Organizational and project change is difficult because – primarily – it involves humans who are programmed to like the status quo.
Businesses underestimate the impact of change management at their peril. However, the tendency is to focus on project management delivery, strategy execution and the outcomes of delivering projects.
Clearly, those are all vital considerations but, when dealing with people, project managers need to do more than just go through the tasks on their Gantt charts; change can have a significant impact on people – maybe even putting them out of a job – and this is often missed in the drive to the project finishing line.
Typical change and project management mistakes
What are the typical mistakes organizations make when embarking on change?
- Not including all stakeholders
People who will be affected by change but are not active, hands-on stakeholders can get overlooked. In the rush to get a project started, the more passive – but important – end users may not be involved in the process and information might not be cascaded well enough.
- Not starting early enough
At the start of projects there is often a lack of time spent on project set up, including a communications plan. It’s true that organizations would rather communicate the whole story and that’s not always possible at the outset. However, people appreciate knowing that something is happening. This gives them more time to absorb the eventual change that’s coming.
- Treating change management as user training only
People are incredibly busy and until they understand how change is going to affect them personally, they probably don’t care. This is frustrating for project managers, but it’s your job to engage them and get results. That means you need to evaluate what people understand rather than just sending emails out into the void.
The essential skills for effective change management
You need to think “big picture” and work out how people need to act to get benefit from the project; in other words, translating outputs into benefits.
That needs good communications, business acumen, being personable, relatable, having empathy and putting in the legwork to understand what people are thinking.
In order to get your all-important messages across, you need to:
- Know what your criteria are for communications success. Set that at the beginning – for example, are people embracing new ways of working?
- Think about your audience: who are you sending your messages to and what kind of messaging/channel will they respond to?
- Identify exactly what you need to communicate and what you want the outcome to be.
- Select the right tools to get your messages over: there are many alternatives and avoid defaulting to the most obvious, i.e. email and slidedecks.
- After delivering the message, review its success based on the original objective you had for that communication. If it works, learn the lesson and use it again.
Preparing your change and project management for success
Before starting the process of organizational change, think what success looks like for the business and put yourself in the shoes of those who’ll be doing the job when the project finishes; having empathy for the impact that change will have on people and not just working through a list of tasks is vital. Best practice approaches can help: for example, within Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®), the blueprint and vision set the whole tone for a programme of change.
Sometimes, it takes people on the ground longer to comprehend a major change to their working environment. On paper it might appear like a fantastic idea, but people on the front line need to understand how and why it will be beneficial and what it means to them. If they don’t, they can potentially stop projects, especially if there’s a group of very vocal and resistant people at a lower level in the organization. So, those responsible for managing change need to be emotionally intelligent, reduce the resistance to change and therefore improve the ultimate benefits.
Project managers need to build in a change management approach to ensure benefits are realized. If so, the sponsor should have an easier time ensuring benefits are delivered. Making the appropriate investment in change management pays off as people further down the chain will know what’s coming and be better placed to contribute to making your project a success.
Elizabeth Harrin has recently published an e-book entitled Communicating Change.