Reviewing the lessons learned during a change process is important for the change manager. After participating in a change initiative, managers will benefit from looking back at the transition period from prechange to postchange to review what they've learned, as well as what worked or didn't work, and to think about how they will approach their next movement toward organizational change. Managers are encouraged to take the time to consider how the outcome of one change initiative will affect their future behavior in the organization, especially in change management.
What Areas Should You Review for Lessons?
Lessons can be gleaned from a number of practices and processes involved in initiating change. In reviewing a particular experience with change, managers should look out for ways they might improve in the following areas:
Process (how things get done) - As a result of something that happened during action toward change, did you discover how to make any processes necessary for change better, faster, or cheaper? Was the strategy clear in how to execute the change process? Did the processes work as planned, and if not, how did your expectations compare to what actually happened? It is a good idea to document the impact (in terms of time, money, morale, and so on) of not being able to follow the process as planned. In retrospect, would you have done something differently, and if so, why? Consider "other possible options" and why each would be worth looking at in future change initiatives.
Technology - Did the technology support go as planned? Identify the issues that could have been avoided, such as not having the right equipment in place at the right time or a lack of access to the information team members needed because they could not get a security clearance. Differentiate these from actual technology problems; for example, was the online search tool you used effective for the type of research you were doing? Did your system have enough bandwidth capacity to download the large amount of video needed to be reviewed by the remote team in Asia? The prior easily could have been addressed by having the right processes in place. The latter possibly would not have been known but, as a result of what you are doing in documenting lessons learned, will help in future change initiatives. Also, considering the pace of technological change, document whether there are any new technologies that could be used. Are there ways to apply existing technology that emerged as part of the change process and could improve on current change practices? Look at it from the perspective of what existed and what could have been utilized to make a difference (that was not) and whether there was anything that was used that had a positive impact on the overall project (saved time, saved money, improved quality, and whatever else it is that is used as a measure of effectiveness in your organization). Secondly, be sure to examine from the perspective of new innovations in technology that have emerged since the change initiative was started, and that future change initiatives should consider.
Employees - Were the right people selected to be on the change team? Should you have used any different criteria in making your selections? Were the team size and the scheduling of people on and off the change project the most effective? Did you end up running into conflicting schedules, and what possible suggestion would you have
to do differently? Is there a better way to utilize these "people resources"? Do they need training prior to the next change initiative? When and in what ways did they work most effectively, and where is there room for improvement?
Customers - If you worked directly with customers, what was different from what you expected as part of the original change plan? What impact (positive or negative) did
it have on the change project? Did you learn to work with customers in any different ways (cooperating, collaborating, partnering)? How are customers, and their needs,
changing? Have you developed certain capabilities that can help them in new ways? How effective was your communication with them (content, media, frequency, feedback
capability)? What prechange ideas played out, what really happened, and what could have been done better?
Competition - How did the output of your change initiative position you against your competitors? Was it what you had planned? Why? Are your competitors doing things
differently? Have you gathered any ideas for gaining and maintaining a competitive advantage over them, or to search the public media channels for information about them? From a lessons learned perspective, what other change initiatives should be undertaken to further enhance your position in the competitive marketplace? Give the details of what, why, and how it would make a difference, and how the lessons learned can position you to be more effective.
Other - Have you found anything else as a result of this change initiative that can help your organization be more efficient and more effective? It can be related to people, process, technology, innovation, or even something that has not been identified to this point.
In each of the above areas, be sure to reflect on the goals that were set, to what degree they were accomplished, and how they were accomplished. What happened as compared to what was supposed to happen, and why were there any differences? The point is to determine what should be done to correct things in the future.
Sharing Lessons Learned
Capturing, reviewing, and especially sharing lessons learned with others can make the difference between an organization succeeding and ceasing to exist. By addressing what works for a change initiative as well as what does not, an organization can become more agile and responsive to the challenges of change. Leveraging the knowledge that goes with lessons learned allows an organization to change more quickly and with less expense. According to a study by the Project Management Institute, Fortune 500 companies lose more than $31.5 billion each year because they do not share knowledge (Logue, 2004). In addition to the money lost, learning what went into overcoming a challenge helps individuals become better and encourages them to be more innovative.
Make it easy for members of your organization to understand the information they need in order to be more successful in their next change initiative. This will allow them the knowledge on which to base future change-related decisions. The lessons learned by managers as part of the change process is important to share with all stakeholders so they don't repeat your mistakes and so they do take advantage of the things you did well.
Key Points to Keep in Mind
Collect lessons learned along the way, for example, by keeping a journal. Waiting until the end often results in lessons not being contributed, or if they are, their facts can be distorted.
- Take time to reflect on any problems, issues, and so on that happened and why. Could the problem have been noticed earlier? Were there any early signs or warnings? Given that this is a time of reflection, would you have done anything differently?
Remember to pass along things that went well. Successful processes should also be collected. Having a standard that works well can save time and money up front in the change process.
- Also comment on alternatives tried and results from them. They can often provide guidance on change initiatives similar but different from this one. What alternatives did you look at, which did you try, and why?
- Did you look at or have any contingency plans? Did they come into play? Why or why not?
This is an excerpt of Chapter 10 of 10 Steps to Successful Change Management, which can be purchased here.
George Vukotich has specialized in change management throughout his career. He holds a PhD in organizational development and is head of the graduate program in Training and Development at Roosevelt University in Chicago.