A New Approach to Change: Ship it

In the 1700s, Britain claimed Australia as a colony, and to occupy it they sent prisoners to the island – more than 162,000 of them. As you can imagine, it dramatically impacted the indigenous people living there. It still happens today, with southern US states shipping immigrants to the north to shift the burden to someone else. It’s a terrible solution. Displacement is traumatic. 
What about the opposite? What happens when we ship good people to a place where there is trouble to have a positive influence? Companies send expats to foreign countries – often for long periods – to learn and influence the work there. Missionaries travel to remote places to share a message people would not otherwise hear. 
On a recent project, we ran testing on-site at several locations in the field. We debriefed each day, and team members shared how many unexpected questions came up. Being present fostered positive relationships, enabling people to ask as many ‘dumb questions’ as they wanted. The project team discovered where stakeholders were likely to get off the rails as they adapted to the change.
This high-touch approach radically altered our communication and training. During go-live we ensured there were experts spread out across every site to provide local support.
Rolling out change to a dispersed audience has become tougher. On video calls, it’s easy for the audience to nod their heads and say the right words before hanging up and continuing to do what they’ve always done. We know people respond much more positively when leaders show up in person.
You might have arranged for people to show up on-site to support a change. How long did they stay? On many projects, experts offer remote support, and when the project wraps up, they return to their original unit. I’m recommending something more radical. 
Send your best people to work directly with the groups that need to change. 
Not for a week or a month, but for three to six months or longer. It doesn’t have to be consecutive. It doesn’t have to be the same ambassador every week. The point is to have physical presence.
Embedding new behaviors takes time. There will be challenges that need to be navigated that don’t occur on the first day. Meeting face-to-face, rubbing shoulders with experts, and watching someone model the right approach in person still has an outsize impact. 
Don’t ship your problems away. Ship your solutions!

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff Skipper

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