Visual Change Management

Five Flows of Change

This is a co-reading of David Sibbets (founder of The Grove) book Visual Leaders and John P. Cotters article from Harvard Business Review Change Management (March 1995)

To be successful a process of change must follow some basic steps, from attention and engagement towards realizing a vision. I’ve dug into these steps following John P. Cotter and David Sibbet, who represent two very different approaches to change management. Cotter is a professor of Leadership from Harvard Business School and Sibbet is a consultant of graphic facilitation.

Now, why does change have to take place? The answer is simple: Because the world is a place of flux. If companies and organisations remain the same, sticking to their old well-known cultures, they will not be able to preserve themselves. So, in a world of constant change organisations and people also need to change to secure their self-preservation.

The problem is that people are conservative. They are inclined to resist change. To accept change they must acknowledge the need to change in order to keep their jobs. From a management point of view this is the starting point of the first flow of change management.

The Attention Flow

I have listed five essential flows of change management. They are not meant as chronological steps (although som chronology will appear). Rather, they are flows that are significant all the way through the process.

Attention flow - change management

The first flow is the flow of attention, the why. It contains an investigation and analysis of the market and realizes that in the near future there is no place for the organization as it is constituted today. Hence, it must change. Next step is to uncover what this change implies. The organization needs to form a new vision. The new vision must be very clear and should be communicable and understandable within 5 minutes. Several visual tools are useful for this flow. Many of them in the form of a template:

  • Drawings of imagined ideas
  • SWOT-analysis as a drawing
  • Drawings of market threats
  • Animated films about market challenges and the need for change
  • Drawings of goals and vision

The Engagement Flow

engagement flow - change management

The second flow is the flow of engagement, the who. The organization needs a strong coalition of people from all levels to effectively engage everyone to change their behaviour. This coalition will lead the process of change and inspire everyone to engage in the transformation. Engaging visual tools include:

  • Graphic recording at meetings
  • Templates for meetings
  • Drawing of people, their new roles, and their responsibilities
  • Agenda drawings

The Information Flow

information flow - change management

The third flow is the flow of information, the what. The threats and the new vision must be communicated to create the needed attention (the why) of the employees. The information flow also includes details on how to achieve the vision. These details will form the strategy. It is crucial to use plenty of resources communicating the vision and the strategy. Some visual tools for the information flow:

  • Animated films explaining the strategy
  • Strategy drawing
  • Storymap with next steps

The Operation Flow

operation flow - change management

The fourth flow is the flow of operation, the how. This is about making the right actions required to reach the vision. These actions can be difficult as the organization has to remove any obstacle that might obstruct the process. Obstacles can be procedures, systems, and employees that needs to be relocated or even fired. Also crucial to a successful process is motivating and engaging employees by providing milestones. Without milestones people might lose sight of the end goal. The motivation (why are we doing this?) is established with the vision, but with milestones motivation can be maintained during the operation. Here are some visuel tools:

  • Drawing of an action plan (with milestones)
  • Decision templates
  • Animated films about next steps
  • Roadmap drawings
  • Implementation plan drawings

The Embedding Flow

embedding flow - change management

The fifth flow of change is my own suggestion – inspired by Cotter’s emphasis on the establishment of a new culture based on the transformation. It is the flow of embedding, the when. Several actions have been made during the flow of operation. But when is it time to decide the change has succeeded? It can be risky to declare the battle won too early. The transformation process is not over before the changes have been embedded and lead to a new culture in the organization. Not many visual tools are available for this part as it marks the ending of a process. One tool is still useful, though:

  • Drawing of a success: How did we get here?

More blog posts about change management? Here!

The Change of Communication

Reading: The Change of Communication (Danish: Forandring af kommunikation) by Frederik Hertel
Company changes can only take place through communication. Before a change process, an alignment of the views of the company’s goals, vision, and values is necessary. If values, goals and vision are predetermined by the management you have a top-down change process.

Contrary to the top-down change process another approach is possible and often preferable if you want to strengthen the employee engagement: You discuss the eligibility and possible change of the values with the employees.

Processes of change cannot simply be communicated. The communication itself must be changed. To change the communication in a company you have to have a policy of communication (the strategic level) as well as communication campaigns and communication activities (tactical / operational level). A process of change must be aligned with the general policy of communication.

German philosopher Habermas suggested a definition of the ideal communicative act:

Communication of change cannot comply to this ideal definition, though.

Due to the different levels of power in a company communication must be strategic. This somewhat manipulative element opens up for an ethical and moral perspective of the communication.

Communication of change can be divided into two paradigms:

1) Communication in a paradigm of change. In this paradigm communicating a message is like conveying a “thing” from a sender to a recipient. The problem here is that the message does not remain exactly the same thing for the sender as for the recipient. This is because of their different perspectives. Therefore, there is no communication without interpretation.

2) Communication in a paradigm of communication. This is the semiotic tradition. Subjects that communicate with each other have ‘intentionality’, i.e. they are always conscious of something and have always directed their consciousness towards something. So, communication is a cooperation between interlocutors on producing and exchanging significance / meaning. If they exchange different meanings (which they do!) this doesn’t imply failure of communication. Identical meaning from two different subjects is impossible! Communication is still possible, though, as people share the same contexts in communities, including companies.

Communication of change cannot be reduced to a tool used by the management to send messages to the employees. Employees are co-producers of the company’s communication of change. This co-production of meaning is essential for a change process to succeed in a company.