Investing in structured thinking, communication skills, or just plain good old analytic skills makes sense. Yet, having worked in change in multiple environments over the years, one of the dominant factors that separated companies winning at change as opposed to those falling foul of its consequences, was that they actually got it that business needs to invest in methods, tools and frameworks that promotes best practices in the workplace (what some of us call experience).
For many organisations they may not have the change experience or, had to change that often, and even in those that have, the change process is often limited to contingency hires to scale analyst or, project management expertise with no clear roadmap of how they are going to get there. Why there is not more of this kind of investment in companies has amazed me over the years. Some companies still leave their change program results to basic common-sense and ad-hoc project management. Only to find out too late, if, they reached out sooner for advice they would of saved themselves time, money and change fatigue changing the wrong things.
Change programs still fail to start off effectively. Why? Companies are too quick to focus on solutions (including technology), without thoroughly understanding the problems, their root causes and the steps they need to go through. Senior managers may not have the knowledge or, experience to kick the change program off correctly.
Companies are often focused on managing a steady-state; major business change is a very different thing (a particular issue in operational, service-based environments). Businesses are too slow in getting a qualified program or, project manager involved, with change management experience; you really need one as soon as you have an outline business case and some mandate to fix the problem. This creates ownership and accountability at an early stage.
The process of change is often a difficult one, and managing it can be tricky! However, having a clear vision and being able to understand the “big picture” can make all the difference in the world. When you are dealing with other people especially in a large organisation, you cannot just start changing things left and right. You need to establish a foundation, get buy-in, and leverage small changes into bigger changes. Where do you start? Who do you talk to? What do you do first? What do you do next?
Here are some key things you can do to avoid early start change program planning pitfalls:
- Alignment of strategic plans sets the course for successful change: The foundation of a change-centric organisation is driven by a conscious strategy that evolves over time, informed by changes in customer behaviour and changes in the marketplace.
- Give yourself the time to fully understand your situation: You know you have to make changes, but you do not know what options to take. No change effort or, the project should begin without first understanding the current situation to plan the one the company wants to realise and how the change process will work.
- Get a Program Manager; a program manager is critical, they will be responsible for shaping the change program where there are several initiatives required to be implemented. They will be responsible for setting up a structure for the change effort i.e. establishing change steering board and governance approach to mobilise any other skills needed to support the definition of the programme.
- Manage Change Portfolio and Assessment Process. Almost never will there be just one thing that can be done to change a situation! In nearly all cases there will be a set of options that, together, will realise the change. Companies must strategically manage their change program portfolio to make the right investment decisions and allocate the most profitable use of resources.
- Decide The Approach to Timescales. To create a real acceptance of the change, there are two common ways of building commitment. Either the big-bang (impact method), where large amounts of change are bundled together or, the iterative method (dripping-tap method), where a steady stream of evidence is used to keep the change up-front and visible. Multiple iterations almost always beat a single-minded commitment to building your first idea.
- Align Projects with Available Resources. Too often companies just jump in and announce the start of projects and change initiatives without ensuring the best people are available for the important operational work or, difficult work of change. It is a common issue that the requirements of change are underestimated and consequently too little or too weak resources are used.
- Write that outline business case. Once the strategic change goals have been approved for investment a business case will force you to crystallise your thinking and will generate a proper mandate and buy-in from your executive board. A well thought through and a clearly defined business case is critical in supporting change. Do you really understand the problem? Why is proceeding with a specific business option the right one? What will be achieved at the end? What sort of costs and benefits might be involved? A business case should not just be a financial plan, it should map out all benefits.
- Get buy-in from all stakeholder groups for the business case. Get a mandate to fund further work to more fully define the problem and what the possible resolutions might be.
- Get a Project Manager. A project manager is critical to shape the project and execute on the work package within time, cost and scope.
- Prioritise your change options and build a program roadmap. You cannot fix all of your problems, nor would it be cost-effective to do so. Prioritise the problems you want to fix and start to develop the plan to build your business capability in the areas that need it most; the ideal plan needs to create the foundations for standard, stable and consistent delivery. At all times, it is critical a business ensures that the costs and benefits of change show a favourable return.
- Give yourself time to assess the best change options. The solution could be a combination of a new piece of technology, combined with some changes to the process, data and staff training. It may not be appropriate to implement a highly-advanced system straight away if, a simple spreadsheet report would suffice in the short term. If a highly advanced system is the right thing for the long-term, then think about switching on functionality gradually, as the business’s capability grows. Set yourself achievable targets.
- Ensure the Project Manager develops this thinking into a detailed Plan. All of this thinking needs to be pulled together into detailed project plan (sometimes called a Project Charter, Project Execution Plan, Project Initiation Document or Programme Brief); a document that sets out exactly what you need to do by when, in lots of detail; it will define the project, the scope and approach, the timescales, costs, risks, the team and the key stakeholders, to name just a few.
- Develop your detailed Business Case. The project manager will work with the project sponsor to update the detailed business case. Is the problem still the same? How has the vision evolved? How have the costs, benefits and financial appraisal changed? Which options and solutions have been considered and rejected and why?
- Get business buy-in for your detailed plan & detailed business case. It sounds obvious, but just because it was the right thing to do 3+ months ago, doesn’t mean it’s still the right thing to do. Get approval to spend further money fixing the problem and implementing that solution.
- Get a Change Manager. Change is at its core a ‘people process’ and people are creatures of habit, hardwired to resist adopting new mind-sets, practices and behaviours. When an organisation undertakes a change initiative they often require changes; changes to processes, job roles, business models and uses of technology. It is actually the frontline staff who are impacted most as they are effectively been forced to change how they do their jobs. Embedding change does not start at the end; it starts from the outset when planning your change strategy not as a bolt-on once the solutions have been implemented.
Now you are ready to start the delivery phase executing the change and planning for the transition of your people.
The key is getting the right support in place, at the right time, and by ensuring you have the processes and templates in place to smooth the ride. Just assuming that these things will fall into place by pushing ahead into delivery is likely to result in wasted time and effort, and, or, a project that fails to deliver the expected benefits.
What do you think? Is this helpful for your transformation? Happy to discuss these points with you to see what is really relevant.