Things to consider before you start a change network
Four of the biggest mistakes change leaders make before they launch a change network
If you’ve ever been involved in an organisation change you’ll no doubt have heard the term “Change Network”. The term carries a lot of baggage and whilst there’s no standard definition there are some common characteristics of what we mean when we refer to a “Change Network”.
Put simply a change network can be described as a group of people in an organisation who have responsibility for helping the organisation land the changes and helping people in the organisation adapt to the future state.
First off, it’s important to know that a change network isn’t a silver bullet to making sure that your change goes well. Sure, when established and empowered correctly they can contribute to that process (sometimes contribute significantly!).
When embarking on a change many organisations rush to establish a change network because it can contribute to the feeling of momentum but, before you establish such a network there are four important things to consider that are often overlooked.
It’s tempting to establish a change network early, especially if your change isn’t subject to NDAs or confidentiality requirements. Resist the urge to do this though. In establishing a successful, sustainable change network timing is everything.
If you come out of the gates too early and start a change network you’ll find that your network will quickly become disengaged because they don’t have a meaningful role to fulfil.
So, how do you know if the timing is right? The question you need to answer is:
- have you adequately mapped out what the members of the change network will actually do? And, is now the right time for them to start doing it?
Having a clear purpose for the change network is going to be crucial to its success. A well defined purpose provides a “north star” for members to gravitate towards. Also, helpfully, it provides a useful yardstick against which you can measure the effectiveness of the network in fulfilling the organisational vision for the change network.
One important consideration that will help you move the purpose of the change network beyond a simple statement is to assess whether or not the purpose adequately defines the responsibilities and accountabilities of what the change network will deliver. It might need some further explanation, of course, but does the purpose adequately signal what will be achieved as a result of this network?
Preparation, Training, and Roles
If you’ve answered the questions on timing and purpose and you’re satisfied that now is the right time to start a change network the next thing to consider is how to make sure members of the network are adequately prepared to fulfil their role. There’s no point in having a massive change network if the members aren’t able to adequately perform their roles. That will lead to frustration for you and them. As you think about preparation and training consider two crucial lenses:
- The Organisational Lens — what role does the organisation require members of the change network to fulfil? For example, are they going to be a communications channel primarily, or will they be more actively managing some of the changes?
- The Individual Lens — what skills does each individual member have and how does this reconcile with the overall organisation requirements?
If you’re able to answer these questions sufficiently you’ll have a good understanding of the “gap” that exists within the network and how you can bridge that gap by increasing members’ awareness, knowledge, or experience. This will allow you to build a comprehensive “role description” for what makes a good member of the change network — and much like the purpose this can be used to measure effectiveness.
Building support and advocacy
One final consideration that I often see people overlooking when the move to start a change network is to spend time building support for the change with members of the network.
Depending on how your network members because members (e.g. did they volunteer or were they voluntold?) they may still require some convincing themselves of the efficacy of this change. So, it’s worth investing significant time helping them understand:
- the business case and rationale for the change — why is this change being made? Why is this change being made now? What are the risks if we don’t make this change?
- the individual and organisational risks and benefits of the change — what will this mean for the people impacted by the change and what will it mean for the organisation?
- the personal factors for why they should be supportive change network members — this may lead to some sort of organisational advancement opportunity for them, or it could be a good opportunity for them to acquire a new skill, for example. Essentially you need to make sure that you are able to bring them on board with personally motivating reasons for them to fulfil this role
Don’t assume that just because this person is a change network member that they will be fully bought into the change…remember that they are individuals first and you should anticipate a range of reactions. And, as such, you should plan to spend some time dealing with this range of reactions before you expect the network to be delivering benefits or outcomes.
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of everything you need to consider. However, it is a list of the things that I see ignored most often. And, when these things are ignored it often leads to poor outcomes — a network that’s not as invested or effective as they should be.