Change management: 10 rules for success

1. Change always starts with people

People are at the heart of change, be it those instigating the change, those implementing it or those whom the change affects. If you don’t have a people centric approach, the change will not stick. Several years ago I witnessed a large project with a multi-million pound budget fail due to an inability to engage with the correct people. 

The project had launched under leadership that had since moved on and the new leadership chose to engage only with those at the top of the business without including with those lower down that had a degree of influence. As a result, when the programme hit problems very few people were prepared to put their hands up and support it. Several months of painful discussions ensued around the benefits, issues and the cause of the problems until ultimately it was cancelled.

2. Focus on the benefits

Seek to clarify the benefits as early on in the programme as possible. These will usually be financial benefits (either adding value or protecting it). Getting down to the tangible benefits, while not discounting the intangibles, will help the programme focus on what really matters when issues arise and decisions must be taken.

3. Governance and accountability are crucial

Senior figures must be prepared to be held accountable for instigating change and for failures in embracing change. In many cases where change does not deliver the anticipated result, it can be linked back to unclear accountability. It’s also important to dismiss the notion that governance is simply the process of getting a steering group together once a month and discussing progress, risks and issues. Governance is the manner in which you run everything relating to the change programme and therefore runs right the way through the business.

4. Change needs a leader

It is very important to agree on a leader to bring people together through shared values and principles. Essential traits required are strong communication skills, stakeholder management and an ability to retain sight of the big picture when dealing with day to day issues.

5. Involve those affected by the process

Ensure staff have ample opportunity to contribute to the change process from the outset. No-one likes feeling as though they are being “done to”; often the difference between those who are resistant to change and those who embrace it is simply the way they were engaged.

This is also an opportunity to reach out to the veterans of the business and get them on side to act as a “general counsel”. Don’t underestimate the sway their opinion will have. Sometimes simply getting their approval for the change is enough to convince others.

6. Acknowledge the past

You’d be amazed at how many change programmes don’t look to see if the work they are undertaking has been attempted before. Seek out any learning or post-implementation reviews from previous programmes to ensure you avoid pitfalls. This is, in effect, free advice on what went well in the past.

7. Don’t be afraid to burn bridges

Once the stipulated transition period is over, you must focus on the new way of doing things, eradicate any lingering doubts and, above all, don’t revert to the old ways. This is particularly important in technology programmes. Unless you switch off the old system, you will find it hard to get everybody using the new one – no matter how good it is. 

8. Clear communication

Ongoing communication and support need to be evident from the top of a business down to the shop floor. Regular communication helps create a feeling of involvement. Don’t allow communication to stop the day a programme is delivered.

9. Reward successful change management

Praise those involved in the process who helped to facilitate the changeover because they associate being part of change as a positive and rewarding experience. If successfully carried out, change management creates a progressive approach to business and will drive increases in efficiency, cost reduction and effective management as well as providing a shared accomplishment between senior management and the rest of the employees.

10. Changing general perception is vital

Change management can be seen as an administrative or back office task rather than a process that is the responsibility of all areas of a business. Don’t be discouraged if senior members of the business don’t initially jump on board with an approach that ultimately asks more of them! However, working to educate and gently challenge them is time well spent – ultimately once they have witnessed the benefits good governance brings by way of successful delivery they will soon buy in to the value.

Andrew Hampshire is an investment director at LDC. He is a qualified programme manager and a registered MSP (Managing Successful Programmes) practitioner.

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