Changing Failure Into Success
Anyone who has worked in an organization of any size has a story to tell about a change program they experienced. Often the experience has not been a happy one. Whilst success in organizational change initiatives can never be guaranteed, there are some fundamental principles you can use to guide your decisions and to improve your chances as a manager who is trying to implement change.
1. Be Clear About the Purpose and Benefits of Organizational Change
One of the most common problems with organizational change initiatives is that insufficient time and resources have been invested at the outset in setting the strategic intent. Be clear about what you hope the change program will achieve. How do you know that it will make the difference you want to see in your organization’s results? Have you defined the goals and outcomes, considered the benefits and risks and created a contingency plan if the original version does not work out? Do all stakeholders in the organization share your vision of the purpose and benefits of the change?
2. Choose the Right Project Sponsor and Project Manager
In order for the organizational change program to be successful, you must have the right people in the right roles. The roles of Project Sponsor and Project Manager need to be well defined. The Sponsor’s role will be of a higher level of complexity¹ and the person filling the role must be sufficiently capable in terms of cognitive capability² as well as possessing the skilled knowledge and behaviors. The Project Sponsor (who tends to be either the CEO or a member of the top management team) ensures that the change initiative has enough support and commitment from all key stakeholders and he or she will be required to step in if major changes, additional resources or other support are required.
The Project Manager’s role is of a lower level of complexity but it is still critical that the role incumbent is well matched. Specialist knowledge or people management experience are not sufficient alone – again, he or she must possess the requisite level of cognitive capability¹ to cope with the complexities of the role. He or she will be accountable for creating and implementing the operational plan, making adjustments to milestones and tasks, and for selecting, managing and co-coordinating the efforts of all members of the project team. The Project Manager should flag up major problems outside his or her scope to the Project Sponsor for resolution.
3. Create a Robust Project Planning Framework
Previous experience in project management is essential. Even so, it can be tempting to speed up this new change program or to set milestones and deadlines purely based on previous projects. Contingency plans should also exist. Review dates and meetings are important so that problems and adjustments can be fixed sooner rather than later. Project plans rarely progress along the original intended lines and, therefore, flexibility needs to be built in. Pressure from stakeholders to cut corners is often the burden of project managers and this is an example of how the Project Sponsor needs to be called in to ensure that major problems do not derail the organizational change initiative.
4. Create and Manage Communication Channels
A frequent complaint about the implementation of organizational change programs is that people felt left out of the communication loop at different points in the project. Make some decisions at the outset about who needs to know about what and when – information overload can be as damaging as communication gaps. Consider the different emotional needs of your audience and the communication style they prefer and be consistent in your messages.
5. Expect and Deal With Resistance To Change
It would be naïve to assume that everyone will accept the need for change and that they will co-operate fully. Employees may accept, at an intellectual level, that the proposed change will bring significant benefits but the fact remains that most of us tend to prefer to stick with familiar patterns and routines, however bad the current situation may be. It’s part of the irrationality of being human, perhaps. Traditional influencing strategies may not be enough. Daryl Conner³, one of the leading change management gurus in the States, places great emphasis on helping employees with the emotional commitment and mind-set shifts required in implementing organizational change.
6. Learn From Your Mistakes
Everyone makes some mistakes in implementing organizational change programs. If you have done a thorough job with your analysis of purpose, outcomes, benefits and risks and if you have chosen the right people, plans and resources and paid sufficient attention to the emotional impact of change then, hopefully, mistakes can be minimized. Mistakes should be viewed as learning opportunities – perhaps, if none were made then you didn’t push the boundaries of the challenge far enough?
Every organizational change program has its unique implementation challenges. Even experienced managers can fall prey to common mistakes because of the pressure from stakeholders or the urgency of the organization’s situation. Investment in time, resources and emotional commitment can make the difference between success and failure. Those managers who feel confident to network with their peers in other organizations and to share their successes and failures will enhance their wisdom and learn a great deal about what makes organizations – and their people – tick.
¹Requisite Development, https://www.requisite-development.com/our-services/change-management
²Jaques, Elliott. Requisite Organization. Cason Hall, 1997
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