Why we still can’t get Change Management Programs to run correctly
How many of us have ever gone out to purchase a used car and drove it off the lot right away? It's most likely we drove the car initially but then raised the hood to check if there was anything out of order. At that point, we had to decide if work was required, how it would be done. But we knew that ignoring it was not an option. Even if the car drove well initially, anything missing under the hood, our cruising would run into challenges.
Somehow, this philosophy doesn’t get carried over to how we handle business transformation or Change Management Programs. Change Management, Journey Management, Workforce Transformation, a few of the new terms we are starting to use these days to describe the same activity. Despite the terminology we decide to use, we seem to still have challenges figuring out how to execute them with success consistently.
The concept of managing change or helping the workforce transition from the current to a future state is not new. Indeed, we change its character, dress it up, put on new fancy terms, but nothing really changes under the hood on how the programs are executed. Consequently, so many Change Management initiatives still fall short of expectations.
Perhaps it’s because we are trying to make something complex that is simple. How often have we seen Change Management approached as merely a process by which we follow a standard Project Plan and produce the same deliverables. During the last ten years, most of the business world has changed its approach or operations, yet we still have the same Change Management deliverables. Communications Plan, Stakeholder Strategy, Training Plan, Training materials – you get my point.
I believe this view is the problem of why Change Management programs keep coming up short and missing the mark for our clients. Most Change Management programs are very narrow in approach and thinking. I have heard it said, “It's a soft skill, and it's just about the people and delivering training and communications." Right? No, wrong!
For example, I joined a Change Management program for a global ERP implementation after it had been launched for several months. By the time I entered the scene, the client was on the brink of frustration and angry at how things were going. Evidently, a majority of their staff had been scheduled for training, but no one bothered discussing with the managers about the team’s availability to attend this mandatory training session. The employees worked multiple shifts covering a 24-hour period, no overtime could be incurred, and each group was required to have proper coverage for safety reasons. Which meant, the appropriate scheduling of these mandatory training sessions was essential. However, no one on the Change Management team had bothered taking these variables into full consideration when planning out the training schedules for participants. Nor did anyone bother considering all the other business priorities that were impacting this particular site during the same time period. The team just entered with their standard Change Management Project Plan and focused on meeting the go-live for the ERP global implementation. We all understand the challenges that arise when a team enters a project wearing blinders.
One point often overlooked and helpful to understand; organizations do not make money by implementing an ERP system, outsourcing their transactions, or changing their business processes. These events are simply something that must be done to support or enhance the core business. Which means it’s an interruption to everyone trying to run the core business and keep the lights on. So, when a Project/Program team hits the ground with a single focus and doesn’t consider everything impacting the client's priorities nor the ecosystem of their business, challenges are sure to arise.
I took a step back to take a closer look at what was happening within the organization. I began connecting with leaders at the various levels of the organization to understand their needs and partner to plan out the strategies for their teams. When users attended the training sessions, I listened to side conversations to understand how the organization was operating. This insight provided a better understanding of the challenges hitting all levels of the organization (a skill I learned as a Pharma Rep hanging out in Physician offices and hospitals waiting to speak with the doctors). This led to a partnership with these leaders to understand their business and problems, then design and execute strategies that resolved their issues while meeting my project objectives. As a result of these actions, I made adjustments where they could be made, brought the Change Management program back on track. Plus, I was now viewed as a valued resource to the client, and managers were able to achieve their respective business goals.
Nothing in business is ever one-sided. It's all connected; the entire ecosystem of business is interconnected and getting more connected every day. A decision made in one area/department almost immediately affects one or more departments across the organization. The business processes and the people involved are all connected and dependent on one another. Therefore, it’s imperative to have at least a high-level understanding of an organization's business process and priorities, no matter your role or responsibilities, including leading the Change Management program.
It seems simple enough on paper, and most of us would probably agree this makes good sense. But something falls through the cracks or off the table when we begin to execute the Program as it relates to Change Management. We get narrow-focused and forget there is more going on beyond the margins of our Change Management Project Plans that are essential to the overall success for the users – the people. We have to learn to understand how organizations are interconnected and how it impacts the execution of the Change Management Program.
Ironically, my most successful projects did not include any deliverables, which probably throws off a few of you. Then how did the client and leadership rate the success of the Change Management Program? Glad you asked. By the impact on the people and how they felt once they got to the other side of the business change (future state). When is the last time you had several people tell you they could not have gotten through a particular business transformation if it were not for you being there and all the things you did to help them through the change? When have you seen the business operations improve because you were able to identify the threatening challenges and put actions in place to address them? In the situation I mentioned above, I simply raised the hood of the organization, noticed what was out of order, or required adjustments and fixed it.
When you implement your Change Management program, check under the hood and ensure all the right components are adequately identified, properly engaged, and operating in sync. It may alter the way you define success when it comes to the execution of your Change Management Program.