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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Executive Education

Successful Change Management: The Japanese Way

Prina Shah

You may have had to focus on change management on the fly when COVID-19 first happened. As we now focus on recovery, let us not forget the importance of planned change management

The are many statistics which state that many change projects fail due to a lack of communication, buy in and support. You have probably experienced failed change projects some time in your career. I won’t labour this point. Instead, I want to explain a new concept to you…

An ex colleague explained the Japanese concept of Nemawashi to me long ago.

Nemawashi in Japanese means an informal process of quietly laying the foundation for some proposed change or project, by talking to the people concerned, gathering support and feedback, and so forth. It is considered an important element in any major change, before any formal steps are taken, and successful nemawashi enables changes to be carried out with the consent of all sides.

Nemawashi literally translates as “going around the roots”, from ne (root) and mawasu (to go around [something]). Its original meaning was literal: digging around the roots of a tree, to prepare it for a transplant. This process involves bringing the dirt from the new location, and introducing it to the tree, before the transplant, so the tree can grow accustomed to the new environment before it gets there.

What a beautiful analogy!

I simplify it to: Meeting Before the Meeting (and Meeting After the Meeting…)

I have applied this process in many aspects, one of which is in change and culture optimisation projects that I have supported my clients with. Here are some useful pointers from what I have learned…

The Nemawashi Process Is Not:

  • Meeting for meetings sake and waste people’s time.
  • To bombard stakeholders with a one sided case.
  • To tell others how things are going to be.
  • Unplanned and on the fly.

The Nemawashi Process Is:

  • To meet with key stakeholders and affected parties beforehand.
  • In order to firstly set the context.
  • To be prepared with a set of strategically crafted questions and information.
  • To gain feedback (as well as buy in pre launch.)
  • To truly listen. As in to apply active listening.
  • To possibly go back to the drawing board and change your proposal based on feedback.

Bonus Tips on Your Change Engagement:

  • Once you make your merry way through your change project, remember to keep your stakeholders briefed and do celebrate any successes.
  • Pick the low hanging fruit, the quick wins, to build momentum and awareness.

For the eagle eyed readers, you saw the latter part of the article titled “and Meeting After the Meeting.” Here I use direct examples from projects I have worked on and clients I have supported.

Meeting After the Meeting

Your change project is complete. You have kept your stakeholders abreast of the progress and now you are seeing the light at the end of the change tunnel!

What most change projects seem to fail on in this stage is… reflection. Working in a busy environment, it is easy to move on to the next project. HOLD ON!

Meeting 1: The Post-Mortem: A debrief from the project team from everyone’s perspective on lessons learned, what worked well, what didn’t and suggestions for improvement should ideally be documented. Everyone on the project team should have a say and the ground rules for this session should be no judgement and honesty. Only then will you hear the thoughts of the project team.

Meeting 2: Stakeholder Briefing: Meeting with the people you met with initially to gain buy in is essential to close the loop on the project. The content of this meeting should contain the learnings from your post mortem meeting (the things that you can share.) It should also contain questions for your stakeholders on what they thought worked, didn’t work and what could be improved. Again, this feedback should be documented in your lessons learned document to close the project.

Final Communications: often change projects fizzle into the void and no one hears about them officially, therefore the jungle drums or corporate whispers begin. To halt that, a simple piece of communication (ideally verbally by your change champion / the CEO) should be held. In this final communication the content could contain details of the project close, the wins, the learnings (what you can share) and depending on your company culture of transparency and honest communication, you could ask people for their thoughts (and you guessed it, then document them!)

Here’s to happy employees, great leaders and good company cultures!


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Prina Shah
Prina Shah is a leadership and culture specialist and founder of Prina Shah Consulting. Prina supports CEOs, Leaders and HR Teams develop themselves and their company cultures. Prina has 18+ years’ in-house management experience in Culture Change, Organisational / Leadership Development, Human Resources and Change Management for companies within the not for profit, government, utilities, small business and private sectors around the world. Prina provides practical tools that you can put into practice to develop yourself and your company culture. Prina Shah is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.