The NDIS presents massive organisational change challenges. Most organisations need to significantly change their work practices, operating systems, management structure and infrastructure set up. On top of this, most must overhaul their marketing and communications approach and establish a customer-centric approach in everything they do.
This is truly comprehensive change, and requires a well thought out change management plan. Central to this plan needs to be engagement – getting people on board with the need for change, and building participation in the process of change.
1. Build participation and enthusiasm
In our experience, a key to successful change is working with enthusiastic staff. We have found many staff are ripe for the changes the NDIS brings, because of their personality, their role, or their dissatisfaction with the current way of working. Those who are enthusiastic, curious and motivated to make changes are the ideal people to involve in NDIS working groups bringing about the change. Their positivity and success will gradually influence others, and provide models for the way forward.
People can also become enthusiastic, by being engaged well from the earliest stages. Provide plenty of opportunities for people to learn about the NDIS changes, ask questions, discuss what it means for them, and share their concerns and fears. Slow down, and focus on dialogue and relationship building.
2. Be clear about your goals
The first step of any change process is establishing a goal for the change.
Much of this has been predetermined by the NDIS; the goal for every organisation could be broadly defined as to succeed in the NDIS, although it’s important to make this goal your own by tailoring it to your organisation. Having the NDIS as such a powerful external driver for change is in some ways helpful; everyone can more easily see why change is inevitable.
3. Develop a vision
A vision is a desirable future that we can imagine ourselves in. Having a powerful vision engages us at an emotional level, and is like a beacon to light the way forward through the uncertainty of the present.
People need to have a sense of connection and ownership to a vision, so it’s important to engage as many stakeholders as possible in the creation of the vision. Working collectively to develop a vision is also a great way to build working relationships for navigating through the change process.
There are many visioning processes, such as Backcasting and Future Search, which can be effective. In our work with organisations navigating change for NDIS, we find that regardless of the process used, a few principles are important:
- Don’t hurry the process of developing the vision. Devote enough time so that all participants recognize they are part of something important, see that their ideas and values matter, and have a sense of building consensus toward a shared vision.
- Participation in the process should be truly voluntary. It’s okay if some people are not present during the formal visioning process. They can be engaged in conversations about it later.
- Develop positive stories. Storytelling can be a great way to bring people into a visioning mindset. Asking people to share stories of exceptional outcomes is a powerful step to developing a vision.
- Questions to evoke vision focus on what people would see, hear, feel and experience in an ideal future. The NDIS, with its focus on control and choice, is proving a great backdrop for collaborative visioning exercises. One question we often include is ‘imagine a future where our clients have choice and control … What does that look like? … How is it different?’
- Choose a timeframe that is far enough into the future that people can think beyond current barriers (10-20 years into the future is usually best).
- The most powerful visions are instantly evocative. Your vision might be a short story or an image that encapsulates the kind of experience you want clients to have.
- Visions are never permanent. Don’t get too caught up in word-smithing. We’ve seen organisations spend days trying to get the words right, only to discover 6 months down the track that it no longer quite fits. The vision needs to be kept alive through conversation, so everyone has a sense of ownership and connection to it. Talk about the vision again and again, engage people in dialogue about what this means to them, what it looks like in their work, and so on.
4. Agree on first steps and go for quick wins
Once you have a vision, you can work collaboratively to develop your NDIS action plans. In large group processes it’s often most useful to focus only on several initial steps that are relevant to everyone and will quickly create tangible improvements, as these actions bring reassurance and ground the vision in the present.
More comprehensive action planning can take place in smaller teams or working groups. Some helpful prompts for developing the action plan using your vision:
- Let’s imagine we’ve achieved the vision. Look at what we have done, and notice how we’ve dealt with what arose…
- How are we working now compared with how we will to be when we achieve our vision?
- What needs to change? What do we need to start doing? Continue doing? Stop doing?
- What might go wrong? How will we know? How can we prevent that? What contingency plans do we need if things go wrong?
5. The best NDIS action plans for change have three components
Aside from the action plans we are all familiar with, for significant change we also need a monitoring plan. The world that we plan for is not the world that we will have to engage with. In the time it takes us to implement our action plans, things change. Staff move on, NDIA policy shifts, competitors arise, and so on. Our actions also produce some unexpected outcomes. We thus need to monitor our action plan as we proceed, and allow for flexibility through trial and error. The monitoring plan consists of regular reviews to check if the goals are still appropriate, and that the planned actions are still relevant. If not, we can fine tune the actions.
Regardless of the goal, we also need a plan for how to support people through the change, and how to ensure we bring about the changes in work practice we need. Otherwise there is a tendency to focus only on the technical or infrastructural aspects of change, and to forget that the fundamental change required is one of behaviour.