Overcoming common challenges in organizational change

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Investing in transformational change is both a major and risky undertaking but most organizations are not well-prepared for it.

According to McKinsey failure rates for this run at about 70%. A large contributing factor, in my experience, is business leaders don’t necessarily recognize that change requires the structure of a project or programme.

To understand what’s involved in significant change, the risks and the desired results, organizations need structure, planning and the right people with change management skills.

Predicting the challenges of change

The good news is that organizational change has been happening for many years and the experiences of this are captured in certain best practice methods such as PRINCE2® for projects and MSP® for programmes.

So, these provide well-defined methods to manage change with all the building blocks and repeatable processes refined over many years. And while best practices can’t predict absolutely everything, they offer clear guidance about the levers you need to pull to be successful.

MSP 5th edition – a structured approach to common challenges

The latest edition of programme management method, MSP, is recognizable from its previous iteration but has become more agile enabled.

Where it previously talked about delivering in sequential tranches, it now has a more iterative approach. MSP has always had a large focus on the importance of people (e.g. through the role of the Business Change Managers) as, at the end of the day, without people adapting to major change, a transformation will never be fully adopted.

And MSP 5th edition also acknowledges and provides guidance for how to overcome common challenges of change. While the guidance lists 10 challenges in total, I’ve selected six to address here:

  • Insufficient support from decision makers in the investing organization

At the senior responsible owner (SRO) level in a programme, there is sometimes lack of accountability for benefits realization. MSP is very clear about the roles and responsibilities of the SRO, how that person should support the programme and be accountable for the return on investment.

  • Unclear decision making

Lack of clarity of roles and governance can affect who makes the decision and what people need to do as a result of this decision being made.  MSP provides clear guidance on the roles in a programme, and what attributes they need to help identify the right decision makers, their level of involvement and sets expectations about the decisions they make.

  • Unsustained focus on outcomes and benefits

In my 20+ years’ experience I can confidently say that many organizations have a project management method (generic or bespoke) but few have one for programme management. Consequently, they focus on delivering outputs but not on how outputs will deliver organizational change and associated outcomes/benefits. MSP is outcomes and benefits focused, asking the organization from the outset to consider what it wants to achieve.

  • Lack of clarity about the gap between current and future states

When you think of a programme it is a change. It’s a transition from where the organization  is now (state A) to where it needs to get to in the future (state B). The difference between state A and state B is the gap that needs to be filled – and businesses often underestimate what’s required to move from state A to state B.

MSP 5th edition’s target operating model is designed to describe what the desired future state is and what is needed to reach it. This provides clarity about how to fill that gap.

  • Failure to engage and influence stakeholders

Programmes are large and complex, as is the number of stakeholders. And one of the main reasons for failure is lack of communication and stakeholder engagement. MSP’s Business Change Manager role places greater emphasis on stakeholder engagement. This is vital for getting people to adopt change and deliver benefits realization.

  • Inability to influence the prevailing culture

By definition, the end of a transformation should have changed the culture. To help this, MSP’s vision statement describes the future you’re trying to achieve – and should be revisited regularly to influence the prevailing culture.

Covid 19 has been a catalyst for accelerating change – either planned or new – and organizations need to realize that such change needs focus, skills and abilities to manage it properly.

Starting with the “why” of major change (outcomes/benefits) – as MSP does – gives you a roadmap and building blocks for successful change, while allowing leaders to adapt the best practice guidance to their particular organization and industry.

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