It is well-documented that a significant proportion of initiatives, from IT projects to large-scale corporate transformations, are unsuccessful. The Harvard Business Review article “Why Change Programs Don’t Produce Results” found that “studies regularly demonstrate that approximately three-quarters of change initiatives fail,” while Edwin Petersen’s article “The Reasons Why Change Efforts Fail” on Works.com covers additional sources.
But why do these initiatives fail?
Despite the lack of available figures, a 2007 poll conducted by the Project Management Institute (PMI) showed that a significant proportion (43%) of project managers believed that inadequate project communications was a major contributor to project failure. This sentiment was further echoed in a 2015 PMI Conference Paper, which stated that inadequate communication was the primary cause of failed projects.
It is my own experience that effective change management and communication are both essential for a successful project. Without the proper management of changes and effective communication between all stakeholders, the project is likely to fail.
What Exactly Is Change Management?
Change Management is an increasingly important corporate discipline that seeks to support and facilitate the implementation of organisational change initiatives. Drawing upon academic foundations that date back a century, this field of study focuses on the development of techniques that equip people, teams, and organisations with the necessary skills, confidence, and resources to successfully navigate and adapt to changing circumstances.
Arnold van Gennep, an anthropologist, published a book in 1909 which introduced the concept of “rites of passage”, a three-step process which involves separating from the present state, transitioning to a new one, and finally being included in the new state. This concept has since been further developed into the Unfreeze-Transformation-Refreeze paradigm, first proposed by Kurt Lewin in 1948, which suggests that successful change requires the disruption of existing views, the implementation of necessary modifications, and the stabilisation of the new reality.
Despite the fact that change management has been a part of corporate life for some time, it was not until the 1990s that it developed into a more formalised discipline. Notable authors such as Daryl Conner, the creator of the “burning platform” concept, John Kotter, author of “Leading Change“, and Spencer Johnson, author of “Who Moved My Cheese?”, have made significant contributions to the evolution of this field.
Nowadays, change management has become a distinct profession, and organisations can draw on a variety of change management models, tools, and techniques. Consequently, there is no longer any excuse for poor change management implementation.
A Change Management Recipe
Choosing an Effective Change Management Framework
Change management has become a widely-recognised business discipline, with its methodologies, tools, and strategies having been established into various frameworks. Prominent examples of such frameworks include Prosci’s ADKAR® model, Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change, and the Association of Change Management Professionals’ Standard Change for Management (ACMP).
None of the available change management frameworks should be categorised as being “bad”, as they all serve as a useful basis for companies to support the various change management processes they need to undertake. For the purpose of this discussion, I will be using Prosci’s ADKAR framework as a reference.
In summary, ADKAR stands for the five sequential processes that must be performed in order for a person to effectively change:
- Awareness of the need to change
- Desire to participate in the change
- Knowledge of how to change
- Ability to demonstrate new, or changed skills or behaviours
- Reinforcement to make the change stick
It is essential that all individuals who will be impacted by the upcoming change are made aware of the need for it. Acknowledgement of the change is not enough; they must understand why it is necessary in order for them to accept it.
The success of any change initiative is largely dependent on effective communication tailored to each individual or groups of individuals with shared characteristics. It is important that the case for change is clearly communicated, illustrating the advantages that it would bring to the person. If effective communication is not present, the argument for change should focus on the potential negative consequences that the person may experience if the change is not implemented correctly, such as job loss.
In my opinion, it is essential for senior leadership to be highly visible when they explain the rationale behind any large-scale changes to those affected by them. This conveys to employees that the transformation is essential for the organisation’s success. Moreover, it is also important for all other management and supervisory levels to reiterate the same fundamental concepts.
It is widely acknowledged that different communication styles are received more favourably by different people. Therefore, it is necessary to utilise a range of communication tactics and channels in order to ensure the most effective outcome. These may include films, posters, face-to-face presentations, discussion forums and written messages, such as those sent through email or on an organisation’s intranet.
Ensuring that the same message is communicated to a variety of audiences through multiple communication channels and media platforms requires a considerable amount of careful planning and organisation. It is essential to maintain a unified message in order to ensure that all recipients receive the same information.
It is essential to take individuals beyond the point of recognising the need for transformation and help them reach the point where they are willing to embrace the change. This is significant, as it is the first step in ensuring that individuals are not resistant to the change, but instead, are actively engaged in it, rather than trying to avoid it by either leaving or rejecting it.
Despite the fact that those affected by the shift have been made aware of the necessity to adapt, they are still inquiring about the personal implications of the change, with questions such as “How does this affect me?” and “What’s in it for me?”. Consequently, it is vital for the Desire step to supply an answer to these questions for each person affected.
In order to successfully implement change, it is essential to create a vision that ignites enthusiasm and encourages individuals to believe in the cause. It is not enough to simply convince people that the transition is necessary; it must also give them something to aspire to. This vision should serve as a beacon of hope, guiding them through difficult times and providing them with a sense of direction.
We must ensure our vision is effectively communicated to all stakeholders, right down to the individual level, in order to effectively reach out and convince each person. To do this, we must employ a diverse range of communication approaches and channels that are tailored to the individual’s preferences. Additionally, we must ensure that the message is accompanied by strong and visible leadership that will motivate and encourage those who are concerned.
Despite the potential of a top-down strategy, it is often not enough to ensure successful implementation of a change. People tend to be strongly influenced by their peers, and therefore it is essential to assemble a group of passionate employees from all levels of the company to serve as advocates for the change. This ‘army’ of advocates can use their enthusiasm to drive their peers to get on board with the change. It is likely that the network of advocates will remain in place throughout the implementation of the change, providing both moral support and a reference point when the enthusiasm inevitably fades during the highs and lows of the process.
At this stage, it is essential that all individuals have a strong understanding of the necessity for transformation and are enthusiastic to aid the process. Now is the time to start equipping them with the tools and resources required to make the desired changes a reality.
The knowledge they need differs depending on the sort of change being executed. Here are a few examples:
- When a new business system is introduced, people must understand how to utilise the new software.
- If the new software necessitates modifications to the business processes performed by its users, such changes must also be taught to them.
- If the company is changing its culture, all workers must understand how their actions must change in order to establish that new culture.
This is one of the more apparent change management processes, and most firms handle it successfully. The desired technique is rather mechanical.
The company must initially assess the information requirements of each individual affected by the change, and compare it to what they already know. This process is referred to as the Training Needs Assessment, and is essential in order to assess the impact of the change on the individuals and to provide the necessary education and resources to enable the transition.
Subsequently, a comprehensive training plan must be developed in order to delineate how each individual employee will gain the requisite knowledge. This plan may incorporate a combination of computer-based instruction and traditional classroom or workshop settings.
Third, the implementation of the training plan begins. This necessitates the production of training materials, as well as the associated work aids and checklists, in addition to the instruction of trainers on how to make use of the materials.
In order to maximise the effectiveness of training, it is important to create a network of individuals who are committed to helping their colleagues with the learning process. These volunteers should serve as the catalysts for various initiatives and programs. Additionally, it may be necessary to appoint certain individuals to be “super users” of the new software systems, who may not necessarily be the same as the change agents.
Despite possessing the necessary knowledge, it is not enough for the employee to successfully complete the task. It is important for them to be able to put that knowledge into practice. For example, consider a hypothetical situation where one is attending an archery class. Here, the individual learns the fundamental techniques such as the correct stance, how to grip the bow and arrow, how to pull the string, and when to release the arrow. These steps are essential to successfully hit the target. However, even before attending the class, the person already knows that the goal is to hit the centre of the target. This establishes that knowledge is not the only factor to consider when attempting a task, as the ability to apply that knowledge is just as important.
Despite having the necessary knowledge, success is not guaranteed. It requires the ability to apply that knowledge. In any professional context, the same principles apply as those in the sport of archery: the ability to effectively utilise the knowledge acquired is the key to achieving success.
- There are several possibilities to practice.
- It’s time to become well.
- If necessary, access to specialised knowledge.
It is essential to allow sufficient time for a learning curve to take place before the official commencement of the training. To ensure the most effective learning experience, training settings, or “sandboxes,” should be made available to personnel so they can practice in a safe environment. Furthermore, it is important that supervisors and managers offer ongoing mentorship and that specialists in the specific changes being implemented are accessible to provide additional support.
Reinforcement is the final step of the ADKAR model and is essential to ensure that the change is maintained and sustained. Without proper reinforcement, the progress that has been made may stagnate and the project or program may fail to generate the desired return on investment. However, when reinforcement is done efficiently and effectively, it can even lead to increased performance.
Typical procedures, tools, and strategies to use include:
- Keeping Knowledge and Ability resources (such as training settings, coaches, and the change network) available for as long as they are needed.
- It is essential to track and measure the financial benefits gained from the adjustment in order to determine if the initial expectations, which may have been outlined in the original business case, have been met.
- We acknowledge and honour the achievements of our organisation, which can be gauged by both financial indicators and less formal metrics such as the successful implementation of changes across all sites, or the completion of the 1,000th case on a new system.
- Building on early accomplishments by going on to larger projects and programs, such as Lean-based continuous improvement initiatives
Change Management Strategy
Training is only one component of successful change management. It is a step-by-step process, with each stage reinforcing the previous one and tailored to the individual’s needs. If implemented on a large scale, it quickly evolves into a comprehensive program with its own dedicated expert guidance.
It is essential to begin any program, project, or significant workstream with thorough planning. The development of a successful strategy involves five distinct stages:
- It is important to thoroughly consider the current circumstances; who is spearheading the change, how successful have previous transformation initiatives been in this sector, and what other large-scale projects are taking place alongside this reform program?
- It is important to be mindful of the potential impacts of any change that is implemented. It is essential to consider the significance of the change and to identify the nature of the change, such as whether it is a change in software, processes, organisation, culture, or other aspects. Additionally, it is important to take into account who will be affected by the change.
- It is important to thoroughly evaluate stakeholders and the potential impact they may have on the transition. It is essential to consider how ready each stakeholder is for this change and to assess their potential response to the transition. By doing so, organisations can gain an understanding of what challenges they may face and be better prepared to handle them.
- In order to ensure successful implementation of the changes proposed in the preceding three phases, it is essential to create and agree upon a Change Charter. This document will detail the objectives, scope, and roles and responsibilities of the project or program and ensure that all stakeholders are in agreement. Once the Change Charter is established, a detailed plan of action can be developed to ensure the successful completion of the changes.
- To ensure that the transition process is successful, it is essential to acquire the right change management capabilities. As the planning progresses, it becomes clear which tools, methodologies, and change management expertise are necessary in order to achieve the desired outcome. In the event that any gaps are identified, they must be addressed immediately, or the plan must include details of when and how these gaps will be filled.
It is essential to stress that many of the change management procedures studied require a certain period of time for the initial steps to be established and flourish. A key reason why the majority of the change initiatives I have overseen have been unsuccessful is that change management was initiated too late for it to be successful. A strategy that is implemented after the fact is almost always destined to fail.
While having a plan is important, it is not enough to ensure the successful implementation of a change management process. To ensure the successful implementation of any program, project, or workstream, all aspects of the process must be actively managed and monitored throughout the entire duration of the initiative.
In order to ensure that any competent organisation is properly managing their operations, it is essential to undertake routine testing. Furthermore, given the need for change management, two additional testing tools should be employed as part of this process.
At the commencement of the planning stage, a stakeholder analysis should be conducted in order to gain an initial understanding of the position of each stakeholder. It is important to recognise, however, that the position of stakeholders may change over time, potentially in line with the initial strategy or in unforeseen ways. In order to effectively monitor the progress of the transition process, stakeholder interviews should be conducted on a regular basis.
The next step in the change process is to conduct an analysis of the organisation’s readiness for change. This is an essential tool that should be regularly implemented in order to ensure that the organisation is properly prepared to execute the change as planned. This analysis should encompass all the groups and individuals who will be impacted by the change, and should take into account their level of Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, and Ability regarding the change. This will help to ensure that the change is delivered successfully.
Successful Change Is Worth More Than Possible Savings
As budgets become increasingly restrictive, it is tempting to exclude change management from the scope of a program or project in order to save money. However, experience has demonstrated that doing so can be a major contributor to the project’s ultimate failure.
Training is only a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to effective change management. In order to ensure that a program or project is successful, it is critical to have a properly organised and professional approach to change management. Without proper change management, the chances of success are greatly diminished. Therefore, it is essential to integrate good change management into any endeavour in order to maximise its chances of success.