Ask 100 people to define Change Management, and you'll get 100 different definitions. At the end of the day, the definition is just semantics. What really matters is whether you can implement a Change Management program in a practical way that allows you to support your organization in successfully achieving its goals. Whether you're a Change Manager, a consultant, or the tech. guy who was told to "figure out some Change Management stuff," this blog will help address common issues and topics you're likely to run into along the way.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Elephant in the Room: Making a Boring Project Emotional

Welcome to the first meeting of Practical Change Management's virtual book club (VBC).  Hopefully, a few of you had a chance to pick up the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath.

As mentioned last week, our first discussion question centers around the "Glove Story" that is told on page 12.  In this story, a company has a huge opportunity to save costs by streamlining their purchasing processes.  The man advocating for the change does all of the sensible things.  He gathers data showing how much money they can save.  He creates graphs and presentations.  He makes sure the powers that be understand the opportunity.  He puts in all of this time and effort, and the executives nod in agreement, but the change never moves forward.

Finally, as a last resort, the employee has a summer intern gather a sample of a glove used in every facility, along with the price paid for it.  He ends up with a pile of hundreds of gloves that have been bought separately by different departments.  Despite being identical gloves, the cost of the gloves ranged from less than $5 to more than $15!  When he invites the executives in for another meeting, he piles the gloves on a table, each tagged with the department that bought it and the price paid.  Suddenly, confronted with a startling visual of the money being wasted by ineffective purchasing, the executives throw themselves behind the need for process change.

The Question
This brings me to our first discussion question: How would you create an "elephant presentation," which is a presentation designed to work on people's emotions, for a relatively boring project?

I decided to look at this question for a project type that I'm very familiar with: an Oracle ERP system implementation.  Really, it just doesn't get much less sexy than that.  Having worked on this type of project for years, I can assure you that very few people get excited about big system implementations.  And outside of the IT department, there is often very little sense of urgency around the need to do the project.  So how, exactly, could I create a presentation that would get your average person fired up about a project that will be long, hard, expensive, and boring?

My Answer
I would create a video that follows the current process, focusing not just on the steps in the process, but also on the impact it has on employees along the way.  Consider, for example, the purchasing process.  Let's take a company that has a computer-based, but not ERP-style automated system.  Executives might think the current process works just fine.  The purchasing department might think the process could be a bit faster, but feel that overall it fits the company's needs.  Meanwhile, the average user is pulling his hair out.  The video would look like this:
Open with a shot of someone (we'll call him John) filling in an online form.  Once he finishes it, he e-mails it to his boss for approval.  We see John on the video the next day knocking on his boss's door.  John wasn't sure if his boss had seen the e-mail, and wanted to make sure the purchasing request got reviewed.  John's boss hadn't noticed the e-mail, but promises to look at it before the day is done.
Another day goes by, and we see John back at his boss's office checking on the purchasing request.  John's boss informs him that he wasn't sure if he had the approval authority for such a large request, so he forwarded the form to the next level of management, just in case.  The video follows John as he goes to see his boss's boss.  There he meets the administrative assistant, who informs John that her boss insists that the forms be printed out so that she can review them on paper, rather than in an e-mail.  The admin points to John's printed purchase request at the bottom of a large inbox pile.
Another day goes by.  It's now day four, and John still doesn't know if his purchase request has been approved.  We watch him go back to the administrative assistant, who informs John that her boss has left for a four-day weekend.  John asks if there's someone else who can approve his request, but unfortunately, the boss didn't leave a delegate.  The video ends with John walking back to his office in defeat, resigned to at least four more days of waiting for his request to be reviewed and approved. 
Every issue John ran into in the video could be addressed by the implementation of an ERP system.  This is something that people know going into the implementation at an intellectual level, but creating a video that shows one of their actual colleagues suffering through a common problem - a problem they have probably encountered themselves - drives at their sense of empathy and helps build a sense that this is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed.

Let Me Know: Do you think this presentation would work to build an emotional response to a "boring" intellectual problem?  What presentation did you come up with for a "boring"project?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Next Discussion Question:   Beginning on page 27, Chip and Dan use the story of fighting malnutrition in Vietnam to highlight the concept of bright spots, defined as "successful efforts worth emulating."  How would you use "bright spots" in a difficult situation or project to help bring about change?  I'll be sharing a real-life case study from one of my past projects.


  1. In my view the Video should compare both the AS IS process and To Be process and also highlight the change impacted to speed and accuracy.To bring the flavor of change management, the AS IS could also capture reasons for resistance to change or the existing affinity to status quo.For example, Jon`s manager might want to take one full day for decision at his end for reasons like i) Convulated decision process or ii)doesn`t want to take responsibility. Of the skill v/s will issue , the 1st one is Skill related and can be taken care by re-designing process and making information avaialble, whereas the 2nd one is more of a will issue and needs to be met with motivation improvement measures. Hopefully,a series of such videos may engage audience and facilitate the change adoption smoothly

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rohit. I like the idea of comparing the As Is and To Be processes, and the reasons for resistance. I could see the series of videos focusing on how the To Be changes can help solve some of the issues people are having in the To Be process. Great ideas!

  2. Emily - First things first. As a follower of your blog, I have to tell that you engage nicely with your audience and put forward your thoughts & analysis neatly.

    I have picked up this book a couple of months back and its been a fascinating read. Picked up this discussion only now.. I hope its not too late to comment.

    For the presentation, I assume you will have all the relevant stakeholder therefore it should motivate the elephants of all possible stakeholders involved. As I have read little more on the book, I have picked up few more points. Here are some questions to ponder over

    1. Is John's responding very quick to any other email/request? If so, what makes respond faster? Take those factors and apply to the current ERP system. Some factors that I can think of, are Easy of login, time to enter the approver details, response time of the system, usage of system resources etc.
    2. What is the knock-on effects of late approval from John's perspective? Is he holding up something else downstream?
    3. And finally, how does it impact the business? And ask a question - If we are to be true to our company values, what does this example illustrated in presentation say? Are you a happy bunny?

    Hope these points appeals to both your elephant and rider!!


    1. Thanks, Ram. I'm glad you enjoy the blog!

      It's definitely not too late to comment. I like the questions you raise. I especially like how you approached the first questions - it goes with the concept they discuss later in the book about Appreciative Inquiry.

      I think that answering the questions you listed in either the video or the rest of the Change program would greatly help address both the intellectual and emotional side of the change.

      Thanks, again, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts about future posts!

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