Making Change Stick through learning

People now have to go through constant change in their work environment. How can we make sure learning engages users and meets business needs?

Here at afiniti, we are all about Making Change Stick – giving learners inspiration through learning that connects them directly to their job roles, gives them ownership of business change and influence over how they learn.

Complex programmes and projects mean big changes for the user community and we need to go over and above a normal training course.

Traditional structured learning can fail because it makes assumptions about what delegates need to learn. If this assumption is wrong, then the learner is faced with content that they don’t relate to, and which they know won’t have any relevance for them in their role.


Less push, more facilitation

One way of ensuring that learning is relevant is to allow learners to shape the content themselves, using a less prescriptive, more facilitative approach – think less classroom more workshop.

This may mean that the objectives of the session are not pre-defined, and creates an atmosphere where the learning consultant takes a step back and allows the learners to lead.

The learning consultant will need to provide structure to the session, and provide subject matter content as required, but should allow the learners to explore unpredicted avenues.

In this way, learners feel that they have had the opportunity to apply their own real world practices to the new in a way that makes sense to them, as well as building their confidence that the content (whether system, soft-skills or process) is fit for purpose outside the protected training environment.


The challenges

This approach does present challenges to the provider.  Firstly, to allow the “off-piste” exploration of the subject matter, the learning consultant must know more than the narrow field of content dictated by a pre-structured session. By inviting this discussion, the consultant’s knowledge and credibility are really put to the test.


Measuring success

Without pre-defined learning objectives, evaluation of learning becomes harder to measure. User satisfaction as a metric should hopefully increase with this approach, and if done well, the required behaviour changes should be embedded more effectively.

With this in mind, it may make more sense to implement post-training evaluation which assesses whether the required behaviour change and business benefits have been achieved, with less focus on meeting potentially irrelevant learning objectives.

Sometimes the content may be entirely new to the learners, but it still needs to be made relevant and relatable. In this situation, a good approach may be to allow the learners to create their own realistic scenarios to apply the content to.  This will generally involve pre-work with representative users to generate reliable and realistic scenarios which people will encounter in their roles.


To Make Change Stick those of us actually delivering change to people need to meet the challenge of genuinely involving them in change. We need to facilitate collaboration between colleagues and prompt conversation about real scenarios, whilst all the time providing measurable results that show that people have adopted the new and are confident with it.

I’d really like to hear about how  you have delivering learning to users during change and how you create long term sustained adoption.

Business Change Newsletter December

Welcome to the December edition of Afiniti’s Business Change newsletter. We discuss how to Make Change Stick through taking people on a change journey throughout a programme.

For more conversation on business change, you can join our Change Management, Communications and Learning group on LinkedIn here. For details of projects, change management topics and vacancies you can follow us on LinkedIn here.

Afiniti is an award winning business change consultancy that delivers change with a people focus, producing sustainable changes in behaviour, mind-sets and working practices.

Company News

Learning awards 2015 logo
Learning Awards 2015

We’re delighted to have been shortlisted for External Learning Solution of the Year in the Learning Awards 2015, held by the Learning and Performance Institute. We’re nominated for our work delivering change to 1,500 people across 40 locations with Network Rail on its NROL3 programme. NROL3 is a business critical system, essential in the planning and delivery of maintenance materials, around the network. Network Rail and Afiniti will attend the Awards on 5 February 2015. Read about our other success with Awards here.


TAQA receives a certificate of commendation for employee engagement

We are delighted that our client TAQA has been highly commended for employee engagement at the CorpComms Awards 2014 for work on helping its newly acquired oil platform and its people change hands and stay productive. They enlisted Afiniti’s support to help deliver the change to the people on the Harding platform.


In this month’s in depth article, we look at how to take people on a journey throughout a business change programme.

The Change Journey 

Most business change impacts people and it’s often up to the people to take the business forward.

There’s a destination and a route when it comes to business change and that’s why we call it a change ‘journey’. We may be unclear on the details and diversions along the way, but we know that to reap the benefits, we must bring people along.

Getting more benefits from an investment in change will come from people taking the organisation into its future state.

Change isn’t easy for anybody. Those managing and delivering the programme must make sure people are involved and engaged throughout and have the right skills to be able to adopt the new behaviours.

Understand resistance

It’s easy to understand why people are resistant and varying levels of resistance are an inevitable part of the change journey. Anticipating resistance and planning around it is crucial and will connect people with the programme even if they do not show full buy-in at any given point.

If people are not sure of the benefits of the change or don’t understand it properly there’s bound to be strong resistance.

We find that often resistance occurs at the levels within an organisation where people use the technology or processes that are changing, to carry out their every day tasks.

Here the old ways of working are part of an informal network and culture that can be very hard to replace. People feel a level of ownership and have a sense of security in what they know. Add to that the familiarity and comfort of existing arrangements and you can see why every programme encounters resistance.

Knowing and understanding existing working practices and informal networks means you can support people throughout the programme through communication and learning support.

There are many of ways of gathering this insight quickly and efficiently, such as one to one interviews, attending team meetings, hosting focus groups, as well as just keeping your eyes to the ground. 

It is important to discover who the key people are early and get to know them. They may not necessarily be integral to your project, but they’ll be the experienced and well connected people with a wide network that you’ll need to tap into.

Plan around your people

You wouldn’t plan a road trip without knowing who’s in the car. So to plan a change journey we need to get to know who’s coming.

The best change projects begin with understanding the impact for those involved. How do they see their role now? What do they look forward to at work each day? And how have they dealt with change in the past?

We asked these kinds of questions of frontline workers at an infrastructure client. The client is introducing major change. Its people need to collaborate in new ways and apply their skills in a different technological environment.

To bring them on the journey we had to understand their values – not what’s on the company intranet but the tacit rules that govern each team.

For example, when transitioning an oil platform, we began by interviewing personnel offshore on the platform, prior to transition, to establish their current culture, ways of working, software used etc.  We also interviewed key onshore staff, such as project managers etc. responsible for various aspects of the implementation to get to the “to be” position.

When we learned about informal structures of power and influence, it was easier to identify the most relevant communications agendas – we even found a fax would be more powerful than email! So the investment in face to face interviews paid off in terms of confident planning.

A gap analysis will provide knowledge of people’s needs throughout change –  the skills and engagement they need when moving from the world of one company to another – this produces a targeted programme of change management, learning and communications, appropriate to the needs of the audience.

Build and share your vision

They say you should start your change communications with “Why”. People need to know the reasons for change before they’ll buy in to it. Capture this in a way that speaks to everyone. For example, “We need this new technology to keep ahead of the industry, and here’s the evidence to prove it…”

Behind every technology change is a true driver of change. We only invest in technology when it supports the organisation’s strategic direction, and this all becomes part of the story of change.

This approach helped a national transport client begin a major tech-based change. The organisation has introduced many new technologies over the last 100 years, each with huge impacts. We helped them piece together the story of their development since the 19th century and this put the 21st century changes in the context of historical innovation.

The vision of the future state became clearer – from sponsors to frontline workers, people could see the change as their story’s next chapter, even though not all of them were delighted by it.

Make an impact

If change is a journey, the engagement campaign is the business’s vehicle. We want people to see it, recognise what it stands for and, ideally, jump on board.

This campaign also conveys your vision. Creativity is essential and depending on your stakeholder’s working practices, you can use a wide array of channels to get your message across.

A client in the transport industry was significantly changing the way they were structured, so they were more focussed on delivering what their customers need.

We created a brand new identity which not only brought this to life but gave them a reminder of the various parts of their new operating model, the services they provided and where individual teams fit in.  This was applied to all the communications collateral to reinforce their new way of working and the need to focus on the needs of their customer.

Exploring and learning

A vital part of the change journey is allowing people the space to explore and learn via practice and hands on experience. Give them the opportunity to voice their opinions on new ways of working and experiment themselves. We’ve seen branded learning areas, where there was support on hand to help build confidence, work well.

The journey will probably need to be broken up in chunks that are achievable, each one with different things to do, look out for or collect. You won’t be able to do everything at once. And you’ll need to give the right amount of encouragement, motivation and reward for completing each stage of the journey.

Change is constant in businesses now. Don’t let your project be one of those that doesn’t realise the potential business benefits because people somehow got left behind on the journey.


Recent insights

business changeInspiring commitment to business change

Consultant Sebastian May gives his tips for getting long term sustainable commitment to change from people in a business.


 performance managementMeasuring the right thing in performance management

Afiniti consultant Kirsten Walker gives her tips for going beyond a tick box approach to measuring and improving performance.

Five ideas for increased wellbeing at work

What links Christmas, penguins and wellbeing?

According to HR Grapevine, John Lewis’s Monty the Penguin advert is a good example of the benefits of considering another’s wellbeing.

Ok, so we’re talking here about addressing the loneliness of a CGI penguin, and it is a feel-good Christmas ad, but it’s interesting to think about this concept of ‘wellbeing’ in the work-place, and whether it’s yet being taken seriously by employers.

It’s easy to think of wellbeing at work as employee engagement but there’s growing evidence (e.g. from the NEF) of the need for a broader approach that addresses an individual’s sense of purpose, value and motivation, as well as their emotional and physical health, self-confidence and sense of security. All of these factors will determine how someone feels about their working lives and, it’s argued, how they’ll perform. Only by taking this holistic view can a company get that improved performance – and bottom line – traditionally promised by ‘engagement’.

You might think that large organisations have the advantage over SMEs in meeting people’s wellbeing needs; they’re probably more likely to have a formalised strategy, more HR resource and more staff benefits (gym memberships, bike to work schemes etc). Wellbeing is probably addressed in a more ad-hoc way in many SMEs, maybe not even that consciously, so simply increasingly awareness can bring greater benefit. Interestingly it appears that large corporates can learn from smaller companies, who tend to do better in well-being surveys. It can pay to ‘think small’.

How could you break such a broad topic down into something realistic and achievable? Thinking about smaller companies in particular, and using the NEF’s ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’, here are some simple examples:

  1. Connect: Smaller companies in particular may feel that their staff can speak out as and when they need, but it’s important to give them the mechanism, the opportunity, encouragement and, crucially, a response. Nothing beats face to face communication, so in Afiniti we all meet up quarterly on a ‘Company Comes First Day’, but in the meantime we’re spread far and wide and use other ways, such as our Yammer feed, to stay connected.
  2. Be active: This can be by encouraging daily activity or adding a fun, competitive element. Afiniti entered a team in this year’s JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge – a 5.6km run around Battersea Park – and we all felt very pleased with ourselves for completing it! As a further incentive, Afiniti doubled the amount we raised for our charity of the year, Dreamflight.
  3. Take notice: Individually, we benefit from taking the time to reflect on experiences and outcomes, to appreciate what’s important to us, how to use our strengths and avoid stress or negative feelings in future. When communicating, we need to take notice of our audience’s make-up and needs, and tailor our style and message accordingly. Managers and, more broadly, organisations also need to give staff the attention they need and take note of any warning signs.
  4. Keep learning: Continual development improves confidence and reassures people that they are progressing and developing. Informal learning like knowledge sharing between colleagues and formal training in leadership, management and other new skills, all helps people feel motivated and valued.
  5. Give: It could be that you’re giving your time by volunteering or fundraising, or shaping improvements to a project or the company. Or this could be about giving praise to someone for doing a great job; most of us thrive on recognition after all. All of these actions lead to involvement in a company or community and a sense of purpose.

I’m sure we could all do more in our work lives to encourage, and benefit from, greater wellbeing. It would be great to hear from you about what’s worked for your organisation.


Well-Being at Work (New Economics Foundation):