The purpose of all projects is to implement change and to help an organisation move from a current state (how things are done today) to a desired future state (with new processes, systems, organisation structures or job roles).
Whilst project management is about delivering the project’s requirements, change management focuses on the people impacted by the change and helps individuals to make a successful personal transition to the new state.
As change management is all about people it must be planned and implemented in a sensitive manner and the people affected by the changes must be consulted and involved in order to get the best results. Problems will arise if managers force change on people. No one likes to have a change imposed on them and being told what to do and how to comply. As humans we like to feel part of something and we appreciate being asked what our thoughts and feelings are about something. That’s our nature.
Selling without consultation is not a good strategy for success
This is why change managers have to be careful not to ‘sell’ a change to people as a way of accelerating their acceptance. Selling without consultation is not a good strategy for success, as it alienates people. When we listen to senior management selling to us, we may smile and appear to accept what is being said, but on the inside we may think, “I’m not sure I like the sound of this. I haven’t been consulted or involved and I’m worried about the consequences of this change. It may benefit the directors, but not me.”
Consider what your attitude would be, for instance, if you were told that a reorganisation will take place in your organisation and that instead of being a project manager in division A you will now be a project manager in division B where you don’t know anyone. The change is being ‘sold’ to you as a way for division B to learn from you and all the good practices you implemented in division A. Still, no one has asked your opinion. How do you think you would react even if you understood the rationale behind the decision?
Imagine instead that your manager is asking you for advice and feedback about the reorganisation and what role you would ideally like to have in this new organisation. You are openly discussing how your move to division B could help break down silos, enable knowledge sharing across departments and how it can help you to grow and utilise your strengths. Your manager is taking time to ensure that there is something in it for you in moving to division B.
I’m guessing that your attitude would now be significantly different. Your manager consulted you by asking your opinion and by taking your views into consideration. When we ask and act upon people’s needs and desires we make them feel valued, we excite them and we make them see that there is something in it for them.
Taking the time to plan
The reasons why we often experience change management as a difficult discipline is that we don’t take the time to plan and implement the change in a sensitive manner and because we don’t put the affected employees and end users in the foreground.
When we move too fast, are too outcome driven and not sufficiently consultative in our approach people will resist. They will be fearful because they feel they don’t have enough information, because they believe they will lose something of value or because they fear they will not be able to adapt to the new ways. The problem isn’t the change itself but that managers haven’t engaged the affected people in the process.
When organisational change goes wrong it’s often because the emotional side of the story has been omitted. Consider the example of an office move:
To the people who have been tasked with making the office move happen, this may be a straightforward project with a well-defined outcome. But to the employees who will be affected by the change, it is so much more than just an office move. It’s a significant change to their daily routine, which is deeply emotional because it threatens their level of safety and security. Some people may have to commute further to get there. Others will be placed in an open plan environment and have to give up their private offices. A few people may even be allocated a hot desk and fear it will affect their ability to focus and get the job done. The kind of fear and uncertainty that these people feel cannot be overcome through force or by selling to them. It can only be addressed when change managers take an interest in people’s deeply rooted emotions and the needs that drive them. When employees and users feel that there is something in it for them they will feel more positive and will encourage the change to happen.
Kotter’s eight-step change model
Change management guru, John Kotter suggests that for change to be successful, 75 percent of the affected organisation needs to buy into the change. This emphasises the importance of creating dialogue with people and adapting the change so that a critical mass of people will support it.
Kotter has devised an eight-step change model to help implement change in an effective manner. The eight steps are as following:
- Create urgency – This is about inspiring people to move to the future state and making the objectives real and relevant. Managers and leaders can create this sense of urgency around the change by having an open and honest dialogue about why it’s needed and what the competition is doing.
- Form a powerful coalition – In order to implement change, it needs to be supported by key people who can act as change leaders. This is about getting the right people in place with the right emotional commitment and the right mix of skills and levels to support and guide the change.
- Create a vision for change – A clear vision that can be easily grasped and remembered will help everyone understand why the change is necessary. To get the vision right it’s important to keep it short and simple and that it is focused on the emotional and creative aspects that are necessary to drive service and efficiency.
- Communicate the vision – After the vision has been created it needs to be communicated frequently and powerfully and embedded in everything that the change team does. In doing so, they must address peoples’ concerns and anxieties in an open and honest manner. But it’s not enough to talk about the vision. The change team must also walk the talk and demonstrate the kind of behaviour they want from others.
- Remove obstacles – When the change is underway it’s important to keep removing any obstacles that are in the way so that we can empower those who need to help execute the vision. Change managers can remove obstacles by listening to people’s fears and doubts and helping them see what’s in it for them. This is about enabling constructive feedback and rewarding and recognising people for making change happen.
- Create short-term wins – Setting goals in the short term that are easy to achieve and that generate quick wins can help to gain further buy-in for the change. There is nothing as powerful as seeing tangible results being implemented. Break the change into bite-size chunks and ensure that benefits will be delivered early and gradually.
- Build on the change – Quick wins and delivering early benefits are only a part of what needs to happen to achieve long-term change. If we let up too early the project may fail. Change managers need to ensure on-going progress that keeps the momentum up and builds on previous successes.
- Anchor the change – the last of Kotter’s eight steps is to make the change stick by embedding it into the corporate culture and the organisation’s day-to-day work. This means that new operating procedures may need to be created and followed. But it’s also important for long-term success that management continues to reinforce the value of the change and show support for it.
The ability to implement change and help an organisation transition well from one state to another is vital for any firm that wants to survive and thrive. For change to be successful managers need to set and communicate a clear vision, form a strong change team, implement quick wins and make change part of the organisation’s daily business operating model. But equally importantly – if not more – is that change mangers take a consultative approach and really care about the people who will be affected. They have to provide as much clarity as they can about the change, address people’s fears and concerns and try to walk in their shoes.
After all, change management is about the people. And if people resist, the change will fail.