3 Techniques for Navigating Change Like a Road Trip

Road Trips and Change ManagementIt is Spring Break week in North Texas, and my 16-year-old daughter and I hit the road to New Orleans to take in the architecture, history and cuisine of this uniquely historic city. To get there, we drove eight hours through a New Orleans-worthy rainstorm. I don’t mind an eight-hour drive; in fact, eight hours is a pretty short trip for me. It is a long and daunting trip for a teenager, though.

To make the drive more appealing and pleasant for her, I relied on many of the same tools and techniques successful organizations use to help people navigate change. When trying to bring about a major change in an organization – such as developing a new organizational structure, designing a new way of working or implementing a new system or tool – smart organizations take advantage of the time along the journey to prepare people for the destination.

The steps I took on our road trip – and those I advocate for our clients – include:

Don’t shortcut on planning. A road trip has plenty of time built in for planning and talking, and I used all of it. We spent much of our drive talking about what we wanted to do this week and what was important to us: enjoying good food, finding opportunities to practice photography and experiencing new things together. These shared values will now help us make better decisions on how to spend our time here. And now that we know what is important to each other, we can plan our days to focus on these objectives.

Organizations that spend time understanding people’s values and objectives can better equip people to navigate the change when it arrives.

Share ahead of time what to expect, to the best of your knowledge. I lived in New Orleans 25 years ago and knew (more than) a little about what to expect, both the good and the not so good. It is New Orleans, after all! I spent part of the drive sharing my fading impressions and memories of the city. I talked about the city’s architecture, cuisine, neighborhoods and artistic influences, while also sharing details like its smells, history, crime and sludge collects on the cuff of your pants from walking through the French Quarter. When we headed out for a tour of the French Quarter today I noticed my daughter had a tight grip on her camera and was wearing comfortable shoes, so I think she listened to some of what I said!

Organizations need to be real when it comes to talking about what to expect with change. Just like the French Quarter sludge, you cannot candy coat it, because the stain sticks around for a long, long time.

Celebrate the milestones along the journey. New Orleans was our destination, but we made it here by crossing off the towns and travel markers along the way. For many of the milestones, I shared my knowledge of the milestone and how it was relevant to her: “Your great grandparents lived in Bunkie, LA, when they were newlyweds.” “Once we get on I-10 at Lafayette, it is a straight shot into New Orleans.” The GPS in the car also provided a visual picture that showed our progress as well as how much further we had to go.

For organizations, setting and communicating interim milestones breaks up the journey into less-daunting pieces and provides important checkpoints on progress. Organizations that fail to check their progress might not find out they are off track until later, when it is difficult and time consuming to backtrack.

After this trip is over at the end of the week, I hope my daughter will look back with joy at both the journey taken as well as the destination achieved.

For organizations beginning a major change or moving through change, these techniques make the journey better – even great! – and help prepare people for their new, more permanent destination. Happy travels and happy change!

Heather Nelson is a partner with PeopleResults. She loves road trips and helping companies bring about and navigate change. She can be reached at hnelson@people-results.com or on Twitter at @HeatherGNelson1. Sign up to receive the PeopleResults blog at #Current.