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Innovation & Cat Flaps!

The more experience I gather working in innovation, the more I use analogies. Yes, they can draw a stakeholder or audience in,

but more importantly, they help people understand and remember important concepts. And that's why a cat flap recently led me to reflect on innovation and change.

You see, a few months ago our contractors had installed a cat flap on the door to our basement for our dynamic feline duo, Socks and Cookie. It was a tiny but important finishing detail of a major reno we just completed.

Our cats are no chumps so naturally we assumed that once installed, Socks and Cookie would intuitively see a clear door and think hey, I bet if I push on that, I can get to the litter box.

They didn't.

It took a somewhat disturbing upstairs "accident" (that my son stepped in) for us to realize the kitties were, in fact, NOT using the cat flap.

This was going to take some work...and some time. Two of my boys stood in the laundry room with the cats, while my youngest son and I crouched on the other side, hands outstretched and filled with kibble. Easy, I thought, knowing that my cats are perpetually hungry.

Through the plastic door they stared, motionless.

My boys pushed the flap to show how it moved. Socks and Cookie, though now perking up a little because they got a whiff of the food, seemed at a loss...

Finally, after about 30 minutes of encouragement, bribing, coaxing and even gently pushing a cat head through the flap, Socks (always the braver of the two) swatted a paw at the door and slinked through to the other side!!!

We screamed with delight!

Socks, disoriented, and slightly terrified of our response scurried away, tail down, ears back, and ran into the other room, completely ignoring the food. Cookie quickly followed suit and just as rapidly made a break for the rec room.

So how do these lessons apply when you're leading a transformational change project?

1) Don't assume people will immediately understand what you're doing and why. Everyone sees and experiences change differently. Socks and Cookie didn't immediately see the point of this clear plastic barrier or how it might be helpful. For them the status quo (laundry door open, litter box fumes everywhere) was just fine.

I've seen project leads roll out a feature they perceive as the best thing since sliced bread to utter indifference. Well before you activate any change, you need to clearly create awareness of the why, why now and potential benefits you hope to realize.

2) Understand motivators and be prepared to pivot. It's easy to assume dangling a "carrot" in front of people is an easy way to get them to buy in to your change but humans (like cats) are complicated. What entices one person, may not work for another.

3) Help with the "how." It took several demonstrations of the swinging cat door and even a little "going through the motions" before Socks and Cookie would even attempt to use the door. Just because stakeholders know in theory what they're supposed to do, doesn't mean they're able. Be prepared to overprepare people for a change ahead so that the "how" becomes second nature.

4) Reinforce. Change, even when successful, can be unsettling. Socks and Cookie made it through to the "other side" and totally bypassed the benefits (food) on offer. Until your stakeholders are routinely reaping the rewards of whatever transformation you've implemented, then there is still work to do.

And if these lessons all strangely seem familiar, then you probably know a thing or two about ADKAR (awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, reinforcement) and the Prosci change management approach!

If you need help with a #changemanagement initiative, why not get in touch?


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