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Human Elements of Change

When on the improvement journey it is important to pay lots of attention to the human elements of change, as they are the most commonly cited reasons that improvement journeys fail.

Be prepared for it to take time to develop a shared purpose and that people will require different levels and types of evidence to become involved. Allow plenty of space for discussion, disagreement and debate early on, so that everyone feels heard and involved. Investment in this process will help to clarify your improvement aims and measures.
For most of the improvement journey, the role of an improver is to keep motivation levels high and coach others that are new to this way of working and thinking to increase their confidence in the process and their own skills. Identifying easy to achieve ‘quick wins’ early on in the journey can help to motivate people and get people on board.
Understanding the different ways people react to change can also help to improve communication between staff and ensure the success of improvement projects. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross2 depicted the human reaction to change as a curve. The chart below depicts the emotions people experience when embarking on change or an improvement journey. The coloured spots give helpful hints about the best response to people at each stage of the change curve.

The Kübler-Ross change curve

People will move through the change curve at different speeds, and may even move back and forth between emotions as time goes by. Maintaining good lines of communication and using empathy will help to understand how people are reacting to change.

Typically, in any group of people there are a few that can be called ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’ who like to get involved early and contribute to the co-design of the improvements (see diagram on page 29). These individuals are important in getting an improvement journey going and they can be hugely influential on the people in
the ‘early and late majorities’ groups.

Roger’s Innovation Adoption Curve

 

Be prepared to listen carefully to those WHO are reticent about the need for change (often from the ‘late majority’ or ‘laggard’ groups) as they can often skilfully articulate important reasons why immediate action is unwise or potentially unsafe. Often these groups can help to develop improvement measures that can be used to detect whether a change is really an improvement or not. When they can see that their concerns have been taken seriously they often become keen supporters of the improvement process.

Case Study: The Importance of a ‘First Follower’

Whether the change you’re bringing is big or small, having a great ‘First Follower’ can make all difference between standing alone and getting acceptance from those you’re leading. Someone on your team is likely to be more passionate about your idea than others. They may bring more input, understand what you’re trying to do better, and be fired up by the challenge or opportunity. Channel that to increase your chances of success; they are your ‘First Follower’.

Give them a key role in helping take the next steps. Make room for them and their ideas. Remember:

“If the leader is the flint, the First Follower is the spark that makes the fire.”

This video demonstrates the power of the first follower.

Communication

Successful improvement is achieved through motivating people to change and so it is crucial to communicate well. Good communication does not just occur by itself, it has to be built into your approach right from the start. Even if you do this well, it is likely that at certain times in your improvement journey you will need to pay much more attention to communication than you initially thought.

Successful improvement is achieved through motivating people to change and so it is crucial to communicate well. Good communication does not just occur by itself, it has to be built into your approach right from the start. Even if you do this well, it is likely that at certain times in your improvement journey you will need to pay much more attention to communication than you initially thought.

 

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