Consultants' Corner

The 6 Signposts of Change Management

Craig Loughrige
Insurance Experts' Forum, December 21, 2010

Let’s get to full disclosure right up front. I’m from southwest Missouri—part of the “Show Me” state—and proud of it! Missouri was one of those Civil War border states that the Northerners call “The South” and the Southerners call “Yankees.” That said, why am I proud to be a Missourian?  Well, we’re honest, hardworking people who tell it like it is, which is a great boon to success, especially in the realm of change management where little is as it seems. For this politically correct culture, you will have to understand the language to interpret the message to know where you are and what you need to do next.

All the change management models work in “Show Me” workplaces, whether you subscribe to the “Burning Platform” or the “Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze” or some other model. The models all work in their own way, but the language is a little different, and it’s the language that makes up the signposts of the process.

The process signpost messages are:

•    “We don’t do it that way in these parts.”
•    “Let me explain it to you again; maybe you didn’t understand the first time around.”
•    “Whatever.”
•    “We told you we could make it happen.”
•    “I told you we knew what we were doing.”


Let’s break down the process into its components after we’ve set the stage for the project. As a consultant, you must clearly understand why the boss brought you into the fray and his/her pain points and expectations—the measures of success. Take this opportunity to lay out your plan, which should start with due diligence and fact gathering, to fully understand the problem at the operational level. You will need to meet with staff at the operational level to understand their pain and lay out the program you were brought in to execute.

Start by establishing simple metrics and a reporting/update structure—the metrics should be generated daily and the face-to-face updates updated weekly. The initial meeting is partly fact gathering and partly staging for the change to come. Near the end of this meeting, you will undoubtedly get the first signpost message:

Message: “We don’t do it that way in these parts.”

First, don’t take the pushback personally. Listen and take notes; there are often gems to be gleaned from this exchange. Reiterate your points but don’t expect agreement. Make sure the measures of success and metrics are understood and focus on the key problem. (I was recently brought in to address a claims backlog problem after a new systems implementation, and the theme was “backlog.”)

The next phase of your project depends on where the trouble spots are located and where you can get the most leverage. Most likely, there have not yet been any results and the problem may even be getting worse. As you work with the main people, the heat is building (the burning platform), but keep focusing on the necessary changes. At this point, you will get your second signpost message:

Message: “Let me explain it to you again; maybe you didn’t understand the first time around.”

Again, it’s not personal. They’re feeling the heat and operating from a position of fear. Be sympathetic and try to diagnose what’s working and what isn’t. Offer to help and establish what is needed for them to adopt the new way.

Now is the time to really focus on the metrics as measures of success. The theme word becomes a mantra: “Backlog, Backlog, Backlog, Backlog, Backlog.” By now, everyone involved will be sick of hearing it, including the boss, who is hearing it from his boss, customers, business partners, and everyone else that matters. Bring the boss and the frontline together. When you do, you will likely hear this:

Message: “Whatever.”

Congratulations. You have turned the corner, but you still have a long way to go. Coach the frontline troops to develop and present their plan to get the needed results; the metrics should validate that they are succeeding. Set a time frame as to when they can expect to see the results and their progress. It is important that the boss is supportive of the plan, and remind the boss to reward changed behavior more than the result.

You’re beginning to see results. Continue to work through the trouble spots and maintain your focus (which has a tendency to wane with the glow of early success). Check the metrics daily—praising success along the way—but continue to question each setback. During this time, you’ll hear the following signpost message:

Message: “We told you we could make it happen.”

Success. Keep cheering and supporting the team that’s making this happen. Praise the team to the boss and single out the real heroes. You can now fine-tune the approach and take up any parking lot issues.

You’re nearing the end of the project. Check with the boss to make sure he or she is happy and correct any deficiencies. It’s about time to solve the next problem. As the time draws nigh, you will hear one last signpost message:

Message: “I told you we knew what we were doing.”

Give a sincere thanks to each individual and the entire team. Wipe that tear from your eye and go slay another dragon.

The “show me” team told you exactly where they were and what they needed. All you had to do was react appropriately to the signs.

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, consider this: “You know you might be a Missourian if you can successfully pour a change management project out of a boot when the directions are written on the heel.”

Craig Loughrige is a senior consultant for The Robert E. Nolan Co., a management consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Craig using the “Add Your Comments” box below.

The opinions posted in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News or SourceMedia.

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