Layers of Change

Layers that Build Success

Now, let’s take a look now at how the ACMP Standard actually fits into the layers.

As I mentioned, the ACMP Standard has a layered structure. Starting at the highest conceptual level, it details the change process all the way down to day-to day tactical steps for implementation—which all map out to sequential layers that align nicely with organizational hierarchy charts.

What does this mean, you ask?

It means we have a model to take your organization through that details the process not only from beginning to end, but from the top down as well. You get to see everything to do, in order, with the part of the organization should be doing it.

Let’s take a look.

Layer 1: Identify the need to change (ACMP tasks 5.1.1. and 5.1.2)

This happens organically at the highest levels of an organization. Whether it’s—

Layers of Change Triangle with added Layer 1 over Triangle Levels.
  • Years of managers suggesting a change to you
  • An inspiration that came to following a conference you attended
  • Something you read in a book, blog, or industry journal
  • A directive from your board

—whatever the reason for the change, leadership has started talking about it and this making decisions about what the change will be and why it’s needed.

However, this tends to be the 50,000-foot view. It requires little in the way of the specifics, detailed analysis, and focused KPI’s actually needed to implement a change of any real substance. So, after leadership has developed clarity on what the change should be and why it needs to be implemented, they should develop a charter to document all the reasoning for taking on this change initiative.

Layer 2: Paint a clear picture (ACMP tasks 5.1.3-5.1.6)

Want a complete picture? Start gathering data.

A lot.

Work to define where the proposed change with take your organization and what results you’re looking for out of it and ask questions such as:

  • What does the future state look like?
  • Who will be impacted?
  • What would robust health look like?
Layers of Change Triangle with added Layer 2 over Triangle Levels.

To gather data, you’ll have to go to the source—your directors, managers, and department heads. Using all the information gleaned from them, you’ll define the mission, goals and desired outcomes—once again, at an organization-wide high-level.

What this will help you generate is goals that will be little more than fuzzy statements like “maintain less inventory” or “become more efficient.” And if somehow in this layer you somehow pull off getting defined target numbers, you’ll be well ahead of the game.

But rarely have I seen organizations get there in this layer.

So don’t worry if you’re not there. A high-level mission statement is exactly what you’re after at this point—just a star to point your direction so you can begin communicating where you’re headed.

This is also the time when you appoint what I like to call a quarterback to ensure coordination and cooperation among the various groups in the initiative. The quarterback can be an individual or small committee (no more than four people on this committee—any more, in my experience, and it gets mired down in all the usual issues committees do).

Layer 3: Take inventory (ACMP tasks 5.1.7–5.1.15)

Before you can change it, you have to know what it is, right?

So in this layer, take inventory of all that you will be dealing with in this undertaking:

  • What is the change?
  • How big will the change be?
  • Who are the people it will impact?
    • How ready for this change are they?
    • What areas—abilities, skill, knowledge, aptitude, desire, knowledge—are they already excelling in that will make bringing about the change easy?
    • In which of those areas are there gaps you need to plan for?
  • What resources do you already have in place to help drive the change initiative?
    • Communications department with defined communications processes?
    • Learning department?
    • Templates?
    • Standards?
  • Are there any outside resources you can tap into?

Also, be sure to understand how resistant people may be to the change you’re initiating—getting their support has to be part of your planning. And remember they’re people, not parts, and you can’t just swap them about or repurpose them and expect it all to go smoothly. Think about—and understand—how much change they’ve faced in their roles and how it’s worked out in the past, as well as how much stress they’ve been under recently.

Ask yourself honestly if they can absorb any more without breaking.

Layers of Change Triangle with added Layer 3 over Triangle Levels.

This level is generally handled by your Quarterback/Quarterback Committee, who will work with the directors, managers, and department heads.

More often than not, these people are delegating much of this work to the level below them, so not only will they need to be included in the high-level discussions of the change initiative, but they’ll need some support and coaching themselves so they know what to say and can explain the assessments and questionnaires they’re being asked to send out as well as answer questions.

Layer 4: Strategize (ACMP tasks 5.2.1–5.2.7)

Once you have data—lots of data—you’re in a position to start making high-level decisions about the overall strategy.

Don’t skip this step!

You’ll be tempted to. “We’ve got data, so let’s just dive in and get going!” I can hear you saying—but stick to the process. Remember, each layer builds on the last. And sure, it may sound like a good idea to try to learn multiplication right after you learn to count (going back to my elementary math education example from above), but there’s a reason addition and subtraction are generally taught before multiplication—so just stay with me on this.

This step is often skipped because leadership thinks it’ll be hard, and will take up a lot of time.

But it doesn’t need to. All it really requires is two or three sentences for each area your initiative addresses, something as simple as, “We found XX, and this is what we’re going to do about it.”

It’s really high level. You can handle that. And, most importantly, it lays down the initial shape of the initiative.

For your Quarterback/Quarterback Committee to present.

See how easy that is?

Layers of Change Triangle with added Layer 4 over Triangle Levels.

Your Quarterback/Quarterback Committee then presents—and gets buy-in—for these initial, high-level strategic points at your organization’s managerial level, director/VP level, and finally from the Executive Leadership Team.

Remember, this is not a detailed plan. Think of it like deciding on whether your family vacation this year is a Motel 6 with a pool and Six Flags up the street or three weeks in Europe at an all-inclusive resort.

The strokes you’re working in at this point should be that broad.

It’s an outline. One with high-level budget numbers for all levels of your organization to agree on.

All you want at this point is to set a tone and get some alignment on the financial implications of the proposed change. If people start talking about professionally produced training videos and retreats and kickoff parties with sacks of schwag, this is the point where you can get them aligned on your actual budget. And if it doesn’t match those grand aspirations, at least everyone knows before the plans get too set in their minds.

The idea here is to simply get input and a level of acceptance from all management/leadership layers in your organization. For me, this is the where I start conveying that change is coming, in order to prepare everyone.

But at this point, don’t go looking for buy-in any lower in your organization. I have seen SO many organizations involve the employees as well as well as management and leadership in these first four layers—in the name of getting buy-in—only to see confusion and fear result, which you then have to dedicate time and money to untangle before you can resume moving forward.

Because Layer 5—our next layer—is pretty tactical, it’s also a smart move in this layer to begin engaging your Change Agents. (Who are they, you ask? Please check out my previous post Jesus-Shaped Change for all the details.) Use this layer to get them up to speed on all the data you’ve gathered and the directions and strategies you’ve decided upon so far.

You need their support, so get ’em on board now.

Layer 5: Plan (ACMP tasks 5.3.1–5.3.4)

Project Plan

In this layer, you create the project plan for your initiative.

Any by “you” I mean a program manager, a change lead, or a consultant who you engage as Project Manager to do it.

Once again, see how easy that is?

Layers of Change Triangle with added Layer 5 over Triangle Levels.

Have the individual you select work with the organization leaders involved in any projects or initiatives your organization has going on at the same time in order to understand.

  • Competing projects
  • Delivery dates of other project
  • Resources needed

Knowing these competing projects and their needs is critical for implementation of your initiative.

Be aware: The project plan at this point is going to be a little rough—at this stage, I’ve yet to see one that’s anything close to perfect. There are so many dependencies that all rely on where the other projects are at any given time and which resources they each require that no plan could take all the variables into account.

But you have to set something down—you NEED to set some target delivery dates.

Communications Plan

With the project plan in place, the next step is your communications plan—and most importantly, the communications approval process.

This is key in your communications strategy because without it, it will never be clear to your various layers and players how directions and messages related to the initiative get released.

And trust me, without communications, this whole change initiative is dead on arrival. So you NEED a good plan with a well-defined process for approving messages before they’re released. At a minimum, this means it must include answers to the following questions:

  • Does every written communication that need to be reviewed by Corporate Communications?
    • If not, which communications do not need approval?
  • How many days does Corporate Communications require to review and approve?
  • Do any messages require Director review before they can bet sent out to the teams?
    • If so, how many days do Directors require to review, edit, and approve?
  • Which communications must go to the Executive Leadership Team?
    • How much time does Executive Leadership require to review, edit, and approve?
  • If any Reviewer in the process makes a change, adds a suggestion, or notes a question to a communication (God forbid!) does the review process start back over with the initiator, or does each review move along and build upon the previous review?
  • What if a reviewer at any stage doesn’t complete the review by the deadline?
    • Is the review process delayed by the hold up?
    • Does the process carry on without that reviewer’s input?

Think out and define these things so your Project Manager can build a realistic—and therefore potentially successful—plan.

Layer 6: Execute (ACMP tasks 5.4.1–5.4.2)

Do it.

In this layer, all the data gathering and analysis and discussion and planning all come together as you execute the plan you’ve built up and developed through all the preceding layers.

Layers of Change Triangle with added Layer 6 over Triangle Levels.

You and your Change Agents, Project Manager, Managers, and Executive Leadership all develop, review, schedule, send, respond to, assess, and tweak communications regarding the initiative while your PM coordinates with all the various project leads to ensure dependencies are running on schedule.

You and your Change Agents, Project Manager, Managers, and Executive Leadership all develop, review, schedule, send, respond to, assess, and tweak communications regarding the initiative while your PM coordinates with all the various project leads to ensure dependencies are running on schedule.

Further, you need assign individuals to

  • Reserve training facilities
  • Develop curriculum
  • Conduct classes
  • Hold more than a few individuals’ hands
  • Run reports to discern who’s participating—and who isn’t
  • Execute resistance plans
  • Escalate issues
  • Manage the budget
  • Track and report the initiative’s progress

This layer is critical not just because it’s where everything actually happens, but because it impacts every stakeholder, from employees to vendors to customers. This is where the rubber meets the road and you either get traction and start forward or things come to a screeching halt.

If you’ve done the work at every step and avoided the temptations of The Three Sins to Derail Successful Change to skip steps, then your plan should be easily articulated and clear to all.

And people will feel safe—the key to getting them on board with the change.

Layer 7: Wrap it Up (ACMP tasks 5.5.1–5.5.3)

You’re done. The initiative’s complete, and the change is in place. Time to stop and have a beer, right?

Okay, but just one. You still have work to do.

Layers of Change Triangle with added Layer 7 over Triangle Levels.

Once your initiative has attained the anticipated results and the sustainability strategy section has been completed—that is, ownership of the changed processes has been handed off to the operational teams and resources have been released from the change initiative—start looking over your data.

Yes, you should have good metrics to see where you’re tracking with regard to the project’s goals and KPI’s. But the end is a good time to put an executive summary together to document the progress you—and your organization—have made. So hold a lessons learned session, close out the change initiative, and celebrate the success!

Be congratulatory in this layer’s communications with every stakeholder. They’ve all worked hard, and together you’ve created a big win! Acknowledge everyone’s efforts, and express your appreciation for their effort.

Even if you didn’t quite reach the goal, let them know you’re aware of how hard they worked. Share with the stakeholders the lessons learned through this initiative, and remind them that if you should try again, the odds of success are greater from what you’ve learned this time through.

Together, you’ve accomplished something.

Last Piece of Advice: Never Straddle Layers!

I hope now you can see the process—not just how each layer builds upon the previous layer, with each providing something essential as you move forward, but how to pinpoint where you are within a given layer and who you need to engage at each step.

Most importantly, when you’re deep in the process, remember: If you ever feel like you’re straddling two layers with one foot in each, take a step back to the earlier layer. Focus your attention there to do whatever you need to in order to wrap up, finalize, and obtain buy-in from all the players for all that layer’s items. Then once you have clarity, step cleanly into the next.

I’d offer you good luck, but if you stick to the process, you won’t need it.

To view the Three Sins That Derail Successful Change, click here:

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