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Improve your change management impact with data and an evidence-based approach

By Morten Kamp-Andersen, Partner

Change management has matured significantly over the last ten years, and we now have established structures, tools, and processes. But we can mature even more, and I believe that an evidence-based practice will take the discipline to the next level by targeting and improving our activities. When we choose which activities to do and how to design them, most often we are not using the best available knowledge, research, and information and that’s where evidence-based change management (EB-CM) will help.

Specifically, EB-CM can add value by 1) Improving our understanding of the change we are facing, 2) improving the design of our activities and 3) effectively monitoring our progress. In some areas of change management, we have to stop guessing and start knowing.

Evidence meets Change Management

The fundamental idea of evidence-based practice is that good quality decisions around change management should be based on a combination of critical thinking and the best available evidence. It is not to find “The Right Answer” – we are dealing with people after all. The purpose is to use all available evidence (external research, internal data, analysis, experience, interviews, etc.) to find the solution with the highest probability of making the affected employees of the change ready to adopt and use the solution.

Why will the solutions be better? Psychological research shows that even the most reflected people fall into pitfalls such as biases and prejudices when judging what the best thing to do is. We simply often choose less probable outcomes over more probable ones without even knowing it, and this is true for all people. In other words, we often choose activities because we normally do them rather than search for the most effective one.

The steps to take you there

One way to get around this issue is to apply an evidence-based approach to establishing the most optimal change management activities. Start with a focus on the business issue, which you are trying to solve. With that in mind, what are some of the important change management activities you should focus on? For those activities, you should focus on getting the most value for the money you invest. Then ask which knowledge you will need to get that insight: do you need more knowledge of learning efficiency, more knowledge of areas of resistance, knowledge of drivers for desire? Then identify the information you will need to create that knowledge.

You can get inspiration externally from scientific research and best practices, and you can strengthen the argument by analysing your organisation. Many organisations have departments such as People Analytics that can help. Only then will you know which data you will need to establish to underpin your intervention with convincing evidence? You can now gather exactly the data required to make the highest probability of success.

Four areas to apply evidence-based change management

There are many ways in which EB-CM can be applied and make our change management activities have a greater impact on the organisation and the projects. Four examples are:

  1. Identify areas of likely resistance: We cannot exactly predict resistance, but we can use EB-CM to identify the areas where resistance most likely will be and thereby take a proactive approach. Resistance occurs for many different reasons, but with the use of data, evidence and internal experience we can be better to identify areas and reasons for resistance. The new generation of real-time employee sentiment tools can for example help identify areas of low engagement which may impact resistance.
  2. Find the most effective ambassadors. Relational analytics based on network models is a new way to use data to understand people’s interactions within organisations. Relational analytics can be used to identify the most effective ambassadors for this particular change, and to engage them most effectively.
  3. Provide the most effective training. If we on a running basis conduct effective evaluations of the effectiveness of training classes, we will provide more effective training, predictive models for converting training to ability and perhaps more targeted training. If a company is using its digital behavioural data, not only will this be less intrusive for the employees, but it will also eliminate the often significant bias data collected through surveys has.
  4. Design the most effective dashboards for track adoption. Change management’s prime goal is to drive adoption of the new solution. Dashboards and metrics are great ways to monitor the likelihood or the progress of adoption. The EB-CM approach will help to identify the most effective metrics and thereby keep the benefits realised on track.

…and one example – training for IT security

Shell has, like so many other organisations, a significant business risk regarding cybersecurity. By a combination of regular and advanced statistic, Shell could map the profile of employees who would most likely cause a phishing event or download a virus. This insight enabled Shell to make a targeted training effort to create awareness about the risk, desire to combat it, knowledge and ability of what to do when receiving such emails. By targeting the training towards 30 per cent of their employees, they addressed the majority of potential IT security issues. Not only did the project reduce the risk of security threats (which was the purpose of the project), but it also did this with a lower cost of training and disruption to the company.

EB-CM is no holy grail, and nor will it transform the discipline from one day to the next. But better practice will come from better decisions about what we do and how we do them. And in this respect, EB-CM can really help.

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