Change is a learning experience, and a completed change is your report card, final project, and graduation day rolled into one. To keep your eyes on that prize, your plan involves knowing what to expect when a change is implemented.
But short of psychic powers, how can you really know what to expect? Honestly, you can't. But asking the right questions can guide you toward the best answers you need to determine if your change is on track. Plus, these questions will help you measure success after the change.
Here is what you need to ask yourself before and after the change process:
Do we need it? Did we need it?
In the initial phase of any change to process or organization, the change leader should be looking to make some improvements. These should be dramatic enough to require action and obvious enough to convince the stakeholders. The simple question “Do we need it?” will open the discussion, so you can start gathering the kind of buy-in you’ll need though the implementation process. This will also make an excellent gauge of how resistant to change the team might be.
This question is also a test of the leader's own resolve. As the change leader, you should be thoroughly committed to the changes you’re implementing and must have an excellent list of the pros (and cons) ready for your stakeholders.
Afterwards, you should be prepared to ask those same stakeholders, “Did we need it?”
The best-case scenario in both cases should be a resounding “Yes.” Anything short of that is a measure of the buy-in before (and after). Eventually, the questions and answers should make it apparent to everyone involved that the change was overdue and even inevitable.
Will it work? Did it work?
An additional part of the buy-in process, this question is proof you’ve done your homework. Understanding what will be changed well enough to explain to the stakeholders—and why it will provide a benefit to them and the company as a whole—will offer some proof of your own expertise.
Confidence is reassuring, especially considering whatever upheaval you’re about to administer. You need to keep the team assured of the fact that you’re working with their best interest in mind and convinced that you’re competent enough to fulfill the promises you make to get their buy-in.
The follow up question, “Did it work?” is the necessary and honest assessment of the effect your change process has had on the work of the department, specifically with the stakeholders. This question shouldn’t have a surprise answer if you’ve been encouraging honest feedback throughout.
Anything short of the complete fulfillment of the promises made should be weighed carefully: Is there still some resistance to using the new system? Did you replace one problem with another? The work should be objectively better by whatever metrics you set for yourself at the beginning.
For example, if you were implementing new software to make a part of their process faster, then it should be notably faster. If efficiency and cost weren't goals or a part of the changes you implemented, then that shouldn’t be a part of the grade for success. If you were reducing costs and improving efficiency but still using slower software, then you can’t call the change a failure if the software is still slow but cheaper and prone to fewer errors.
Will the team be able to use it? Can the team use it?
If the changes require any kind of formalized training, certifications, or advanced skills, you should be assessing the team to make sure they're up to this particular challenge. Some members of the team might be unwilling to change their skill sets if that's what the new process demands. It might be time to find a way to make the best use of them as a resource. This will require both tact and some degree of directness.
Asking “Can the team use it?” after the fact is, again, a much-needed reflective moment to determine how well the team is using the new equipment or software. Some good follow-ups to that question include, “Is the team utilizing all of the features available?” and—and this is important—“Are they still doing the same things but with new toys?”
Make sure your stakeholders aren’t doing things the old way and then doing them the new way just as a back up: Instead of saving time and energy, you’ve just doubled their workload or worse. Your team should have full access to all of the benefits you promised to get their buy-in in the first place.
New processes offer new opportunities to see and do things better, faster, more efficiently. If you aren’t willing to assess the need for the change before and after implementation objectively, even critically, then you aren’t going to set yourself up for effective change management. A leader asks the hard questions, of themselves and others.