Room for improvement

August 2017

Paint rollerDespite an entire industry being formed around change and projects, they still have a very poor record of success. With this in mind, Paul Taylor, a consultant in change management, recommends some actions that organisations can follow to improve their record of success.

It is no surprise to say that change has a poor record of success. I would imagine that everybody has experienced a project that has overrun or not delivered benefit.

However, it is possible to implement successful change. Firstly, at an organisational-wide level, you need to develop an organisational change capability which will give you the skills to manage change successfully. Secondly, before you start to implement an actual change then you need to perform an assessment that focuses on the context and culture of where the change is being made. This will give you a deep understanding of the change which will aid its implementation.

An organisation’s change capability

You need to have an organisational change capability (in the same way as a marketing or manufacturing capability) because change is an ongoing fact of life and your organisation needs this capability to survive. There are three main elements:-

  1. Senior management support and communication - There must be consistent management support and direction for all changes being made. This will ensure people know what changes are in progress and how important they are. This support needs to be delivered by clear and consistent communication.
  2. Human factors - Managing these factors is the most important part of change. If you do not manage this then it could result in resistance, fear and suspicion. Consequently, your organisation’s culture must support change. Your people need to feel involved, have the confidence to express ideas and feel motivated. You should aim to involve impacted stakeholders so they understand how the change will impact them personally and, if possible, allow them to have an input into outcomes.
  3. Process factors - Change is an ongoing activity, which means processes and structures are needed. At a senior level you should have an organisational-wide committee to ensure you employ your limited change capacity on the most important changes. This committee should also provide guidance around prioritisation and track the progress of inflight changes.

    At a more ‘on-the-ground’ level you should have a standard pan-organisational change process which covers initiating change, planning change, executing change, closing change and managing risks.

    You should also ensure that there is an organisation-wide change control process to review any changes to scope, timeline and costs to a particular change and its impact to other change.

    Finally, and most importantly, it is essential that any processes match the culture and context of the organisation. For example, if, for a small organisation, a complex change process was implemented then it could be rejected.

Assessing the change

Now your organisation has a change capability, it should be able to start implementing projects. However, it is important that you do not rush into implementation without undertaking some preparation work, especially around the soft or human aspects of change.

Vision

Your organisation needs to create a vision for the change. This should be driven by senior teams and cover (a) what the change is (b) what has triggered it (c) who receives its benefit and (d) what the high-level critical success factors are. This vision will help re-enforce senior management support and give a sense of urgency.

Understanding and scoping the change

Once the vision has been defined then you need to finalise a clear scope of what needs to be done. This piece of work is more complex than it sounds because a number of different variables need to be assessed.

Initially you need to break down the vision into ‘real chunks’ of work that your organisation can understand. For example, ‘enhance system ABC to perform XYZ’ or ‘outsource function DEF’.

Secondly, you need to define success criteria because otherwise how will know whether the change is successful or not? One way of doing this is assessing how tangible each part of the change is. If the change is tangible (like a system upgrade) then it is easy to define and therefore easy to measure.

However, if the change is intangible (like making IT customer friendly) then it may be harder to define and measure. The reality is that most changes have a mixture of tangible and intangible elements. The lesson is that the more intangible the change is then the harder it will be to measure, which means it will require a more hands-on stakeholder management approach.

You also need to understand how strategic or tactical the change is. A strategic change will correlate to your organisation’s strategy (e.g. reduce costs by five per cent), will impact several parts of the organisation and may need more time to implement. Whereas a tactical change will still link to your strategy but will be more local in impact and will probably have a shorter implementation timeline (e.g. make the overnight batch run quicker).

Understanding this distinction is important because it will help determine how the change is managed. Strategic changes will need a wider involvement, need more resources and it will have a higher profile, but should be easier to justify because it correlates to the organisation’s strategy.

Whereas tactical changes will be much lower in profile, need less organisation-wide involvement and possibly need less resources, they need more justification because tactical changes do not visibly correlate to the organisation’s strategy. For example, have you tried justifying a change to improve the efficiency of an overnight batch to people who do not understand the issue and think that the batch already runs perfectly anyway.

Next you need to understand who needs to be involved in the change. This could be your technology teams, other parts of your organisation, plus people outside your organisation (such as customers and / or suppliers). Once this list is created then you need to assess cultures, power bases and decisions makers; and then understand any major mismatches between them. For example, if you have an ‘aggressive and fast moving’ client but a ‘slow and heavy process orientated’ supplier then expect problems.

A large part of change is managing people through the ‘change journey’ so it is essential you understand these stakeholders so you can manage them. You need to create a project timeline and, if necessary, a business case. This will need to take into account the tasks required, their dependencies and, when required, resources that are available. However please also note the following four points.

  1. The plan should contain milestones that ‘tell the story’ of how the change will be implemented. For example, ‘requirements confirmed’, ‘technical design agreed’ etc.
  2. If there are any critical deadlines that cannot be hit then ‘bridging’ solutions are required.
  3. Most changes have a natural ‘implementation speed’ and adding resources or doubling up tasks will not quicken implementation, therefore beware of implementing too quickly.
  4. Finally, you need to take account of the culture of the organisations involved; whether they’re a ‘slow and considered’ supplier or an ‘aggressive and gung-ho client’, for example. The plan will need to reflect these.

Now that you have a change capability in place, and have assessed the change, then you should be able to move into a smoother implementation.

Image: iStock.com/lenapix

Comments (2)

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  • 1
    David Kay wrote on 10th Aug 2017

    A very good article summing up the elements required in a clear style.

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  • 2
    James Buckley wrote on 10th Aug 2017

    This is a really good article that sets out the sequencing and activities really well. Context of the 'change' in question is so important to ensure the approach is appropriate. Possibly worth drawing out that in addition to the Vision, a change blueprint is a very useful approach to draft and gain buy in to, it helps keep focus on the 'to be' picture.

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