genghis kahn

Introducing the Ghengis Khan method of change management

Ghengis Khan was the much maligned founder and first Great Khan and Emperor of the Mongol Empire. He was feared and he was ruthless, pretty much across the world he conquered what he said went .. there were not questions asked!

I often say to clients that there are only two ways to ‘do’ change management:

  1. The first is the Ghengis Khan method where change is imposed;
  2. The second is the influence method where change happens by osmosis. This also happens to be my favourite.

The implication is that the first is ‘bad’, this isn’t the case as it has a place in a lot of technically driven change programmes, particularly where something fundamental is being changed. A good example might be moving a door to the side of a house – everyone has no choice but to accept it or try to get through a window if they want to get in.

There is a myth in the change management world that people fear change and will always resist it. However, this is not universally true. After all, everyone embraces change they believe will be beneficial to them, however the definition of ‘beneficial’ is dependent on both context and person. For example, some will embrace the opportunity presented by redundancy, others will be traumatised by it’s impact!

Although reactions to change are not universal, persuading people to buy-in to the change can be challenging, this means having a good strategy is very important.

There are four strategies you can use to implement a Genghis Kahn style change are:

Big Bang approach

The advantage of a big bang approach is that everyone is dropped into the system all at the same time. The benefit of this is that everyone supports everyone else and within a few days (assuming the systems are working as expected) complaints and problems drop off.

The key to it working is a well-planned communication and training strategy that begins long before anything happens. This allows project teams time to explain why the change is happening, prep all managers to support their staff, address concerns, highlight problems and fix errors ensuring an easy transition.

Parallel approach

The advantage of a parallel approach is that you can engage staff as you all go on the change journey. Their input is invaluable when it comes to spotting ‘gotchas’ as they compare and contrast the old and the new systems. Although this approach introduces complexity to any project because you are now monitoring two systems it reduces the impact of failure as staff can switch back to the old system if they get stuck or if things don’t work quite as expected, reducing productivity losses.

The disadvantage is that staff may choose to stick to familiar work patterns until the old system is finally turned off.

Again, good communication is key to success and educating staff about how to deal with information in two locations (if it isn’t synced) is an essential and additional part of the training programme.

Phased approach

The drip-feed style of phasing an implementation is often used when replacing large technology systems or new ways of working. It can be done in different ways; for example you may do it on a team by team basis, or you may do it on a work package by work package basis, or even a combination of these two. The benefit is that changes are implemented slowly so system and staff capacity is not overwhelmed. It overcomes the staff resistance implicit in parallel adoption approaches, and avoids the challenge and chaos that can result in a big bang approach.

The disadvantages are in the time it takes to implement and the additional cost of a larger project team and additional licence costs (if necessary).

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