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The Keystone Changes

The Keystone Changes

Change is often overwhelming for the manager and those stakeholders who are impacted.  However, a change is rarely the sole source of these overwhelming feelings.  More frequently, it’s the large set of changes that are necessary to reach the desired goal and the feeling that they all must be handled now.  The trick is to find the keystone changes that provides a firm anchor for the changes necessary to reach the objective and accomplish those changes before pursuing the next set of changes that will move us forward to the desired state.

Bad Habits Travel in Packs

The unfortunate news from addiction recovery is that bad habits like smoking, drinking, and poor eating tend to travel in packs.  That is, one of these habits tends to drive the others.  These influences flow in every direction, and they form a network of behaviors that tend to keep people trapped.  Organizations have similar sets of interlocking activities, processes, and sub-cultures that tend to hold the status quo in place.

When identifying keystone changes, it’s essential to identify which of the changes that need to be made can be made relatively independently of other changes.  It’s only by identifying which changes must be accomplished together and which changes may be accomplished relatively independently can we hope to untangle the ball of change into packages that can be tackled without becoming overwhelmed.  Finding a small set of changes that can immediately return value is key to getting the change process rolling.

Creating Slack

To create change requires effort, and expending the effort requires available capacity.  One of the keys to locating the keystone changes that need to happen first is to evaluate whether making the changes will allow you to save resources immediately and therefore reinvest those resources or whether the change is necessary but will only return on the investment after a long time.

Keystone changes make an immediate – or at least short-term – positive impact.  They free resources toward other larger aspects of the roadmap towards the desired state.  This positive impact helps to provide the energy necessary to sustain and accelerate the change.  If you don’t find changes that provide immediate impact, you may find that your change project runs out of steam before it reaches the desired goal.

Breaking Big Changes

While habits may travel in packs, and therefore you may need to accomplish several changes simultaneously, it’s equally important to decompose big steps into smaller steps.  For instance, you may need to improve the employee onboarding and offboarding processes to make the personnel management less burdensome.  While these processes are inextricably linked, they don’t have to be addressed at the same time.  If you see the word “and,” you should ask the question whether both need to be done.

Similarly, onboarding is a big process involving human resources, payroll, information technology, and facilities.  The keystone change may be changing the human resources aspects of the onboarding process – perhaps getting to a centralized human resource information system or at least getting to a unique employee ID number.  The next step might be to automate their provisioning in payroll, information technology, and facilities.  However, it can be that just managing the human resources aspects provides enough slack to keep things moving forward without anyone feeling overwhelmed.

Easier Said Than Done

In truth, it’s easier to say that you’ll identify the relationships between tasks and break them down into small, achievable changes than it is to do them.  However, if you can find those tasks which can be successfully completed without getting tangled by other changes that haven’t been made yet and provide immediate value, you’re on the way to laying down the keystone changes and, ultimately, to change success.

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