Episode #24

How to Achieve Full Stakeholder Adoption in Transformational Change

with Dr. Linda Ackerman Anderson

What is change adoption and why is it so difficult to achieve and sustain? In this episode, Dr. Change reveals the work required to obtain adoption by exploring how to support stakeholders to fully integrate a project’s new state into their daily ways of operating and then master it for optimal and sustained results. As a major focus of Change Management, this capability is essential. The actions Linda describes will elevate your understanding and expand your approach to ensure this outcome!


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Welcome to Ask Doctor Change.

I’m Doctor Linda Ackerman Anderson.

I’m happy to have you join me today to explore how to seriously up-level your leadership and consulting to transformational changes, all through conscious change leadership.

Welcome to today’s episode.

Today’s question centers around the issue of stakeholder adoption.

I’ve had a variety of questions stating, I can’t get adoption. I don’t know when we’ve gotten adoption. I don’t know how to support adoption.

We think we’ve gotten it and then it results don’t happen. And so really important questions, because this is critical to you getting the results that you need from change.

My intent today is actually to stretch you, to actually expand your approach and your boundaries. I may actually push against some of your boundaries of doing some of the work I’m suggesting today. I’m gonna give you the full picture of adoption.

This comes directly out of the Change Leaders Roadmap. It’s phase eight.

And so this work takes a lot of thinking, planning, support, and effort. So be with me in this, imagine yourself doing this work, imagining how you can expand your approach and your, systems and processes and tools to support adoption. It’s really what matters when we define the success of change. We get sustained benefits, which only occur if we get real adoption. So, in more traditional project management approaches, the process ends for project management after deployment of the new solution.

And then the change is handed off to operations to actually make it the norm, to make sure the solution works. In the best of cases, it’s handed off to change management practitioners who then ensure that stakeholder adoption occurs once the solution was deployed. Stakeholder adoption is a major piece, a major focus of change management.

Now in the majority of cases that we’ve been asked to to come in and assess why we’re not getting adoption, what’s standing in the way of adoption, we’re discovering is that while it’s a nice word on a model, it’s a good guidepost, there is enormous amount of work to support the achievement of adoption that hasn’t been done. And so that’s what I wanna cover today in some depth. What does it take to actually get adoption?

What do we have to do? So keep that lens in mind as we proceed. So what does adoption really mean? I wanna start there.

My assumption is that you’ve initiated, designed, implemented, or deployed a solution, and you have your stakeholders moving in the direction of the desired changes.

So let’s say it’s not full-on resistance. We’ve dealt with some of that, although I’ll reference a little bit of that in, in today to get adoption, but people are leaning in to taking on the new state.

So adoption occurs when stakeholders accept their new requirements and use them instead of their old ways of operating.

They undo the old ways of operating. They take on the new requirements, and they understand the why of the new state and the how of the new state, then they’re able to adopt. In essence, adoption is internal to the stakeholder.

It cannot be mandated or forced.

Mandating and forcing is external.

Adoption is internal. This is really key. So how do we get inside of our stakeholders and support them so they can actually embrace what we’re asking of them?

We call this internal, we call it integration.

It is that stakeholders internalize what we’re asking of them and they choose to take on the new requirements.

Now that may sound ideal, but I’m describing the ideal in a lot of what I’ll talk about today so that you can see what we’re really striving to achieve.

Now understanding the reasons why and how the new state is supposed to work, understanding is essential.

And it’s, however, just head level integration.

And so what we need is integration that goes beyond understanding to actually having stakeholders step into their new reality so that they can embrace it as their own. They really take on doing the new processes, the new tools, the new, ways of operating the new technology, whatever it is we’ve asked them to do. They’re beginning to say, okay, how do I make this mine? And they have ideally at this point addressed their reasons for resisting in advance and the impacts that the new state has on how they’ve been accustomed to working. Those are critical pieces of the process. And so while we’re not going into resistance and impact analysis today, I want to acknowledge that that work has to take place in order for us to get true adoption.

So the other thing I wanna mention is you will know you’ve got full adoption when stakeholders quit doing workarounds or end runs or backdoors, which we find a lot of in technology integration.

A lot of times they wanna keep the old state going while they’re trying to do the new state. During deployment, that may be a wise decision to keep both going. But at some point, the new state takes over and the old has to be dismantled and left aside. That’s when you have adoption. So, I wanna introduce you to two states of adoption. I’m gonna talk first in some depth about integration as I’ve described it here as stakeholders internalizing the new state.

The other state that I’m gonna talk about is mastery.

Again, this comes directly from the Change Leaders Roadmap phase eight, integration and mastery of the new state. So, let’s define integration first.

Integration means assimilating change, so it becomes the norm. It’s fully adopted. It becomes the way we do things around here.

Integration occurs when a person of the system moves from their comfort zone of how does this work? And I feel like I’m all thumbs too, of trying to function in the new way to the comfort zone, from discomfort zone to comfort zone of being competent to perform in the new state effectively.

Now moving from discomfort to comfort is a process.

And so it’s not a turn the switch. We’ve implemented. We’ve communicated. You got through the training.

Now you should be able to do it. Uh-uh. That’s not typically how it works. So it’s a process for us to design to achieve adoption.

There needs to be opportunity for learning, for safe trial and error, so there’s no threat hanging over their heads, and easy course correction, when we discover how to do it differently, or we need to do it differently, or we need to correct what we’re doing so we can be successful. Integration works best when people understand the project’s overarching reason for being desired outcomes and case for change. Again, head level, but understanding is really an important piece of them moving into the adoption state. When you hear people say, ah, now I understand why we’re doing this and my place in it and how to perform my piece. That’s what we wanna hear would to land the notion of integration. So I have a whole variety of indicators of integration. This is what it looks like in action.

And so I’d like for you to imagine each one of these things that I talk about as if you could imagine a stakeholder group actually exhibiting these ways. So, I’ve got a long list here to describe the ideal perfect version of integration when it has occurred. So, let’s begin. People ideally fully embrace the purpose of the new state and what it’s designed to accomplish. So, they really get it. I know what’s at stake here and I know why we’re doing this.

Ideally, we’ve removed or remedied their personal issues and concerns and impacts. We’ve handled, we’ve identified those during our impact analysis phase, then we’ve implemented. And so ideally, we’ve addressed the majority of their personal issues and concerns.

Ideally, people have clarified their work goals, their metrics, their the expectations of them, not just of them, but for all involved, their peers, their teammates, other functions that impact what they’re doing. So, they understand who’s doing what and why, and what’s expected.

Ideally, people have completed their operational impact analysis and worked out the operational issues and kinks so that whatever it is they’ve been asked to do works more smoothly. They’ve figured out how to get it to operate ideally optimally, but that’s a process too. So they’ve initiated adjustments and course corrections to the new state and work practices as they see them needed. Just because we’ve designed something, and we’ve deployed it doesn’t mean we’ve figured out everything that has to happen here on the ground.

Really when the end users are doing what we’re asking of them, There’s always something that we didn’t think of for any of you that have ever designed and built a house at each step, you know, when the floor’s in, you’ll see something. When the walls start to go in, you’ll see something. When the windows go in, you’ll see something. There’s always the experience of living the reality once you begin to step in to what’s being asked of you.

Ideally, people will have initiated defining the optimal way of operating. So, when we really get it right, this is how it needs to be, especially creating best practices for what they’re being asked to do. And best behaviors is also cultural, best behaviors and ways of relating. They’ve worked out how to interface with others that impact their work or that they impact They’ve clarified and strengthened their working relationships around accomplishing the new state successfully.

In addition, they’ve created and accepted new concepts and terminology relevant to the new state. I mean, we’re being introduced to this all the time, whether it’s from agile terminology, IT terminology, AI terminology.

There are lots of new things that we need to understand what they mean, how they operate. And so begin to call them normal or call them our own.

In the same way, culturally, people have begun to operate in or create new norms and rituals for how to do things. What happens on Monday morning? What happens on Friday afternoon? What do we do when we get together and meet together all on behalf of supporting what the new state requires?

Inevitably, they will have established new power dynamics, new influence dynamics, and support norms. This is all part of the cultural integration that we’re after. And hopefully, they’re all designed in ways that support the optimal outcome of the new state. They’ve clarified how to communicate with one another, how to manage knowledge and information as the work proceeds.

All of these, they may sound detailed to you, but when we actually get together, we’ve altered a way of operating of a team.

They really need to think these things through.

Again, with all of these, I would have you pick and choose what’s relevant to the kind of new state you’re asking basically how things are around here now, now with the basically how things are around here now now with the new state in place, or how do we want it to be given the new state we’re being asked to do?

Ideally, they’ve determined and secured appropriate resource requirements so that they have what they need to be successful.

Ideally, they’ve managed how conflicts are gonna be handled. A lot of teams just proceed. And if conflict shows up, they kinda get stopped. Our own approach consciously is how will we deal with issues when they show up or conflicts when they show up. So, we know how to get ourselves out of the woods when suddenly we’re lost. Since there’s so many of the new things we’re asking of people are technology-based, they’ve had an opportunity to fully explore, really get inside of the new technology to understand how it ideally operates, how they need to operate, how they need to interface with others who also operate using this technology.

And they’ve created and legitimized mechanisms for monitoring how to course correct mindset, behavior, and ways of relating that the new state requires.

This too is cultural.

So how to make it legitimate to say, old state or old state thinking, this is new state thinking. This is how we need to operate in a new way so they can no blame and no shame be able to surface when people start to backslide because it will happen. It happens to all of us. So how do we keep momentum moving forward?

Ideally, they’ve identified further support that they need, figured out how to obtain it, because, again, it’s a process. So they may come, they may succeed at early levels of, learning and then maybe they hit a roadblock. How do they proceed with whether it’s a conflict or getting the support they need for more resources or more time or whatever they’ve secured the conditions for success for how to optimize the new state that’s being asked of them?

And lastly, they’ve left behind all nonrelevant old state practices.

This is a big one, and sometimes we need to ritualize this. Sometimes it’s a a memorial, a last supper, an ending, a roast or whatever we’re going to do to say we no longer do that.

And so it’s a letting go strategy. That’s an important part of people being able to take on and embrace a new state. There’s a lot in integration. Those are are lots of different indicators of good integration.

Be thinking about what processes would you use to address any of those items that I described that indicate full integration.

Because, for us as consultants or leaders, we need to support people to be able to do those things that are indicators of successful integration.

Now I mentioned another state of adoption.

We call this mastery.

And so how to go beyond integration to actual mastery of the new state. Since we are always oriented here at being first to achieving breakthrough, mastery is an important dynamic because that’s what will enable breakthrough to occur.

So this other state called mastery is about striving to create and sustain ever improving future states, ever improving results.

It denotes a high level of functioning that results in deeper exploration, more learning, more course correcting.

It’s often the state of your super users.

How would you identify super users? Well, they know this inside and out. They would be great candidates, demonstrators, models of what mastery means of the new state.

Mastery is all about sustainment.

It’s an ongoing way of being and working. It’s not like an absolute end result. We’ve achieved mastery. Okay. Check the box. It really is an ongoing way of operating over time to constantly be improving continuously improving the new state. It’s a continuous process of bringing high-level skills and knowledge to new levels of excellence, both individually and collectively.

So ideally, we’re after mastery for teams or those needing to work together, not just individuals, also individuals, but not just individuals.

Is this the state that we strive to achieve when we’re after the optimal results if not breakthrough?

So what does mastery look like in action? All right, several indicators of mastery.

First of all, the individuals demonstrating mastery are fully competent in the new new state, right, that we’ve asked them to take on, yet committed to continuously improve it for themselves, for the team, for the organization.

So they never rest on their laurels. They’re always pursuing, what else might we do? How could we go outside the box and see what additionally might be needed? They’re able to perform routine tasks at best in class levels.

So they’re efficient.

They’re sequential, they’re cost-effective. They’re always thinking about the best way to do things, how to leverage work, how to leverage resources.

They’re continuously learning.

They’re pushing the next edge of innovation and always striving for potentially a breakthrough, which is perhaps a small tweak here means a lot of difference. So they may be after high leverage to produce breakthrough.

They are inquiring about different ways of doing things. Maybe new technology has come out. Maybe there’s a different way of, describing the sequence of work. They’re thinking out of the box and that’s essential.

They’re open to taking on new challenges successfully. Bring it on, bring it on. Let’s see what we can do with this to actually achieve greater results.

They’re committed to mentoring and supporting the excellence of others, especially those who are, have achieved the integration level and are moving towards mastery. They are great mentors and supporters to be able to up-level the results of the entire group.

They’re very good at embracing different points of view, different ideas, different approaches, exploring the possibilities of how things might take place. They are yay-sayers, not naysayers around possibilities because they’re after new performance levels all the time.

And always after being able to operate the new state during, because they will happen stressful or crisis situations.

They’re the ones that you wanna keep it afloat while everyone is figuring out what how to handle the crisis or the upset, the upheaval that has occurred. They’re the folks you wanna know exactly which buttons to push, which levers to push so that we keep things going while we’re dealing with crisis.

So integration and mastery occur at two different levels. So here we are. This is designing the process to achieve integration and mastery.

So the first level is at the individuals and intact work team level. So it’s a smaller degree of the system, individuals, and intact work teams. This is designing the process of gathering these people together so they can talk about their current level of understanding what their part is, the degree to which they are comfortable doing it, and then looking larger than their individual role to what is the input to our function? What information do we need?

What services, what technology, what’s inputting to us so that we can do our part? And then how do we best do our part? This is the throughput. What happens inside of our team or my job so that I do what’s optimal?

And then ultimately, what do we produce as output?

And where does that go and who needs what from us? So this is important, input, throughput, and output for individuals and intact work teams to be able to identify how best to operate in the new state. The larger level of integration and mastery is what we call whole system that is impacted by the change. This is especially true of transformational change, The whole system view, not just the individual or individual work teams, but the whole system. Now this is only relevant if you’ve done major change that affects a large portion or the entire organization.

This particular level of integration and mastery of adoption is really critical. So I wanna describe this by telling you the very first time I did whole systems integration and mastery long before I ever title did that. Sun Petroleum Products Company, we did a massive transformation.

And, we literally were flip-flopping the organization on its side, and I won’t go into the details of it. But for this particular intervention, when we had fully implemented and we had mostly new managers doing different things in different ways, serving different parts of the organization, different services and, business lines.

We invited all managers to a meeting a couple of days to look at how the new organization needed to operate optimally.

We gave them a preparation assignment in advance. What we want you to clarify is your job and your function, your team’s function, the purpose of it.

What you need in order to be successful at that, so what do you need from others?

What does optimal performance look like? That’s the throughput.

And what do you give to others as a result?

We asked them to engage their teams to get input, so it was a high engagement strategy, not just in the minds of the managers to their level of understanding, but to engage their teams, to talk about what we’re about, what success looks like to us, what we need and what we give, what we provide to others. Very powerful preparation already clarifying in their minds. Then we came together as a a meeting and each person in logical sequence to the operating of the org new organization piece by piece, they presented their work.

And what we were doing was mapping the pieces of the new puzzle picture. This was the full puzzle picture of the new organization and each function, each manager added their piece to the puzzle until it was a complete picture.

In so doing, we identified significant numbers of things we hadn’t seen before.

We need more of this. We need less of that. This sequence has to be different. We need to optimize what we give to you in this way. We need technology over here. There are a whole variety of advancements of up leveling of the new state, and we did it together.

That was the important thing. There was no blame, no shame, no one, I miss this, none of that, because we were so new in it. We were all trying to figure out what’s the best way to have this entire puzzle work. And so then there was some follow-up work to fill in all those gaps, to handle all those impacts and issues so that the full, the whole system could work in an optimal way. It was extraordinarily powerful culture, changing relationship, changing, and everybody stepped into the mindset of what will it take for the whole new organization to be optimized. Very, very powerful, example at the whole system. So how would you design a process if you needed whole system adoption, integration, and mastery?

So I shared a little bit of that process in so doing that.

So about your role in doing all of this, what does it really take to get these outcomes?

It really requires us a whole series of conditions for success here to work closely with our stakeholders, to understand their current reality in the new state, their concerns about working in the new state so that we are objectively, openly listening so that we can truly experience the reality that they’re dealing with as they’re proceeding to learn and ultimately integrate and master the new state.

We wanna ensure that they understand that they personally can explain the rationale. When we get people to talk about why we did this, it’s not just why we’re doing this so that it’s coming at me, but once I’m here in the new reality to explain to others why we did this. Very important them being able to articulate the rationale.

We want them to be able to fully understand the full puzzle picture of the new reality as it’s intended to work, including their part in it. So I see why we’re doing all of this and here’s my part and how I contribute. That’s an essential conversation to have and to share with others.

Really important condition for us to set up is ensuring that our stakeholders early in their adoption process can practice in the new state under safe, supportive, non-threatening conditions so that they can do trial and error and figure it out with no judgment and no threat to them. Really important for them so that they feel safe to learn. Trying new ways of working under the supportive eyes of maybe the super users who actually know what’s truly required. They can be coaches, they can be mentors, this is important.

And of course, having people feel acknowledged for making progress, for getting it right, for doing all of the work that’s essential to optimize themselves and the whole in the new state.

We wanna make sure that they understand the stakeholder mindset and internal state, we need to understand stakeholder mindset and internal state, because they will be experiencing, if not acknowledging some fears, some concerns, some lack of control, perhaps fears of not being competent.

It’s new.

Let’s be real about that. How do we get them to actually deepen their comfort, their competence with what we’ve been asking them to do? Active listening really helps reflecting back objectively what we’re hearing them say, and then giving them space to try things out, to enable learning.

We wanna make it safe to surface what’s difficult or challenging or not yet right. It’s never gonna be perfect at the beginning. Let’s be real. And so how do we support the learning process?

Ideally, we’re supporting them to share their insights and reactions with others who are in the same boat. So it’s one thing for an individual to feel they’re struggling and they may feel alone, but if they can share with others that’s part of the Intacct team integration strategy, it really, really helps.

We also need the attention of managers and leaders to be able to explain the reality of stakeholders, adding time required for them to get it right. And so managers and the, your sponsor managers, leaders need to understand it’s not the turn of a switch just because we handed you a new technology doesn’t mean you get it right away.

And so managers and the sponsor especially need to be supportive of the time and intention and perhaps resources it takes. And of course, we need them to publicly acknowledge the effort required for us to really do this.

So, I’ve covered a lot of ground, adoption, integration, mastery.

Tailor these indicators, tailor your process so that you can truly achieve full adoption.

That’s what’s important.

So, I always promise you a pro tip and a personal reflection.

My pro tip for you today all about adoption is how do you currently think about adoption. What does it mean to you? What has it meant to you up until now?

Right, what does it look like in action from your point of view? How would you know you have it?

How do you go about supporting it currently?

Do you stay connected long enough to know if you truly get sustained adoption and therefore sustained results?

And perhaps you need to run assessments so data can reveal the current state of adoption.

Any of these things, yes, they’re reflection. I’ve asked questions of you, but they all aim towards designing the process to ensure adoption as a process, right, for integration and ideally mastery of the new state you’re asking of your stakeholders.

What does your process need to look like to achieve the indicators that we’ve talked about today?

In terms of your personal reflection, I wanna ask you, having talked through all of this, what does it feel like to take on doing this work, doing adoption all the way to completion?

So many times, consultants we work with, they’re in a rush to move on, project managers, we’re done, we’re moving on to another project and perhaps other projects are hanging over their heads. But if you’re in a rush, that’s the worst time to vacate the work required to achieve true adoption. Are you ever feeling impatient to get stakeholder results, to demonstrate it? How do you feel about staying in relationship connected with your stakeholders long enough for them to feel true support and safety to be able to get it right and feel competent and successful?

What is that like for you? They’re attempting to succeed. How do you support them all the way through that process?

And once you get to adoption, what’s your internal state about all this work on this project ending?

I frequently find with consultants a real disorientation if they’ve been deeply involved in a project for a long period of time, have gotten adoption, It’s over. How to refocus their attention in new constructive ways. So what’s your internal state at endings of your projects once you successfully achieve adoption?

Important reflections, especially what it’s like to stay in relationship with your stakeholders to support them achieving true adoption.

I hope you’ve gained some value from today. Thanks for spending some time with me and best of luck on achieving true adoption.

Today’s subject is one of the key topics that we feature in our leading transformational change online program. If you’d like to learn more about leading transformational change, go to beingfirst.com/LTC.

Thanks for spending some time with me today. I hope you gained some valuable insights for your work. Please send me your questions and challenges by going to askdrchange.com.


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