DOOR3 recently caught up with our friends at the Change Management Partnership regarding technology considerations for large-scale change management projects such as those we are working on with clients such as Christie’s and Coty, Inc. We are delighted to share some of their thoughts on Change Management in this blog post and then follow up with a continuing conversation regarding their work and its impact. The following is an excerpt from “Why is delivering change so difficult?” by John Hennessey, Founding Partner, The Change Management Partnership – click here for the full article via PDF. John has fifteen years of change experience and before setting up CMP was the Head of Change for a FTSE 100 global Financial Services company.

Why is delivering change so difficult?

Delivering change successfully is tough. Not only does it pose challenges for individuals and the organisation, but as most evidence will support, getting it right is the exception rather than the norm. When you consider how predictable other business processes are, such as budgeting, marketing and sales, it’s even more beguiling. But why is that? And why are the solutions to achieving successful change so hard to come by? To throw some light on the subject, let’s take a look at eight issues that directly influence the pursuit of effective change and ask some thought-provoking questions about implementing change within your organisation.

1. The clue’s in the title

Let’s start with the most basic truth about change – if we’d done it before, it wouldn’t be called change. No matter if it’s been done elsewhere by others, if we call it change, it’s new to us and therefore largely unknown. So by its very nature, we find ourselves dealing with significant levels of novelty and ambiguity – and as a species we’re not good at handling that. In fact we work very hard to ensure we never have to encounter uncertainty… It’s no surprise therefore, that when we face so much ambiguity all at once we’re not skilled at dealing with it.

2. I have a dream

Given the intrinsically high levels of ambiguity associated with change, the likelihood of misunderstanding each other is very high. Explaining something that is concrete and tangible can be hard enough, but when it’s not even there yet, the challenge can become enormous. Articulating the vision when it is new and not fully understood, by anybody, is challenging but becomes more important the less understood it is - and there’s the paradox. Setting out the direction for others is critically important. Appreciating how much you have to work at this, and how to cope until it’s done, is crucial.

3. Why bother?

If you ask most people involved in delivering change, they’ll probably tell you many other things they’d rather be doing. Change is not only unsettling, but at times downright frightening. So, being clear why it will be worth tackling the challenges in delivering change is very important. The case for change is vital – to explain why, to motivate, provide the impetus and at times make clear the implications of failure. If the case is not compelling, it’s hard to see why people will work hard enough to make it happen.

4. It’s the people, stupid!

We all know that businesses are nothing without their people; indeed many say people are their business. In situations where behaviours and performance can be made predictable and understandable, this feels like a very good thing. But where individuals are expected to cope with a high degree of uncertainty and challenge, how they behave becomes far less predictable. This, alongside the high levels of novelty and ambiguity in a change environment, makes for a potentially difficult mix and the outcome much harder to predict. Understanding how people will react to and cope with change, both professionally and personally, is critical if you want certainty of outcome.

5. A word from our Sponsor

With all the inherent challenges associated with change – ambiguity, uncertainty and hard work – the role of leader is pivotal. However it’s all too easy to look to the well-equipped and often credible project manager to take charge, but many a project tombstone is inscribed with ‘we left it to the project manager’. Hence the role of the sponsor is key. He or she needs to own, live and breathe the case for change, as well as being personally implicated in the success or failure of the endeavour. Through the tough uncertain times, it will be their leadership that will be tested; without it, the endeavour will almost certainly fail.

6. Anyone got the instructions?

With all the uncertainty associated with change, it would be tempting to think of these endeavours as being without rules. On the contrary, in order to bound and manage the uncertainty, we need to be making as much of what we do as predictable as possible. This is where a set of fit-for-purpose change tools and techniques comes in – a methodology which makes clear what we can expect when we reach certain key points along the path as well as making it much easier to spot when things aren’t going as expected. Whilst change is by its nature novel, we should maximise the extent to which we learn the lessons from other applicable initiatives to avoid making the same mistakes twice.

7. Heads or tails?

With the ingredients for successful change now in place, we must be home free, right? Unfortunately not. Even with all these things working effectively, a change endeavour will still throw up a host of difficult and complex decisions which need to be taken, as well as a list of knotty issues to be resolved. This is where the sponsor and project manager need help. A senior, engaged and similarly implicated group of individuals is needed to review progress, take decisions and address issues. This Steering Group, comprising all key stakeholders in the project, supports the sponsor in delivering the change by understanding the key choices that must be made alongside their implications. Fed by the project manager, the steering group dines off status, risks, issues and decisions and needs very fine judgement with a high degree of commitment to the success of the change initiative.

8. Have you got what it takes?

With so many issues and challenges now resolved, what else do we need? The final ingredient is perhaps the least tangible – skill. All eyes turn to the project manager when we look for the right skills to deliver change. This individual needs to have direct and relevant experience in managing and delivering change - making it up as you go along, alas, rarely works. But it doesn’t stop there. The sponsor also needs to be appropriately equipped, as does the steering group – and our subject matter experts who will work on the project (often alongside their day jobs) need to understand their role and what is expected of them. These skills are as often soft as they are hard and many are very difficult to find at the right quality. Nonetheless, they are key to the success of the endeavour.

In conclusion…

It doesn’t take long to realise why change is so very difficult and why successful change delivery remains so elusive. When you pause to consider them, the issues are fairly obvious, but the interventions and capabilities needed to address them are rarely all present – even in organisations that consider themselves adept at change management. At the same time, the questions I’ve posed are rudimentary. Nonetheless, it is surprising how often the answers are less than satisfactory. At The Change Management Partnership we believe that, in order to deliver change successfully, organisations need to ensure they can provide good answers to these questions. In the next article we will start to look at these issues in more detail. If the meantime, if you are interested in any of the topics raised and want to discuss them further please contact [email protected]

Thanks, John! We look forward to our continued conversations about managing change, and specifically with regard to DOOR3’s work, digitally.

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