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Kirsty Nethersell, Partner

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Pulling together

Pulling together

Organisations are increasingly recognising that change management is an essential part of their big transformation programmes.

As a result, by the time the new operating model or technology solution is in place, usually employees have been trained and certified; they have been communicated with by senior leadership; they have been given step-by-step guides on what they need to do; and their managers have been briefed. Yet somehow despite all of this effort, it is not unusual to find that little actually changes and the business case still doesn’t get realised.

So why is it so hard to make change stick and realise those long-planned-for benefits? And let’s make no mistake, ultimately, successful change management is all about realising benefits.
The problem often lies in moving people from the point where they can do something new (i.e. they’ve been communicated to, had the training, got new tools, etc.) to the point where they will want to, and will do, something new. In our experience, two areas of focus are needed over and above the ‘standard’ change management activities to achieve this: providing clear leadership and ensuring personal ownership.

Leading the way

The most important requirement for sustainable change is clear, effective leadership from the business. But what does this mean?

First, senior management need to set a clear, consistent vision for the business and for the programme. This is not about developing a vision statement (although it helps to have one), it’s about aligning senior management on what success means and how the business will know when it has been achieved.

To do this, senior management need to take the time to consider the big question – placing themselves in their desired future organisation, they should ask themselves “what will have happened for this to be realised?” In answering this, it’s not enough to say “x system must be in place” or “y processes will have changed”. Rather, they need to project themselves into their future organisation and consider the behaviours, culture and ‘feel’ of the organisation around them. From this point of view, they can think holistically about how they should communicate their vision and what initiatives should be put in place to achieve success.

A second key question for the leadership team to consider is “what other changes do we need to make over the same time period and where do our priorities lie?” Having too many concurrent projects leads to confusion. It can be difficult to build them all into a coherent story that makes sense to employees and plethora of projects results in conflicts for scarce resources, particularly ‘subject-matter-experts’ (SMEs).

Finally, leaders must ‘walk the talk’. It is easy to provide verbal support to a programme and encourage employees to change their behaviours and ways of working but much harder to do it yourself. It is essential that leaders say the same things in private to employees as they do in public and demonstrate the new ways of working in what they do. For example, when a new ERP system is implemented, senior management could mandate that they will only use the new ERP reports to enforce the move from spreadsheets or custom applications. Leaders must be role models if they want their organisation to embrace the change.

Building personal ownership – the crucial role of SMEs

Assuming that impacted employees have had the appropriate training and communications, and the leaders are providing clear direction, the second piece of the puzzle is to find a way of building real ownership amongst employees.

Involving representatives of the impacted business areas in the programme is critical. Employees at all levels should be involved in some way, with clear goals being set in their performance reviews to build commitment and buy-in from their peers. It is essential that their involvement in the journey is clearly set out and communicated from the outset.

One area that often gets missed in the planning process is the essential role that SMEs need to play before and after deployment. In addition to SMEs being involved in requirements definition, solution design and acceptance testing, they should also be educating the rest of their team on what the changes will mean for them. This can occur through brown bag lunches or during regular team meetings when they can lead a discussion on how the team’s ways of working can change to get the best out of new tools and processes.

Importantly, the SME role should continue once the changes are in place to embed the new ways of working, resolve issues and identify areas of continual improvement that can be shared with the rest of the organisation. Providing forums in which SMEs can share and propagate best practice is crucial to embed the change and develop ownership of the new ways of working.

The processes to support employee engagement, continual improvement and knowledge sharing should be defined as early as possible in the programme’s lifecycle. This allows the business areas to prepare resourcing options and put forward the right SMEs to be involved through each phase of the programme including, as highlighted above, the crucial post-deployment transition to business-as-usual.

How to use your business change team

If so much of this change management needs to be done by the business, what is the role of a dedicated business or programme change management team?

The answer is two-fold. First, you need a small team of experienced change managers to guide, advise and coach on how to take the business through the change. This may be a single experienced change manager or a team who support various functional areas of the project, aligned to the business units and programme leadership team members.

Second, there may be a need for a larger, but less permanent team to complete some of the more operational areas of change management, e.g. assessing the impact of new processes at a granular level or developing detailed training and communication materials. These larger teams can be utilised for shorter, defined periods of the project but usually need to be guided by the senior change experts and, most critically, by the business SMEs.

A crucial point when designing the business change team is to build capacity into other programme roles to complete business change activities. For example, roles filled with secondees from the business (a Business Process Owner would be a typical example) should have a business change element to leverage the networks and credibility that the individual typically has within their current business unit.

Looking forward

Businesses have woken up to the fact that change management is not a ‘nice-to-have’. However, many are not yet leveraging it fully to realise the benefits of their investments in big transformation programmes. The key lesson to be learnt is that it is not possible for an external (or even an internal) programme team to make the change happen. At best they can map out the journey and guide the business, using their expertise and experience. Ultimately, it is up to the business areas themselves to define, lead and execute the desired change. Only then will everyone be pulling in the same direction.

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