As instructional designers, we develop learning experiences with the end in mind: There’s a desired performance or set of problem-solving abilities we’d like learners to acquire as individuals. We also know that many organizational factors contribute to performance challenges—it’s not just about individual capabilities. Yet though we embrace the idea of applying systematic approaches to the design and development stages of instructional design, I think we tend to fall short when it comes to implementation and that additional, usually unmentioned stage, the stage of integrating an effort into a company’s workflow and culture. We tend to view those organizational factors that impact change as beyond our ken.
Instructional Designers as change agents
This brings me to the topic of this post: the role of an instructional designer as a change agent. This is a bit of a book review as well, because I’m sharing some of the useful tips I found in Brien Palmer’s “Making Change Work: Practical Tools for Overcoming Human Resistance to Change.”
Defining and working with change forces
Change typically involves technical and human aspects. The human aspects necessitate individual change efforts and organizational change efforts. Not accounting for human resistance to change (or being changed) can cause a great learning solution to remain just a nice idea.
As shown in the figure below, we should start thinking about the change triggered by our learning solutions early on, whether that solution involves training, performance support, or supports for informal learning.
Figure 1. A change model. Adapted from Figure 4 in Palmer (2003), with modification.
It should be noted that Figure 1’s just a convenient way of illustrating a change management process. Many of the stages overlap and provide inputs for other stages.
A systematic approach to change
Leading change requires clearly identifying:
- A change team whose team members have defined roles
- Ground rules (e.g., for team meetings, decision making, and accountability)
Each of these may vary depending on where you are in the change process.
Identifying a shared need is pretty similar to the analysis stage of instructional design and requires identifying the business and performance goals. Shaping a vision requires taking the next step of stating desired outcome(s) with some specificity. As noted by Palmer (2003), ”A clear statement of the future state helps gain genuine commitment, establishes milestones, and changes system and structures.”
Of course, mobilizing commitment is a particularly tricky stage. It can help to conduct force field analysis to define driving forces and restraining forces. As a change agent, an instructional designer needs to work with the change team to develop strategies that support driving forces and mitigate restraining forces.
Figure 2. The change force field
Driving and restraining forces will include people and there are questions that need to be asked:
- Who’s going to be impacted by the change and in what ways?
- Who’s likely to support a change and who’s likely to resist?
As you might expect, developing an influence strategy is an important part of giving a design plan legs. Having identified those who might resist a change effort, you need to take the time to figure out what’s behind this resistance and whether you can address concerns. Can you create win-win situations? As noted by Palmer, “Change is much better accepted if people feel that they have some control and understanding, and that the change has a good purpose.” Palmer recommends managing an influence strategy just like any other project, scheduling, assigning, and tracking associated tasks, and reporting on progress.
Monitoring the progress of a change effort requires identifying clear milestones, measuring successes, and identifying obstacles that impede success. You may need to go back to defining your change force field to identify emerging driving and restraining forces and to determine how to balance them in your favor.
Although Palmer calls the last stage, “finishing the job”, I’m calling it an “embedding and integrating” stage in Figure 1 because odds are you won’t be completely finished and will need to revisit your effort, particularly if there’s learning involved. This is the stage where you make sure that all the necessary supports are in place so that change reaches the hearts and minds of your target audience. The embedding/integrating stage creates opportunities to support and reinforce each of the milestones you’ve identified. Supports can include learning supports and organizational incentives.
The embedding and integrating stage is also a time to celebrate successes and to give kudos to the team members and stakeholders who are “living the change.” It’s time to confirm that you’ve truly “anchored” the change with the appropriate systems and audits to make sure that shared vision you’ve developed with your stakeholders becomes a reality.
Palmer’s book is well-written, engaging, and filled with practical advice on creating effective partnerships and behaviors for making change work. He provides suggested approaches and methods of inquiry for each stage of the change management process and tables that can form the basis of some useful worksheets.
Palmer, B. (2003). Making change work: Practical tools for overcoming human resistance to change. Milwaukee, WI: ASQ Quality Press.