Your project has been going great – your project team is like a well-oiled machine – you’re on schedule and within budget. It’s time to implement your beautiful, shiny new “thing”… Why aren’t people jumping at the opportunity to use it? Why do they want to continue with their ugly slow ways? Don’t they see how much better things will be? Why are they resisting this change?
The stats have it! A project is six times more likely to achieve project objectives when it incorporates a change management program. While project management focusses on delivering a “thing”, change management focusses on ensuring your “thing” is used. Change management considers what is going on inside a person as a change occurs. It is often the internal reaction to an external change where we find the reason why changes fail or succeed. As Project Managers are by their very nature implementing changes with every project they undertake, it is an important area for Project Managers to understand.
People will respond differently to a change depending on the type of individual they are, their history (including previous exposure to changes), the nature of the change (one off vs routine, externally imposed vs internally generated etc.), the consequences of the change (who benefits), and the organisational history (how the organisation has dealt with change previously). Therefore it is impossible to define a one size fits all approach to Change Management or to provide a clear “how to” road map, guaranteed to succeed if you follow the steps in order. However, there are some things we can do and would do well to recognise to avoid that frustrating feeling of banging your head against a brick wall come implementation time.
There Will be Resistance!
Resistance is normal and to be expected in any change effort. Understanding what the driving forces for change are and what the resisting forces against change are will help identify messages that need to be communicated.
For change to occur the driving forces must outweigh the resisting forces. Consider the level of dissatisfaction with the current situation, the desirability of the proposed changed state and the practicality of the change (the level of risk and disruption):
- There must be a level of dissatisfaction with the current environment. This is not a time to protect people from bad news. Discuss today’s competitive realities. There must be a “felt need” for the change.
- Paint a desirable picture of what things will look like after the change. This requires a great deal of communication. If the end state is not clear you will promote resistance.
- People need to be clear on how they get to the changed state. The easier to change, the less resistance.
Manage Thy Stakeholders
Understand who’s affected by the change. Make it clear what is changing and what is not changing for each stakeholder (or group of stakeholders).
Consider the impact the change has on the stakeholder and the influence the stakeholder has on the change. Are they in favour of the change or nervous or against the change? Armed with this information plan how you will manage your stakeholders. For example: For stakeholders that have both high impact and high influence consider making them part of the change team, while low impact and low influence stakeholders may only require the occasional email to keep them informed of how things are going.
Any change will require some learning and possibly some unlearning. David Kolb’s (1984) model of learning suggests four stages and he argues that for true learning to occur you need to go through all stages. The key message is to ensure training and communication plans cater for all stages, especially as people will have a preference towards a particular style.
- Activists will want to experiment. Ensure you have a place for them to do so (eg new software installed on test machines or training labs)
- Reflectors like to watch as others show them how to do it. Presentations/training sessions work well. Try easily accessible video sessions that people can view as/when suits them.
- Theorists want to learn all about the background. Ensure you have the details of the change, why the change is needed, and why you chose the approach you did available. Web pages that can be referenced in shorter communications can be useful. The theorists can find the details they need without boring other types with unnecessary detail and risking having the change look “too hard”.
- Pragmatist need to relate what is happening to their circumstances. You may need to consider different messages to different stakeholders detailing how the change impacts them.
With any learning there will be a period of reduced performance. Time to complete tasks will be increase; effectiveness is reduced; likelihood of mistakes increases; more attention and concentration is required to complete the work. Plan for this learning dip. Implement during a seasonal dip in business if you have one; reduce targets for a period or bring on extra staff. Most importantly give staff permission to go through the learning dip!
One thing I haven’t spoken about here is communication. Communication is so critical in your change management plans it deserves a blog all of its own! Next time I will walk you through the importance of communication and how to effectively use it when implementing change.