and accept it as is because it what was I expected to happen (confirmation bias)? Am I too quick to say things are going great or horribly wrong due to recent events (recency bias, overconfidence bias)? Am I tackling the challenges head-on, or am I avoiding the other person’s viewpoint as it may be condemning to my own viewpoint (ostrich bias)? For a full list of these cognitive biases, check out this amazing infographic on Business Insider’s website.

So understanding what you experience is just one half of the battle – you will need to do the same with your counterparts. This is true whether the person is on your team or a client you are working with. I feel J.K. Rowling said it best:

” You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.”

If we can understand how they think and feel about the situation, we can easily work toward communcating effectively with them. Once we understand a person, we can get to the truth in the conversation and see eye-to-eye. Everything else is just noise.

Reality No. 3: You must, with every ounce of your being, open up communication channels and feedback loops.

When you are in a change management position, communcation/feedback is a gold mine. It’s not to say “Hey, everyone! Come dump your issues on me!“, but it’s more of understanding how the change is really impacting the company or organization. It can be good, it can also be bad. It must be done either way. And no one wants negative feedback, but it’s more important than positive feedback, in my opionion. This can be (and in my experience, is) a difficult pill to swallow, but by knowing what’s broken, you know what you can fix. So let me take a second to say something really important to you who are new to change management and may experience harsh, critical negative feedback: You are a person. You matter. What you’re doing is important. You cannot let someone’s opinion of you or what you’re doing define you. If you feel like someone is being unfair or unkind, you have to learn to not take it personally. Get to the heart of what they are trying to say and try to work out how to you can meet them in the middle or turn them around. If you find yourself in one of these moments, here are some great questions to ask:

  • What more can I do?
  • How would you like me to fix [problem]?
  • For first time occurences: I hadn’t encountered that before, but I am writing it down and will revisit with you later. Is there anything else I should know?
  • For repeat occurences: We are working hard to fix [problem]. Please bear with us as we work out the kinks. Is there anything I can do in the meantime that will help?

I always end with a line to keep the communication open like “Please do not hesitate to bring this to my attention again” or “I will make sure to follow up with you to see what we can do to fix this.” Getting customer feedback and sentiment is important, anything else (expletives, unhelpful criticism, etc.) is just noise.

Reality No. 4: You cannot convert someone resistant to change, but they will be converted to the change through you.

I realize this is a seemingly paradoxical statement but hear me out. You cannot convert someone to your way of thinking, you must guide and educate them. Once they see the value in your change and understand it for themselves, you will then have converted them. This goes back to the last three realities. You have to stay patient and persistent in your beliefs. You have to understand the personalities of your clients and yourself. And you have to get to the heart of what is working and what is not working through feedback. Once you understand these three, you then have a level playing field of understanding and you can educate from there. Once you can speak to your client in their language and find what drives them, you can show how your change is going to help them achieve their goals. And while you may have been saying from the beginning “Hey! Do this and it will save you time/money/effort!“, it most likely will fall on deaf ears unless the person feels understood and heard.

Safe-is-risky-Change-is-changing

Back to Reality

These little realities have been big for me as I journey through implementing MDM at my company. It certainly isn’t easy, and it is not a field to go into if you want to make friends. However, if you have big ideas and the fortitude to make big changes within your organization, this is a really rewarding profession.

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