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pexels-photo-191159Implementing change in business isn’t easy. What makes it even harder is the urgency for initiatives to be delivered in double-quick time and to increasingly demanding deadlines. Managing change, while delivering stretching business-as-usual targets, is one of the greatest business challenges.

Almost 20-years ago, John Kotter published research indicating that only 30% of change programmes were delivered on budget, time and with the planned outcome. Subsequent research has confirmed Kotter’s figure on a regular basis (for example the Standish Group estimated the figure as 34% in 2011). There are two factors routinely experienced at the early stages of projects that hinder successful change management:

  1. Change isn’t planned into projects at the start. Often change management is something that is thought about once the project has progressed and starts appearing on the horizon as an issue. In a review of project business cases going forward for consideration in a blue-chip company, it was clear that few had allowed budget for change management activities, even though most affected a large number of stakeholders.

So, our first recommendation is that in any change programme, the resources for change, including communications and training, should be in place up-front. Change actions should be part of the project plan from the start and, as the project goes through governance review processes, the status and adequacy of the change activities should also be assessed. In ‘best in class’ organisations, the status of change initiatives is reviewed as the project moves through the various governance gates in place; starting with the first gate to initiate the project.

  1. Our second observation is that, even if change management is planned up front, the effort needed to successfully carry out the change is often seriously underestimated; particularly where there are large groups of staff, suppliers or other stakeholder involved. On reflection this is hardly surprising given that the success of a change programme may depend on hundreds of employees in disparate locations changing their working practices. The change budget is for seen as an easy target for savings.

Making savings in this budget, however, is a false economy. There is a large body of research showing that over 60% of change efforts fail due to the human side being neglected (for example, Mckinsey 2008 and Prosci 2009). There are a number of issues that need addressing:

  • Staff are currently overloaded with their day-to-day work. Lack of planning to mitigate the impact of change initiatives on them leads to a low-level of commitment.
  • There is no clear executive sponsor or leadership from the top team.
  • Staff feel they are not consulted or involved in changing the way they work.
  • There is a fear that people lack the skills, knowledge and experience to move to the new ways of working.
  • Complacency with the current working practices and the way things are add an extra burden for the change programme.
  • Staff believe there will be headcount reductions are fearful for their own jobs.
  • Staff perceive that they are being asked to do more with less resources.

Any one of these human factors can lead to the project failing. Our second recommendation, therefore, is that sufficient time and budget is allocated to really give the change elements of the projects a chance of working successfully. In summary, for projects to succeed, it is clear that not only does change have to be planned in right up-front, but a realistic level of resource has to be set aside to make it work. (Image: ‘Crowd of People’ by Xed0os4 from Free Digital Photos.net)