Change workshops must start with the customer

Now we’re into the second half of the year, many teams use the summer slow-down to re-plan and structure for the rest of year. By the firms have their mid-year summits and analyst days behind them, and they start to look over their metrics from the first half. As a result, it’s a good time to realign budgets and plans. Often teams use change workshops to work through that, but sometimes they mistakenly ignore the customer (and customers might be clients, internal stakeholders or external observers like analysts).

Looking at many of the agendas and methods that folk prepare for changing their organisations, we see that often  leaders and corporate sponsors gather to develop the corporate vision, and then team members focus on developing policies, plans for execution and performance management methods to meet those goals. Much of the emphasis is on value realisation, roll-out plans and communicating change.

There’s a reason why change workshops look like that: they mimic the generic templates for such events, often drawing on structured systems design approaches like Prince and methods like ITIL. What almost all those approaches have in common is an absence of the customer, either directly (as participants) or indirectly (with research or a survey of customers’ social media comments and other feedback), at the centre of discussion in the workshop. Often, instead of mentioning the customer, many change approaches have ‘the environment’, as if PEST analysis is better than client insight.  They seem to have the unspoken assumption that, as Peggy Holman, Tom Devane, and Steven Cady put it in The Change Handbook, people have not been adequately informed about corporate purposes and methods:  therefore ‘Tops’ are using it on ‘Bottoms’ to “straighten them out”. Change is seen as a planned and managed process where the necessary change is assumed to be already know, even if the customer is mentioned.

It’s very easy to imagine that change is done to the organisation by leaders, independently of the objective world around it. Of course it’s not like that very often: it’s the outside world which produced challenges, and the solutions are crucial where the ‘rubber meets the road’, not just in leadership bodies.

Do you want to bring the voice of customer into your planning and change initiatives? What approaches do you use? How can firms like Lighthouse better support that work? Let us know your comments.

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