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Managing change - It’s all in the value add

5 succinct take-aways as to what the most successful interventions had in common.

By Wilhelm Boshoff | 19 November 2019

During my 21 years of providing laboratory performance improvement consulting services, I have experienced my fair share of both successful and less successful change management interventions.

Like you I have attended many talks on change management models, methodologies and approaches, spending endless hours trying to select the right approach for my organization and our clients.  It is not my intention here to help you select the most appropriate one for your organization - that is your privilege.  What I would like to do is share is my thoughts in 5 succinct take-aways as to what the most successful interventions had in common.

5 SUCCINCT TAKE-AWAYS

#1. Align project outcomes with business goals

Begin by asking what success will look like?  Many projects are conceived without the project team having agreed with the project owner on what a successful project outcome would look like and how it would align with the organization’s overall strategic goals.  This is collaborated by the Project Management Institute (PMI)[1] study that shows that 83 percent of organizations lacked maturity with what they call "benefits realization" and only about half indicated that project benefits are well aligned with business strategic goals.  Why would stakeholders then buy into your project?  For you to lead your team effectively and for them to trust and follow you, ensure your planning and research  sufficiently prepares you to clearly understand what the impact of this change will be on all the stakeholders and the organization’s bottom line.  Do not engage until you can express your thoughts, arguments, and ideas clearly and effectively.

#2. Prioritize your projects to deliver value

In an ideal world all projects and change initiatives have the intention of delivering value to the organization.  Pitching the value proposition to the executive as a one-way street is a naïve mistake  -you need to understand the value of the project to yourself, the project team and other stakeholders whose buy-in you require in order to make the project a success. Scrutinizing the proposed project thoroughly ahead of time will ensure that you avoid having too many and unrealistic competing demands on the team members’ limited capacity.  Not all projects and the accompanying change initiatives are conceived equally and if we fail to balance organizational expectations with the availability of limited resources we run the risk of ending up with simply too many initiatives.  This not only diverts expensive resources from other valuable work but also leads to change management fatigue, resulting in team members who become disengaged, unproductive and possibly looking to move on.  No wonder that up to 70% of organizational change efforts fail, according to research by Kotter International[2].  Prioritizing projects allows you to align limited and valuable resources with the projects that will deliver real value. Only proceed once you know what the change is worth to the organization, yourself and your colleagues respectively and how you will measure success.

#3. Plan to compensate for what you lack in experience

Change management requires us to change the behaviour of people with opposing needs, interests and views  - this can be a difficult journey fraught with the risk of conflict.  To navigate any potential conflict requires a great deal of knowledge and skill that can only be honed by experience. Experience helps you to identify the early warning signals that your project is being derailed or that successful delivery is at risk.  You can greatly compensate for an initial lack of experience through detailed planning and by establishing a change management plan to manage the change process, control budget, scope, communication and resources.  Often too much attention is focussed on the soft skills required to navigate human behaviour, without putting in the hard work in designing a change management plan that not only maps the way forward, but allows for critical assessment.  Continuous assessments along the way compensate for the missing signals that will allow us to adjust our strategy, keep us on track and minimize the risk of failure.  See the change management plan as a journey with destinations, not expectations. Short term wins motivate!

#4. Do not suffer obstinate people

Leaders make tough decisions and demonstrate accountability by taking responsibility for the outcomes of their actions and decisions. Success requires all stakeholders to work together in unison on the same objective, but don’t confuse constructive criticism with obstinacy.  Well considered and articulated criticism is indispensable as it reduces risk and contributes to our mutual understanding of the challenges we may face and help us to find better solutions. Allow for discussion, consultation and shared responsibility for project delivery. Much is written about how to deal with resistant team members in order to get them on board with change. In my experience there is a difference between stubborn and obstinate. Decide where you draw the line in the sand and if the preferred interventions fail, make the necessary adjustments to the resource plan and move on.  Lead by not giving the habitual naysayers too much oxygen as it will starve the rest of the team of their motivation and derail the project.  

#5. Celebrate and recognize success

The work place has changed drastically since I joined my first company – long gone is the need for suits, ties and office hours. The last 10 years has seen dramatic change often associated with technology as enabler, but also by a new generation that has very different expectations such as work-life balance. The one thing that remained constant over the years is the need for and the power of recognition. Yes monetary recognition is always welcome but public recognition, an increase in responsibility, and perks such as additional days off are memorable and impactful ways of recognizing employees. Just like good ideas do not keep to office hours so recognition does not need to be confined to annual reviews and end-of-year celebrations.  Celebrate and recognise when the opportunity presents itself and as close to the actual successful delivery as possible.  Lastly avoid the temptation to immediately charge head long into the next project.  Let the dust settle and reap the rewards while basking in the glory of project that delivered real value.  Let it sink in.

CONCLUSION

Align project outcomes with business goals and do not engage until you can express your thoughts, arguments, and ideas clearly and effectively.

Prioritize your projects to deliver value and only proceed once you know what the change is worth to the organization, yourself and your colleagues respectively and how you will measure success.

Plan to compensate for what you lack in experience and see the change management plan as a journey with destinations, not expectations. Short term wins motivate!

Lead and do not suffer obstinate people and do not give the habitual naysayers too much oxygen as it will starve the rest of the team of their motivation. 

Celebrate and recognize success and avoid the temptation to immediately charge head long into the next project. 

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[1] Pulse of the Profession 2016 (2016)

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkotter/2011/09/15/can-i-use-this-method-for-change-in-my-organization/#6d7c50111ce6