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Changing how we change

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On a wet evening in June, just over 30 change/project management practitioners gathered for a joint East of England branch and Enabling Change SIG event at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) research and development site in Stevenage.

Our host, Jacqui Alexander (vice president Accelerating Delivery Performance (ADP)) and Margaret Huggins (senior ADP consultant) treated us to a fascinating and engaging account of their ‘prescription for change’.  It was highly interactive, and the conversations continued long after the event was finished (even staying through the Enabling Change SIG’s AGM to vote in the new committee).

A case study of GSK’s approach to change will be appearing in the July issue of Project.  For now, Melanie Franklin, a change practitioner herself, kindly volunteered to share her notes with us.  The following is an adapted extract with some editorial input from Elisabeth Goodman who organised the event on behalf of the APM:

“Changing the way we change” is a brilliant story of building internal capability for change at GSK.  I was really interested to see how the team had coped with change.

Jacqui Alexander and Margaret Huggins explained the history of their ADP team since 2009. Their work was triggered by the view of their CEO who felt the organisation wasn’t changing fast enough (hence Accelerating in the name!)

Create an in-house approach to change
GSK was constantly changing, but using multiple approaches. The first task was to bring together everyone who was passionate about improving how change was managed to agree a unified approach:

  • A 4 step change framework that is similar but different to the well-known Plan, Do, Check, Adjust cycle (it uses the words Diagnose, Design, Implement, Embed and Grow) – it also includes the continuous process of learning and engagement relevant at each and every step.
  • Principles that underpin their approach, led by the idea that change starts with ‘self’, so make the change in yourself before asking others to change – and also recognise left and right brain thinking.
  • Fundamentals which are simple steps that everyone can do and combine the best from Organisational Development, Lean and Six Sigma and Project Management.

Cascade to others.

We returned several times to the size of the core team of change consultants and their dual role of managing key initiatives whilst ‘organically’ building capability across the organisation.

Jacqui made the point that those in the front line business have to invest in learning how to do change.  The danger with having an in-house team is that others will sit back and expect the internal consultants to manage the change for them; a behaviour that Margaret described as ‘learned helplessness’.
Skills transfer process

The ADP team will work with the business to establish a ‘beacon’ project, often triggered by the identification by the business of an area ripe for improvement.
During the project there is a three stage skills transfer process:

  • Forums – where formal training is provided.
  • Fieldwork – where ADP practices are applied to the real work to establish new ways of working, supported by coaching from the team.
  • o Feedback – where coaching is provided to create an opportunity for continuous learning and improvement.

There are now 60 ‘change consultants and over 1,300 change practitioners across the business as a result of this approach.

Top 5 learning points

The description of their work triggered so many learning points for me and others at the event.  Here are my top 5:

  • Simply agreeing a common approach gave everyone a ‘true North’ and simplified the work by ensuring that everyone was speaking the same language in change.
  •  Don’t try to do everything at once – the fundamentals were not identified until a number of ‘beacon’ projects had been run successfully and lessons fully learnt from them.
  • Keep things simple, find techniques and activities that represent the ‘simple, sticky stuff that anyone can do’ and make these core to the change effort.
  • Make sure improvements are measured so that there is solid evidence of how changes are leading to financial, efficiency and reputational benefits.
  • Start small and build on successes by piloting and trialling ideas and then getting others to adopt them from a position of choice and not imposition.

Next Steps

The most effective way to learn, Jacqui and Margaret also suggested, is by applying what we learn, as we learn it, to our own case studies.

The Enabling Change SIG is actively developing a bank of resources around existing knowledge about enabling change and will be documenting these shortly on its APM microsite. Please join our SIG to be informed about the latest developments, and to find out about our events.  Do also keep an eye on the events page for further details of East of England branch events.

Changing how we change presentation can be viewed below.


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  1. Carole Osterweil
    Carole Osterweil 13 June 2014, 04:02 PM

    I agree - Jacqui & Margaret did a brilliant job telling the GSK story - provoking many questions & lots of conversations.If change starts with self and the most effective way to learn is by applying what we learn, as we learn it, to our own case studies.How about using the World Cafe (3 July, East of England SIG, Duxford) as an opportunity to continue the conversation and build on our learning from this fantastic case.