Landing Successful Change

Once country borders relax and you can fly to your favourite holiday destination, imagine how you would feel if just as you were about to board an aircraft the pilot informs you that there is a 70% chance that the flight will fail. This would not happen in aviation, however it is the reality for change management projects. With an overwhelming statistic that 70% of change projects fail (McKinsey), and only 25% of change management initiatives successful over the long term (Willis Towers Watson), who would want to step on the change management flight?

This was the inspiration for Katherine Corich, who founded Sysdoc over 30 years ago. Sysdoc brings a refreshing approach to change management, standing by the aviation value that there is zero room for failure. This is what led them to refine their change management methodologies to create Flight Path®: a change management approach that has been shaped and underpinned by aviation principles.

So, what is it about the principles of aviation that make it a compelling model for Change Management?

Let’s explore the different approaches that are commonly used for change programmes and see how they can be strengthened when underpinned by the principles of aviation.

Enterprise Change Management

At the enterprise level, change management methodologies take the form of an end-end change management process. This includes several approaches: Kotter’s’ Principles of Change, Prosci Enterprise Change Management, and our own Sysdoc Flight Path. More of these change approaches can be seen through the event recording at the link below.

There is not necessarily one approach that is better than the other; rather that it is important to understand that change is a process and that you need to take an organisation through a number of stages as you prepare them for change. You must define a compelling vision for change. Change can be challenging and expensive – and people usually question why it is necessary. It is not the process itself that determines success, it is how you do it.

Individual Change Management

People don’t go through change at the same ease or pace, but ultimately, helping them to embrace change is the goal. Both individual change management processes displayed on the event recording demonstrate that the stages of change acceptance are like those in all life processes and can be related strongly to the stages of grief curve. Individuals will go through several stages to embrace change.

Change Methodologies

Again, because there are several change methodologies to choose from there can be some argument as to which is the best. While working on a project with a government department Katherine gave an example of  one individual change manager whose confidence lay with their familiar methodology. They religiously applied every stage in the linear methodology, yet didn’t question where further analysis, challenge or support may be needed to successfully transition the organization. Enter the principles of aviation. It can be a difficult task as a change leader to drive towards an optimum outcome. The principles of aviation offer extra gems; not just a linear process, but one that uses data to fully understand stakeholders and concurrent challenges in the organization that may impact the change programme.   

Single View of Stakeholder

The concept of a single view of stakeholder is based on the ‘single view of customer’ concept that is routinely referred to in retail and banking settings. When we introduce this concept into change management, we are talking about strengthening our understanding of each stakeholder. The single stakeholder view gives a change manager a better understanding of their stakeholder’s values, culture and broader responsibilities. This brings in a socio-political level and gives us the depth and understanding to help the stakeholder land change.

How Aviation Principles Can Guide Us

The wider concept of this is the safety and productivity aspects that the aviation principles can bring to change management- ultimate success, without the 70% chance of failure. These principles give us a framework for managing the different challenges that emerge during change programmes; from outright resistance to handling difficult conversations. At each stage of the Flightpath® change program, we do what aviators do routinely; we are debriefing. Here’s a quick overview of the aviation principles we went over in the change event session:

Whole System Thinking – something we all need to live and breathe. In an aviation context it is all the participants in the system working together cohesively following a clearly understood end to end process, and to their best ability: the pilot, engineers, air traffic controllers, meteorologists, design and performance engineers, airspace regulators, cabin crew, and so on. During the majority of flights, the end-to-end process is in the background. However, in the event of an emergency, it’s importance cannot be understated. All participants know their role; how and what to do. In the rare event of an aircraft accident, we see a whole system investigation and deconstruction. The failures are identified, analysed and understood. If we applied this robustness to our business processes, there would be determined success.

Data-Enabled Change is another key principle for success. This includes storing data in one place; so that change managers and executive sponsors can see a unified and real-time view of the change programme. Traditional change approaches allow this key organisational data to be stored on individual spreadsheets. Each individual change manager, each new project and different divisions all work in a disjointed way, without that vital helicopter perspective that is key to delivering successful change. If you can understand the complete data set of the organisation, you can make informed decisions. The data also gives change managers the depth to have conversations with leaders.

Checklists – In aviation, checklists are there for safety. In complex systems no individual can retain all knowledge and information repetition keeps us safe.

Zero Flight Time is an aviation tool where someone, anyone, can be taught to fly a plan with complete competence in a full motion simulator. This level of competence can be obtained through simulated flying practice without ever leaving the ground. We know we can teach anyone with simulations and build total knowledge and competence – a training method which could be used more effectively in the capability phases of complex change programmes.

In utilizing Black Box Thinking you have access to a rich data set of information such as engine and flight performance, and the conversations between pilots and engineers on the flight deck. In the event of an incident or an emergency, the events leading up to an accident can be deconstructed to provide a historical perspective of data recordings, human recordings, aircraft performance settings and more.

Human-Centered Change is important to acknowledge- if we don’t understand the human we won’t have foresight of the change, the problems, the training involved. This links to Human Factors. In a plane this will be everything that relates to how a person performs in the environment they’re in. For us in the work environment this still be how a person is mentally, physically, the social and physical environment. A Just Culture system is about creating a place or culture where people can safely express their concerns, things they felt could have been done better and while there is still no tolerance for failure, there is a space where future issues can be addressed, and failure can be avoided. There is a duty of safety performance that everyone must carry, and that the concept of safe whistle-blowing supports this.

How To Land Successful Change

Landing change in an organisation should be looked at as if you are landing an aircraft on an aircraft carrier mid-ocean. There is a high degree of technical competence needed to complete this task. You need your team 100% aligned with you, precision, accurate data, and a deep understanding on the movements and tasks at hand. This metaphor can be directly related to change management when working with an organisation and creating an optimum end-to-end change process. Following defined phases, utilising aviation principles, and using whole system thinking enables confidence in moving towards to end goal. Tracking in one centralized systems allows for visibility of interventions and initiatives. Be empowered by data. And have full comprehension of human-centered change and a single stakeholder view.

Sysdoc™, FlightPath™, Serendata™ and Serendata Insights™ are registered trademarks of the Sysdoc group.

About Katherine Corich

Katherine Corich is the founder and Chair of the Sysdoc Group, a global consulting and IT business. Her expertise is in the fields of business transformation, whole-system-thinking, digital disruption, leading change, simulation based learning and cross border working. Katherine has led transformation programmes for major global corporates and the public sector in UK, NZ and Australia.

Katherine believes that the key to success in any transformation is a clear vision, collaboration and enduring partnerships. Katherine previously served on the boards of the Liverpool Mayoral Development Corporation, Global Women and WIL Europe. She has been on the Advisory boards of University of Auckland Business School, University of Canterbury, CEISMIC, Aviva Families and Global Angels. 

Credits: article written by Rose Barnett from the Sysdoc Group.

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