7 steps for better change management

For some, it may be a cliche but change is all around us.

In adapting to ever complex environments and challenging markets many businesses are faced with an evolve or die scenario. As a result, and in particular, over the last 30 years, there has been a significant focus not just change management but on effective change management in order to adapt. Where failure occurs it is not only costly in a financial sense but at worst it has ended businesses.

Due to the prevalence of change management, most businesses have developed their own change management processes and recognize that constant improvement and evolution in this expertise is a must. As the type of change evolves (from new markets to technology to consumer platforms) firms look to deploy best practice and deploy more advanced processes. At the heart of this is a greater understanding of the importance of the organization and its culture and how that informs the success or failure of change programs.

However, despite the evolution of change management programs, many organizations find great difficulty in enjoying successful projects with many ending in failure.

Failure statistics are plentiful – for example:

* UK firms spend an average of over £400,000 on failed IT programs (link here)
* Canadian Government pay system project failure.
* KC46 tanker delays Link here
* Capita nhs england contract fails.

The above 5 examples show some examples of when change goes wrong. Many studies show greater than half of all change projects fail (indeed some stats talk about up to 70%!) So what is there to learn and what can be done better?

One of the biggest challenges most change projects face is stakeholder engagement and buy-in. This is especially true where there is a multitude of change programs underway at any one time and employees and customers increasingly find themselves not knowing which way is up.

Most firms have deployed numerous initiatives and while some have been successful – many have not and employees have become used to seeing initiatives launched with great senior management fanfare and buy-in but see these initiatives dwindle and fail in many circumstances leaving many with a jaundiced view severely impacting engagement for future change.

Key contributors to change management project failure

Most organizations tend to have 4 main challenges which impact change success.

1/ Skillset of delivery team
2/ Stakeholder Engagement
3/ Unrealistic Planning and scheduling
4/ Ill-defined and unrealistic goals and objectives

So given the challenges, what tools should businesses use to enhance their chances of change success?

Here’s our 7 tools/methods for improving change management successes.

1/ Leadership counts – it’s an old age adage that if you lead from the front the rest will follow. All too often organizations ignore the culture they are working within (with many looking to move away from it) but actually, the culture of the business provides the foundations and energy on how change management can be deployed. The top-level leadership needs to recognize this and utilize it as a resource in order to be successful. Leadership needs to be seen to be visible and fully engaged in the project (not just at the start but throughout). As such the leadership needs to be fully cognisant of what’s going on and what it hopes to deliver and no the detail sufficiently that they are not just seen to reel off blase statements of success whilst ignoring the challenges.

2/ Processes need to look to engage at every step and this means listening to feedback.
Most business will find that to successfully deliver change you cannot merely dictate to the workforce. Change is a step by step process and as such the workforce need to be engaged along the journey. Effective change requires constant communication across every layer within the business. It needs to be done at the start, middle and end of the project in equal measures to sustain engagement and underpin the importance of success. Projects must have processes to drive feedback and incorporate it within the project plans (just because the feedback may be critical does not give you an excuse to ignore it!).

3/ Don’t be too rigid and be ready to adapt

Many organizations set their stalls out early with a rigid change process that doesn’t allow for any adaptation during its process. In many cases, this fails to allow for inputs from stakeholders along the way in terms of things like risk/opportunities management.

4/ Focus on the process
Another common failure is to make up the delivery process as you go along without a clear sense of direction and knowledge of the steps required to deliver success. Such haphazard deployment can severely sabotage engagement during the early stage of the project and drive stakeholder disillusionment as they see the project delivery is fragmented.

5/ Choose the right delivery team
In every project, the delivery team is, of course, crucial, never more so than in change projects. All businesses have employees who can act as change agents, perhaps they are key influencers within their peer group, maybe they excel at motivation or perhaps they have been through change projects before and can assist greatly in communication or lessons learned. Whatever the skills businesses must be highly selective and not overlook those employees who can influence and motivate the stakeholder group.

6/ Be clear in goals and measure your performance
One of the common criticisms of many change projects is “why are they doing this?”. While those at the top of the business may be aware of the goals the workforce is not. They are unable to see benefits or risk of standing still.

Again, as part of your project communication strategy ensure that the delivery goal is simple and easily communicated. Performance metrics should be established that can be used to track deployed benefits and then share with stakeholder groups. This can drive significant buy-in and drive credibility for future change projects as trust is built through previous successes.

7/ Consider the supply chain.
Most change projects have a heavy reliance on the supply chain. Sidelining external stakeholders is as bad as sidelining internal ones. If your supply chain does not understand your change project its plan and objectives then it is unlikely that it will be able to deliver to it effectively. Careful consideration should be given to supply chain management and the part it plays in project success.

Many change projects get off to a strong start. They begin with strong leadership buy-in and engagement, alas many fall by the wayside as this strong start turns into a faltering beast where buy-in falls away. The costs of failure can be great. Not only do companies expose themselves financially through failure but unnecessary confusion can lead to a failure to capitalize on opportunities. Project failure also carries with it waste both in terms of resource and engagement which will diminish on future projects if poor experiences are repeated so the need to optimize the delivery method and stakeholder opportunities are vital.