Applying Different Categories of Knowledge
We should be careful when we judge the effectiveness of others and reflecting on this can in turn help influence us in how we approach change activities. I’ll use this chart (shown in more detail further down) to describe the differences.
First Day Effectiveness
On numerous occasions, I’ve seen people judge others by their effectiveness on the first day at work.
In some cases that may be fairer than others, but let’s take the view of a clinician arriving on a hospital ward for the first time. That nurse may be one of the best nurses ever to have existed, complete with outstanding nursing skills and excellent nursing experience, but they may be judged overly harshly as being ineffective due to not knowing the location of certain items on that particular ward.
It always takes some time to understand how a new environment works, whether that’s where items are stored, who to ask or what policies an organisation has in place compared to other organisations where you’ve worked. If you’re a temporary or bank worker, then you have to face this every time you start somewhere new. Fortunately, the more you change environment, the more adept you become at picking up the nuances of each new environment. But that does not remove the fact that each time is still a new learning experience; it just reduces the time you take to adjust as you begin to spot patterns between different environments.
There are two points that we should consider:
- We should separate out professional knowledge from knowledge about the local environment, including the organisation.
- A person can be judged on many different axes of professional knowledge. For instance, a nurse may be an awesome nurse, but would they be a good change professional or a great accountant?
The chart below depicts the typical range of knowledge seen on change programmes. I’ve treated these as different categories of knowledge and I have chosen to blur the lines between knowledge and skill.
It is rare in most organisations to have sufficient critical mass of people who know the organisation, know how each team works and know how to progress change effectively. People usually fall on one side or the other or there are too few of those that have knowledge on both sides.
So we introduce a change professional, whether a business analyst, change analyst, change manager or other similar role. They are introduced to the local, operational team and the aim is to balance the team’s knowledge of what they do and the organisation with the consultant’s knowledge about how to effect change. Neither would be functional without the other in this scenario.
The more time that a consultant spends within a sector the less they’ll need sector advice. The more time that a consultant spends within an organisation, the more they’ll know how to act directly (and this can happen very quickly depending on the style of consultancy involved). However, it’s nearly always the case that the consultant will still need the team to provide local knowledge, no matter how long they spend together.
Further Thoughts on Reversing our Approach
The usual view on a change programme is of allowing the change analyst or consultant to gain the knowledge of how the organisation works from those currently working in the teams.
What advantages could we see if we reversed this concept and instead helped the teams to gain knowledge about change programmes from the consultant?
By this, I’m not thinking of being trained (whether through train-the-trainer concepts) or shadowing, but something more fundamental.
Imagine the benefits to an organisation if every hour of a consultant’s time spent learning about current processes, etc is also followed by an hour of the team learning how to make changes. It would slow down the pace of change initially, but would it decrease change fatigue, would it decrease resistance? Could it also increase success of change and the scale of change achievable?