3 Key Learnings from Facebook’s Failed Change Effort

As a change practitioner, watching the recent Facebook changes unfold felt like watching a change project gone wrong, playing out in the public domain. It was painful to watch the changes introduced to 100+ million users who seemed to be looking for that elusive “dislike” button to tell Facebook how much they hated what had happened to a product they’ve universally embraced.

So, I’d like to offer my advice for the next time the company decides to introduce any kind of change so it can successfully continue to evolve the social media landscape according to (what I assume must be) the grand plan:

1. What’s changing should never be a surprise to your audience. It was clear with the FB change that the impacts were not well known/understood ahead of time. If there was a grand announcement, it was completely and totally missed by the core user community. In addition, when users logged on for the first time, they were stymied – there was no guide to what changed and people were left to figure things out on their own.
Lesson Learned: surprises cause big change efforts to fail. If you don’t get ahead of a change and explain it (multiple times, in different ways based on your audience) to to the people who are impacted most, it’s doomed to fail.

2. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That concept seems old-fashioned in modern culture – it seems that change for the sake of change is all around us, all the time. I still don’t understand if this was their “burning platform” change or was driven primarily by the new features that could be introduced, just because they could do it – and wonder if any Executive stood up to say so in their Board meetings. Users loved the way FB functioned…and no case for change ever seemed to make it past the stories of user outrage.
Lesson Learned: define your core business case, then define your core change message for users. It isn’t always the same message, but both are critical if you want to succeed. Make it compelling, or the change won’t be embraced, no matter how you spin it.

3. Take it for a test drive. Maybe FB completed extensive focus groups, pilots and user tests, but I seriously doubt that was the case. I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone gathered any feedback in advance about the kinds of changes they planned to introduce. If they did gather any feedback, I find it similarly impossible to believe that they listened and accounted for any of it in their design.
Lesson Learned: ask for feedback, take it seriously and build it in to your plan and your solution. Make it a non-negotiatible to execute a Pilot, complete a usability test on your system design or preview your product or service with customers. At worst, you’ll at least be prepared to better mitigate the impacts of the change and tell the good news/bad news story way ahead to give people time to adjust.

And, by the way, you might actually just garner some top-notch ideas along the way.

What do you think? Let me know what other advice you’d offer based on your own change experience.