Organizational change not only involves dealing with the resistance from various stakeholder groups within the organization, but a multitude of other challenges such as ambiguity, lack of communication and established cultural norms.
Giving your change initiative the structure of a project or program has its merits. At a minimum, a good project structure provides scope, start and finish dates, clear milestones, governance and reporting. Taking it one step further, the project delivery of change involves a detailed change implementation plan in alignment with a change and communications strategy, a regularly maintained stakeholder profile and a change team structure. However the initiative is structured though, the challenges of change unfortunately still remain. That is because it’s the softer elements of championing that change that makes the plan’s execution complex.
According to Prosci, projects with properly applied Change Management are 6 times more likely to meet project objectives than those with poor Change Management. Adding change-related activities in a project is aimed at helping people understand and accept change effectively. Yet, if a project sponsor sees a surplus of time spent in assessing, communicating and delivering the change, they might question the overall project timeline.
These are some of the many challenges we at Pcubed face during our change projects. With such we have identified some quick tips to help you navigate your change initiative. By getting the basics right - delivery planning, communications and leadership; we can establish a solid course of action to ensure your change initiative has what it takes to be executed to its finish. We will begin with our delivery plan.
Highlight the relationship between change & delivery elements clearly
On a recent Pcubed project, the client was rolling out a knowledge management framework – simple enough. Although, the implementation plan quickly became quite complex, interweaving the three elements of technology, information management and process into the rollout. However that wasn’t the difficult part. The real challenge centered around articulating the plan to the team and project sponsor, while the project sponsor only saw progress in the form of deliverables.
To give you an example, when weaving project delivery milestones with communications or change-related milestones such as “Buy-in obtained from content managers”, it is necessary to bring out the relationships and dependencies between the change and delivery elements clearly in the plan. When the client sees a change-related activity, he/she will ask questions about the activity’s timelines because they don’t see the change-related activity as something ‘real’. This is when you have to list out the deliverables, the receiving dependencies, the key issues, actions and finally the decisions you need made by the client. Thus with a deliverables based focus, the client sees a tangible association to the change. Overlaying your change-related activities within the project milestones will give not only yourself the clarity in the plan but also enhance execution credibility in the client’s perception.
Make communications plan execution mandatory for change delivery
Now that we have a delivery plan in place we must ensure that we have a plan for sustained communications, tied to the overall communications strategy. The communications plan is often neglected in not just Financial Services but other sectors as well; especially in massive organizations with very little inter-functional communications before, during or after the delivery of a project. The need for communications is not only change-related but also fundamental to an organization’s culture. Factors like ambiguity and uncertainty about the state of a function disturbs the cultural setup by affecting behaviors of the teams, with ripples in leadership causing stronger tides in the frontline. Even in organizations with strong change management maturity, communications are stopped as soon as the communications manager in-charge leaves the team.
Communications should not be owned by a person, but by a role within the governance structure that is easily transferrable.
If a change team is restructured, the team should still be able to perform organizational change communications with the same effectiveness. Communications must be objective. Nominated champions will drive communications, however it is important that they perform this responsibility as part of their job and not merely an agreed commitment to the change team. There are various ways of achieving this – one way could be getting the sponsor to ask the respective line manager to link the initiative’s communication to the Champion’s performance objectives. Another example that has proved quite successful for Pcubed is the Communications Calendar.
This artefact was a very simple spreadsheet tracker with communications listed per day in a calendar format. It was easy to follow and did the job effectively by telling the user when to communicate what and using which communication channel. You could also use an online Task management tool to complete this like Asana or Trello, in order to help collaborate effectively as a team.
For our second point on Sustainability, for change to be adopted, continued communication to the stakeholder group is key. This includes regularly communicating the answer to the question of “Why this change?” and helps in 2 ways:
- It reinforces the need for the journey and the purpose of investing time and resources in the change project.
- Team memory is short-term; it is necessary to constantly revive and repeat important messages including the need for the change.
On the second bullet, one might have to repeat the messages in both management meetings and workstream-led meetings, where each workstream requires a briefing. While it is important that the need for change is established before the change journey starts to garner support, it is critically important that it is communicated through the delivery and post-implementation to ensure the change is sustained; long enough to reap the benefits. Be assertive about this principle with your sponsor and user community, as communications milestones are relatively “soft” and tend to get pushed around quite often. Your plan must have clearly defined milestones, a set of activities involved to achieve these “communication” milestones, consistent messaging, preferred communication channels, communication delivery owners, frequency and priority of communications, and the respective due dates aligned with the project delivery plan.
Co-leadership: A powerful factor in making change happen
Finally the last key point is on co-leadership. Co-leadership and shared ownership are key to making change happen. Just as highlighted above, if the communications leader leaves, communications often stops, and in some extreme cases so does the project. With co-leadership we are building on the sustainable communications identified in the second point and relating that to the project team. It is inevitable that the team makeup will change over the life of the initiative.
According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, “We do not lead alone anymore, but lead with others. Co-leadership is a skill that most of us need to strengthen and nurture”.1 Dependency on an individual is reduced by a co-leader. This means increased reliability in leadership and direction. A good mutual understanding between the co-leads ensures seamless switchover from one lead to another. One can leverage the strength of the other, depending on the situation, where one might be exceptionally good at leading stakeholder communications whilst the other can focus on ensuring alignment to strategic objectives. One could also suggest that in having a co-leader you could actually speed things up as the team is not upheaved by the change in leadership and most often the corresponding change in direction.
To ensure these benefits it is important that the leadership is shared along with a clear set of responsibilities that reflect and complement the strengths of each of the individuals. Keeping the conversations honest between the co-leaders, allows you to build a relationship where one can act as a sounding board or someone to rely on for advice. It can even benefit by transferring leadership skills from one to another, bringing a unique strength to the project and making change happen quicker.
Should you decide to forego the co-leadership route you could still look to other avenues for benefits; the change project sponsor and change champions. The change project sponsor is accountable and holds ultimate ownership for the deployment of change. The sponsor provides the strategic steer required and ensures management support. In order to take your change project to the finish, change sponsorship is absolutely critical. Yet we cannot overlook the importance of our change champions in our last course correction – fighting the established cultural norms.
Champions are an integral part of the change team and are essential in driving the change through the stakeholder groups. One can nominate a change champion for every department, or just have a team of champions who can be nominated from the different stakeholder groups to drive and promote change. Your change champions are your ear to the ground who can give early course correction feedback when a group has gone the wrong direction or when the change has completely stopped moving. This can include organizing regular workshops to talk about the progress and benefits of the change to the teams, soliciting more informal feedback from individual users and finally driving the incorporation of any user feedback back into the core change project.
In summary, while we know the struggle is real with organizational change, hopefully we have showcased that the basic elements such as making a plan, defining your communications plan with new collaboration tools and thinking about who will sustain the change as we deal with resource mobility all can be leveraged to make the delivery of change more effective. It is crucial that we get these basics right in order to strengthen our stakeholder trust in embedding the change while at the same time, effectively rolling out the project to ensure we capture the expected benefits from the resultant capability.