There are quite a few stories out there about project failure caused by poor Organizational Change Management (OCM) or complete lack of OCM. What about successful Organizational Change Management? I have always felt like fashioning Change Management after a marketing campaign was a very good way to go. I was working on a huge worldwide program for a very large pharmaceutical company that had the best OCM I have ever seen. All of the leaders supported the change. This involved a good deal of their time as they had several events to help the users understand the importance of the change and rally around it. They communicated very frequently and in many different forms. The program leaders made sure that they were getting requirements from all locations participating. Obviously the leaders of the organization were willing to spend money to handle the people side of change as they could see there would be a return. We all know that huge worldwide programs can be the riskiest so the company did all in its power to try to ensure success.
And then there was the time I was brought into an organization to bring a great deal of change. The CIO wanted change. The PMO Director wanted change. Everyone wanted change! They just didn’t agree on what this change looked like! But they agreed it needed to be done yesterday (they really did as they had been looking for a resource to lead this for quite some time). This caused a great deal of resistance from the people who had to do the work to get the projects completed. And then there were the various businesses under the corporation who needed to come together to help develop the requirements that would work for all. I worked with the sponsors to ensure they stood behind the changes required from the program. I built targeted communications for all the various areas of the organization and communicated frequently. I didn’t have the luxury of a big budget and many resources to ensure OCM success for the program but I was a big fan of the solution so my enthusiasm kept me going. And as I said most of the people in the organization realized that several things needed to change as things weren’t going so well before the program was implemented.
When I was researching for a keynote speech I was to present, I came across a very inspiring story of a project success. The two hour house. One of the major elements of the very successful project was people working together because they really believed in the project. This project wasn’t about change in an organization but it was about people really believing in what they were doing. And that is what you want on OCM – for people to believe in the benefit to result from the project. For that particular project the “benefit” was proving they could build the house per a 2 hour schedule. In the end they were proving out the major elements they felt must be in place for success of the project (very detailed planning, risk management, only dedicated believers on the team, contingency planning etc.).
I was just reading a study of Project Failures which got me thinking about the warning signs. The following are true warning signs and issues I have had or witnessed in my Project Management career.
You know your project is in trouble when:
1. The project team was just assigned but the customer wanted this 6 months ago. And the deadline isn’t changing from the original.
2. Your project team is very unhappy because the project has this overly aggressive schedule.
3. You have some team members that don’t like each other – to the point they are acting like 5 year olds asking you to remove the other team member. Time to provide a lecture on being a good team member (and acting like a grownup).
4. Your sponsor is nowhere to be seen – has completely dropped his or her sponsorship of the project.
5. One of the team members has developed a mantra: “I will have that done tomorrow”. This task was due last month!
6. The project contract has a specification that is tighter than the spec your team felt they could meet.
7. Your designer has kept a secret from you: that he doesn’t have a clue how to design the solution.
8. Your stakeholders selected the software – very thorough analysis of alternatives involving tons of people and tons of hours. They selected the application that will work much better than any alternatives. Unfortunately, that is not the application you are implementing. At the last minute an executive informed you that you were to buy one of the alternatives. He claimed that, as a company, we only purchase from this major software vendor.
9. Stakeholders are not happy about this change but they are happy to tell you they don’t want this change.
10. You day-dream a good deal about changing careers.
Some ideas around these project issues:
• Good risk management is important. At the beginning of the project work to determine what can go wrong and what you will do about each risk. This is not just for the PM to do but the entire project team will be valuable in working on this.
• Thorough stakeholder analysis and management will help avoid users that don’t want to use the new system or process.
• Research has shown that a project with no sponsor is more likely to fail that a project with a strong sponsor.
• Communication, communication, communication – with the project team, the sponsors, the stakeholders
o This includes communicating problems – along with what needs to be done to solve the problems.
• If faced with aggressive schedules make sure this is included in your list of risks. This is a difficult issue. The customer always wants it asap and meeting all goals and high quality and in budget. That is a daunting task!
What signs of project trouble have you had? And what did you do about it?
Projects are about improving or fixing things. So it should be easy to get people excited about the change that comes from the completion of a project, right? Not really. People don’t change. Status quo is easier. Here are the top reasons people are resistant to change.
1. Preparing for the change requires a lot of work. We have to learn new processes, systems, and new ways of doing things. This causes anxiety – what if I can’t do my job as well after the process changes? What if the new system is impossible to use?
2. There are uncertainties around change. We really don’t know how things are going to go after the changes are put in place. Uncertainty is scary!
3. The organization usually tells us why this is good for the business, or sometimes not. But what does it do for me? We don’t always get that message and lets face it, what’s in it for me matters. We have to take time out of our very busy schedules to get ready for the change so it helps to have strong motivation. Sometimes leaders don’t provide that motivation.
4. Many of the C levels in organizations didn’t get to the top by worrying about people’s feelings. They are not the touchy-feely type (I didn’t say everyone). They do know how to network and they can be friendly but the CFO doesn’t need to be expert in HR. So worrying about whether the people of the organization have concerns about the major changes in progress often isn’t at the top of the Executive to do list. Unfortunately, you can’t ignore that the people of the organization have to change and there are going to be some negative opinions about almost any change. This has to be taken into consideration and dealt with. Managers have to talk to their reports to understand concerns!
5. It could be that the people really understand and want the change. However, if major changes often fail in the organization, there is no trust that this project is going to succeed or even be completed. And one thing we all don’t like is feeling like we are doing a lot of work for something that might be abandoned or just won’t work.
So most Change Management theories say you must win the people of the organization over that the change is great, will be successful and will improve the lives of the members of the organization. Promoting the change as a marketing campaign (with the organization as the audience) can work wonders.
I wanted to discuss a positive theme today and this came to mind – how to help ensure a happy work force. I read earlier this week that happy people are more productive. So I thought about the places I have worked and put together these points. I am sure there are more ideas and I would like to hear them.
1. Build teams that work well together. This may seem naive and impossible but it can be done. Provide team training so everyone knows how a good team should work. Most work places have some people that aren’t team players. Hopefully you have work where they can be independent.
2. Hire happy, positive people and keep them happy.
3. I don’t know many people who work well in an environment led by a micro manager or dictator type leader. A leader needs to care about the people in the organization. The best leaders have a sense of humor and ability to motivate and inspire.
4. If people can make mistakes without being beaten up over the mistake, more creativity and innovation will occur as people learn from their mistakes and fix problems before it is too late. And the work force will be happier not living in fear of making a mistake.
5. Everyone is motivated differently and has a different personality. Do you recognize individuality? Can you get the best out of your people? People need to be rewarded when they do a good job. This varies quite a bit according the each person’s personality.
6. Everyone appreciates the occasional free lunch or other social events and parties.
7. I don’t know any people who like bosses that yell all the time. Do you?
8. I think most people like friendly, approachable bosses. I certainly do!
9. The leaders of the organization set the core values and the culture. You can make it so that people like coming to work.
10. When people are really overworked, they are not efficient and not happy. Of course this is about life-work balance.
I was recently asked what did I learn early that I have been able to use throughout my career. My answer is the power of taking ownership of your results.
This goes back to a time when I was in an organization where people were very de-motivated. Things just weren’t going well. We were doing some projects that we really didn’t think we should be doing (weren’t feasible) but we had no choice. We had to do what top management said to do.
At one point we landed a very big project with a good deal of risk, visibility and pressure from our top leader. We had a very lean project team and a very tight schedule. There were team members that didn’t get along. Since many team members were thinking more about polishing up their resumes and getting out of this job nightmare, I was very worried about our ability to pull this off. But I am a stubborn and determined Project Manager.
This will sound crazy but stay with me! I took these very cynical Engineers to a motivational presentation. I expected that most of them would just be happy to get away from the office for a day but they listened and really got it. What we brought back to the office was the concept that we owned the results of our work. We, as a team, could do this successfully if we all stepped up and agreed that we were going to ensure success. We realized we had control of our destiny. We were very motivated.
And it worked so it is a very cool story! We had all kinds of trouble (such as learning curve for all the new things we had to figure out, one key team member left one month before the end of the project et.) and worked more than we ever had (many long hours). We were successful, the project was on time and the top leaders were very impressed!
So when I am trying to turn around negative attitude in the workplace and get people motivated, I remind people that things don’t happen to us, we make things happen. A little bit corny but it works!
1. Good Strategy: Sound business strategy tied to organization’s core competency. Strategy is interpreted into what gets done in the organization and the benefits are being realized!
2. Good Employees. They are empowered to do an amazing job and always finding better ways to do things. The employees are good at solving problems. They like to come to work and you aren’t even bribing them with free stuff!
3. Outstanding Leaders. They inspire, they motivate. They know what they are doing and keep up with and handle change brilliantly.
4. Corporate Culture is healthy. People collaborate, brainstorm, share knowledge. People care about their work. Not too much politics. Performance metrics measure the right things – to ensure the organization achieves its goals. For the most part, people get along together well and they are positive, glass half full types.
5. The leaders are on top of things: The business thrives in its industry. Leaders understand their market, stay on top of the industry trends and changes. They understand how to deal with the issues of the industry.
6. The organization can handle constant change. The business has the structure in place to change strategy (and associated execution) when major change occurs in the market. The organization is flexible and adaptable. The organization is agile because it has processes, procedures and standards that are just right – not over done (too much rigidity and processes causing inefficiency) or under done (everyone just does whatever!).
7. The company is proactive, not reactive. Issues are anticipated. Risk is managed. The business is quickly solving problems and making sound, rapid decisions as required to succeed.
8. The organization has creative thinkers and innovators. They are coming up with better ideas than the competition.
9. There are no silos. The functional areas work together!
10. The organization has the information and data they need to make the best decisions at all levels of the organization.
This is my brainstorming on what contributes to corporate success. I would love to hear your ideas. And if some of them sound a bit idealistic, they probably are. I am in a positive mood so that’s where the idealism comes in.
At one point in my career, I was a manager in a small, failing division of a large company. I had just started at the company and had not discovered this issue during the hiring process (ah lessons learned!). But here I was in a not so good situation, needing to figure out a way to turn things around.
I knew the problem to be solved – Projects were usually late and our products did not always meet spec. But what was the solution?
Naturally morale was low so this was one of the first issues to deal with. Low morale and low productivity go hand in hand. It was pretty much like being in a sinking ship. Since the employees couldn’t see how to fix things, chances are that most, if not all of them were busy working on their resumes and job searching. They saw the situation as hopeless; we needed to change that attitude.
Strange as it may seem, a new, very huge challenge helped turned us around. We received a new contract to produce something that we were not at all sure we could achieve. We were concerned about schedule, specs, staffing, risk and a lot of unknowns. I convinced the staff that successful completion of this project could turn things around for the division.
We saw this challenge as a way to show our skills and ability. I continued to drive home the concept that this project was the key to our division’s success. Successful completion of this project would bring good return to the division but would also convince our VP that we were a powerful team. We owned this project and were driven to succeed. The fact that this was the biggest challenge we had yet encountered was a great inspiration. We weren’t victims of failure but rather owners of our own success.
It is a good thing that we were motivated and now thinking positively as our lean staff had to work long hours to ensure on time delivery. I found the value of being a hands-on leader on this project. I figured out all kinds of non-conventional ways to help the team (testing equipment for instance) and more conventional ways such as vendor negotiations to bring needed products in quickly.
The project was a success and did indeed convince the company of our division’s value. We kept our eyes on the goal of turnaround all through the long hours and hard work required to achieve this goal. We had a vision of a better division and made it a reality.
I am seeing companies out there asking for people who work well under pressure. I thought everyone was good at that because there are always plenty of issues and challenges in the workplace. But I have seen a lot of different attitudes when difficulties occur in the business. Here are some attitudes that are all wrong for dealing with business challenges:
1. Ignore the problem and it will go away. NOT!
2. Hand this off to someone else. You can collaborate with others, run your solution by others but complete handoff is not something you can do and expect to go anywhere in your career. We all need to be problem solvers. If you feel you must push this further up the chain of command, at least offer your ideas on resolution of the problem.
3. Let out your frustrations and rant and yell about who is to blame. I don’t think anyone sees this as working well under pressure but I have been amazed to see high level people get away with this. I do think this is becoming less common though.
So how should you deal with pressure, issues, challenges and downright disaster?
1. Remain calm and analyze the problem. What is the root cause of the issue and potential solutions?
2. Keep a positive attitude and open mind. I got this idea from people I have worked with. They say that when I worked under great pressure, I kept a positive attitude, which in turn helped keep my teams motivated. Negativity is not productive or motivating, generally this just leads to the issues not getting resolved quickly.
3. Negotiate. Some of the biggest pressures I have encountered related to the customer (internal or external) wanting it now (schedule problem) and wanting it cheap (budget problem) and wanting all the bells and whistles (scope problem). I have found that it is good to find out the prioritization of scope, schedule, cost according to the client. Which of these constraints is most critical? If it is schedule, tell them what you can do by that date and how you would phase the rest of the solution. If it is money, convince them they will have what they need without every last bell and whistle.
4. Corporate culture is key to dealing with issues. If the organization punishes people for reporting problems, there will be more problems. If the organization is consistently looking at performance, proactively anticipating issues and risks while planning mitigation and empowering people to solve problems, the business is likely to run smoother.
5. As I mentioned in item 2 above, your best move might be to all take a deep breath and remind yourselves that panicking doesn’t resolve anything. Then get people together and brainstorm solutions.
6. Keep the issue in perspective. Is this something people will even remember in a day, week or month? Is it possible you will laugh about this later?
7. Plan on getting your frustrations out from all the pressure at work by exercising – the number one stress reliever!
What are your ideas for keeping calm under pressure? If employees are constantly seeking this in their workforce, its a good idea for everyone to work on this.