• Matt Moynihan

Using APEL to Manage Change and Progress

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

One of the biggest Change Management challenges is convincing the team to embrace the new dynamic. People resist change because they feel safely mired in the status quo. Leadership needs to identify for them the benefits not just for the organization, but specifically for themselves. During a change event, every employee is thinking, “What’s in it for me?” Employees will be more open to change if they feel they are progressing themselves in terms of personal profit, prestige, power, pleasure, pain avoidance or peace of mind.

Focused and effective progress management through all phases of the change initiative can help minimize resistance and promote project success. So how do we do this?

The What and How of Change Management

Implementing a new process to manage change (a change event by itself) can create added complexity and inhibit sustainability. The process needs to be integrated across the enterprise while addressing the project and behavior aspects of the change event. It needs to have flexibility so that it easily adapts to the complexity of the change. The process needs to be simple enough to stand by itself and not require a dedicated team to implement and maintain it. If not kept in check, change management models, can evolve over time, becoming too complicated or cumbersome to be effective as business dynamics shift.

Another path to change is to take a bottom up approach by leveraging existing processes and capabilities and adopting them to better manage change events. Problem solving is a capability all companies have to varying degrees. Change Management is advanced problem solving. Any approach should apply basic problem-solving methods by asking fundamental questions such as “What is the problem or plan?” or “How do we implement or communicate?” Let’s review the basic framework for success.

Change Management is the “what” and the “how” of accomplishing the change initiative. The focus here is typically on the project management aspects of the change initiative. Progress Management is the “what” and the “how” of accomplishing progress for the company and individuals involved. The focus with progress management is on the behavioral and people aspects of the change initiative. In general, project teams typically are responsible for the execution or deliverables (the what) while management plays an active role approving required resources, approach, and priorities (the how).

Applying the APEL Framework

Asking “what” and “how” questions should be done for all phases of the change initiative. There can be many phases to a change management process. Keeping things simple, the approach I have found to be most effective and can be applied to any project includes the following four phases:

· Assessment

· Planning

· Execution

· Learning

The table below shows some examples of how this framework can be used. The table is not meant to be exhaustive but shows many of the questions that should be asked to ensure successful change/progress management. In fact, when reviewing sources of change management failure, many of the questions listed below were identified as areas that were not addressed and impacted project success. Questions can be added or deleted depending upon the source, complexity and scope of the change event. The framework ensures that both the project and behavioral (using progress as the enabler) aspects are integrated and being managed.

The framework, along with the what/how approach can help with project planning and execution, role clarity, decision rights, expectation setting, accountability, and communication. The questions listed will apply to most change initiatives regardless of the source or complexity; however, the answers to the questions may vary significantly.

Note that management plays an important role with the change/progress aspects in all phases of the project.

A Case Study: APEL In Action

Let’s apply this framework to an example. Assume that you were informed that Sales just landed a new customer that is a market leader in the industry. They have chosen one of your products for their new application which will provide significant growth opportunity for your business. Unfortunately, their demand for the product will impact your ability to supply some of your other customers.

What do you do?

The first step is to assess the problem or opportunity that the change is creating. In this example, the opportunity/problem appears to be a trade-off between leveraging growth with this new customer and the potential revenue impact it may have from existing customers. Additional analysis around threats and opportunities (market, supply chain, financial, etc.) will help develop options, identify internal/external stakeholders, and ultimately provide the required data to develop options on how best to proceed. Working together, leadership and the team work the change aspect of the event.

The next step is then to determine whether the decision makes sense from a progress point of view. Developing a business case that represents the future state and corresponding metrics helps validate that progress is being made for the company (profit, prestige, etc.). Elements from the business case can then be used to determine what the change means for the organization (profit, pain avoidance, etc.) and provides material to educate, listen to and engage the organization to begin developing buy-in.

A similar approach is used for the other three phases of the change initiative (planning, execution and learning) . Develop tangible outputs for “the what” aspects of change and progress. Use the outputs to determine “the how” by aligning resources, prioritizing, conquering challenges and driving desired behaviors. Listening and incorporating feedback where possible is important to ensure that progress (profit, prestige, power, pleasure, pain avoidance and peace of mind) is being achieved for each phase of the project for both the company and organization.

All Progress is Change but Not all Change is Progress.

Given that change is a constant, perhaps the number one challenge for most companies is effectively managing change to maximize progress. Managing change is difficult. There are many project and behavioral aspects to consider and the form of change can vary considerably. It is leadership’s role to ensure that the resources available (in the form of tools, processes, and people) are being used to effectively meet short- and long-term business goals.

There are many options available to incorporate change management into existing business processes. Using the APEL approach will ensure a comprehensive review of the situation develop a solid plan, assist and monitor execution, and ensure shared learnings sustain a vibrant workplace culture. APEL is different compared to some other Change Management Models for the following aspects:

• Simplicity: The framework is simple to use and allows for sustainability and effective implementation across varying change situations and complexities.

• Focus on Progress: The framework places equal emphasis on change AND progress for the company and organization members.

• Leadership Accountability: Leadership is ultimately accountable for business results, and therefore, should own the process by actively participating where it makes sense, asking for feedback and incorporating it where possible.

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