Insider tips to make change work

As part of my graduate research on how to design for engagement, I was lucky enough to spend two days with a team at the BMO Institute for Learning in Toronto - a pretty swank standalone facility dedicated to supporting change.

In addition to testing out the new framework I'd created for designing learning activities that kept people engaged, I collected and analyzed the team's stories about what did – and didn't – work in their training programs.

Two things stood out. One – a story about digital transformation, teaching tellers who'd never used a computer how to work online. During the first hands-on training session, one woman sat in front of the computer and then put the mouse on the floor at her feet. She thought it worked like a sewing machine pedal and provided power to the computer. Which is a critical reminder of the need to invest in getting to know where people are at before starting any kind of change initiative.

The second thing was a conversation we had about barriers to change. Though I had drafted a list of 9 things we needed to do to engage people, the entire team at BMO pointed out that I had missed one of the most critical – time. They were never given enough uninterrupted time to think about or learn to do something new. Even if they had an hour booked off for training, their boss always interrupted them. That made the change work feel impossible, which led to resentment and resistance.

We're constantly introducing new technologies, processes, programs and ideas to our people these days – people who are already stressed and burned out. We expect them to work off the side of their desks to adapt and adopt. And it's not working.

We need to change the way we approach change if we want it to stick, to focus more on co-designing new things with those most directly affected and make sure they have the resources to do what's needed. Otherwise, we end up farther behind than when we started.

What's one change story that has stuck with you, for better or worse? I'd love to hear it!