Successfully Managing Change when the odds are against you

What can trip up the success of any project, program or major change?

Since most endeavors involve people, process and technology, any one of these areas can cause the project to fail. Good planning and design should control technology and process issues. However, the main issue with Change Management relates to people issues. We all know that it is important to carefully plan projects and programs but sometimes there is not enough attention paid to Change Management Planning. I am not talking about handling changes to scope (which is definitely important). I am talking about how important it is to have the elements in place that will result in adoption of the change and will handle the problems and issues inherent in anything new.

To ensure success of any endeavor, you need to analyze how the change will affect the organization and produce a plan developed to handle the any risks and issues identified. As I will discuss later, the plan should be similar to a marketing campaign, where materials and communications are developed to keep the benefit of the change on everyone’s mind.

First you need a good sponsor – a high level person who enthusiastically communicates the vision and helps people understand “whats in it for me?” If the people higher up in the chain don’t support the change, this is a red flag. This often happens when a new leader comes in and believes he/ she can’t stick with anything started before he/ she took over! We have all seen this kind of activity put a halt to a major transformations already in progress. I have also seen sponsors who don’t really get the change themselves – don’t really see the point. This is like having no captain for the ship!

You also need to ensure people see progress. There is more talk these days of the criticality of modularizing projects, breaking down into 6 month or less phases for quick wins so that you achieve something every few months vs. leaving all the benefit realization to the end. This helps keep positive momentum going as people are seeing benefit as the project proceeds.

Thorough stakeholder analysis gives you a good idea of the threats to the project brought about by people who don’t want to change. Change requires using something new (system, process etc). This requires time and effort to learn something new and takes people outside their comfort zone. Count on it – some people will not want to learn something new. How to deal with this?: 1. Make sure the training is good, thorough, easy to understand and ongoing support and help is provided. 2. Make sure people understand what they can gain. We would all like to believe that it should make people happy to know that a change is going to do wonders for the company but the reality is that people really would like to relate benefit back to themselves. A leader skilled in Change Management can find the benefit or determine how to ensure there is one. For example, most change should streamline, simplify, automate or shorten processes.

The most successful change management plan I ever witnessed was similar to a major marketing campaign. A very large organization was rolling out major change globally. In essence they were “pitching” the change and its benefit to the organization to help mitigate stakeholder issues and support a relatively smooth change. The company used posters, t-shirts and other give aways and social events to promote the value of the change. While most organizations don’t put a budget behind this type of activity, we all can use the technique of clearly planning a campaign targeted at organizational buy-in of the change. Change Management activity should be included in the Communications plan with stakeholders provided with ongoing project progress as well as reminders of the purpose and benefit of the project.

 

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