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Paving The Way For Lasting Change With Erin Fajen

Learn how to successfully guide teams through organizational change related to people, processes, and technology

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Erin Fajen is the founder and CEO of On the Up® LLC, a professional development agency, and has spent the majority of her career focused on the healthcare and information technology (IT) industries. 

 

Erin has conducted technical training on electronic medical records, including coaching clinicians to ensure the adoption of those systems. She’s also developed comprehensive learning programs for healthcare organizations and consulted with these organizations to develop change management strategies to drive their healthcare IT implementations. Erin and SETWorks co-CEO David Lindell worked together in the past. She’s even a native of our hometown, Kansas City!

 

Needless to say, we were thrilled when Erin agreed to host a webinar with us about how to guide teams through organizational change related to people, processes, and technology.

 

Along with the foundational principles of change management, Erin shared why most change efforts fail, outputs vs. outcomes and defining what you really want, and how to overcome the most common barriers to change. Because while change is inevitable, it’s how leaders handle change that can make (or break) their organization’s success. Here are some of our top takeaways:

Why most change efforts fail

Erin says that the biggest mistake people make when managing change is not recognizing what type of problem they’re trying to solve. 

The single biggest failure of leadership is to treat adaptive challenges like technical problems. — Groupsmith, Inc.

 

To understand why, let’s back up a step. There are two basic types of problems: technical and adaptive.

 

Technical problems are challenges that can be solved by following a predictable, repeatable process. This includes simple tasks like baking a cake, as well as more complicated problems like getting a rocket to the moon. 

 

 Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, are usually “people problems” — for example, implementing a new policy at work. Solving adaptive challenges is complicated because it requires changing beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. 

The problem happens when leaders try to treat adaptive challenges like technical problems and overlook the impact of those changes on their people. Predictably, staff resist or even rebel against the change. 

 

There’s no checklist for these kinds of problems, so Erin says “we have to rely on models and frameworks that are proven to help us navigate through” in order to achieve the outcomes we’re hoping for.

Outputs vs. outcomes

The first thing leaders must do is define what those outcomes are — but Erin says people frequently confuse outputs with outcomes.

 

Outputs are the product of an activity; for instance, getting an A on a test. Outcomes are the end results you’re trying to achieve, such as adopting a new computer system. Outputs can contribute to achieving an outcome, but they’re not the same thing. 

 

Understanding the difference between outputs and outcomes can help leaders make sure they’re focusing on the right things. To illustrate, Erin gave the following example: 

“I’ve had the experience in my career working with doctors and nurses, where we’ve done an incredible job of rolling out really effective training where everyone got at least the 80% that they needed to pass the class. And we thought we were knocking out of the park, because the outputs of our training classes were top notch. But 90 days later, after implementing a new technology, we often found out that there were other things that got in the way of that outcome of truly adopting the new technology.”

 

Erin encourages leaders to step back from their challenge and ask what outcomes they’re hoping for. Do you care if they get an A on the training class assessment? Or is it more important to achieve a specific result? Once you’re clear on the outcomes you’re seeking, you can start defining the behaviors that will lead to those outcomes. 

 

Overcoming barriers to change

Change can be painful, and Erin assures us that’s perfectly normal. 

 

“You start out with shock and denial that things are going to be changing,” says Erin, pointing to a chart of a well-known transition model. 

 

“Those feelings transition to anger, apathy, and frustration. Then confusion sets in, and what can happen is people get stuck down here in this valley of despair,” she continues. 

 

During this time, organizations experience a dip in productivity. 

  

A graphic showing the productivity curve

This happens all the time when organizations switch from paper-based systems to other solutions, including software. It takes a while to learn how to use the new system, so understandably everyday tasks take longer than usual at first.

 

To some extent, the productivity dip is unavoidable. However, it can either be a minor speed bump or a huge pothole depending on how well you manage the change. 

 

Fortunately, Erin says there are things leaders can do to make this productivity dip less dramatic. The faster you can move people through the transition, the sooner you’ll see their productivity recover and realize the benefits of the new software system. 

It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear. It’s like being between trapezes...There’s nothing to hold on to. — Marilyn Ferguson, American Futurist

 

The key, according to Erin, is to ask yourself what could go wrong so that you can anticipate and avoid potential roadblocks. Things like: 

 

  • Do we really believe in this? And how are we going to get other people to believe in it too?
  • Do we have the skills that we need? Or do we need to provide some training?
  • Is everyone on board? What about our leaders and those that others look to as role models? 
  • Are there incentives (or disincentives) for people to do it? In other words, is there a piece of cheese or a mousetrap? 
  • Do we have everything we need? Are all of the resources in place? 
 

Only after we’ve asked ourselves those questions does Erin say we can initiate planning mode. 

Keep learning

To learn more about planning for lasting change in your organization and discover a best practice change management model to put your plan into action, watch the full webinar recording, or connect with Erin on On The Up’s website. 

 

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