Join the PM.com.au Community

Project Manager

Australia's online resource for project management professionals


change_strategy

A strategy for change management

Incorporating change management processes into your organisation is not the be all and end all of change strategy: you need to target and tailor the strategy for each context.

“For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”
HL Mencken (1880–1956)

Although change management didn’t exist when American social critic Henry Mencken wrote this, we should keep his warning in mind when we use change management to manage the people side of change.

As organisations adopt change management in projects and business-as-usual change, I often see two types of ‘simple, neat and wrong’ solutions, which decrease the effectiveness of change management. Both can easily be avoided by using an effective change management strategy.

Guiding strategy

The good news is that change management has arrived in boardrooms around the world. Yes, it’s about 50 years after project management, but better late than never!

CEOs, executives, program managers and project managers no longer think change management is part of information technology or a human resources activity involving group hugs and teddy bears. They recognise it as a key success factor in both business-as-usual and project change. They have seen the studies by Prosci, McKinsey, PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM that demonstrate that change management drives benefit realisation. They are aware that “failure to implement change” is the number one reason why CEOs are fired!

Ten years ago, the most common question that managers asked me was: “Why do we need to invest in change management? We have a project plan which covers communication and training.” Today, the most common question I’m asked is: “How can we build our organisation’s change capabilities? We have good project management but our lack of change management causes delays and reduces our project ROI and overall employee engagement.”

The downside of this rapid rise in awareness of change management is that too many people view change management as a set of simple solutions to the people side of change and there is no overall change management strategy.

In some organisations, change management has become a collection of tactics and check boxes that are not based on a sound understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities of each change. There are plenty of change management activities underway—emails, intranets, newsletters and briefings—but these activities may not be effective in helping employees and managers transition through the change successfully. It’s a scattergun approach.

One example I saw of this recently was in a large organisation that has a team of change managers and a multitude of change management structures, roles, processes, templates, checklists and activities, but is still experiencing resistance from managers and employees on major strategic projects. What they are missing is a change management strategy for each change to guide the selection of the tactics, to ensure that they are effective as well as efficient.

One size does not fit all

Another welcome change over the last few years has been that organisations are standardising their change management methodologies. Just like the early days of project management, organisations are experimenting with several different change management methodologies – often at all once!

One organisation I consulted had all their methodologies in white folders lined up in a bookcase, a ‘Who’s Who’ of change management over the last 20 years. But the organisation had not built capability in any methodology. Project managers and line managers were reeling from all the jargon and conflicting change management approaches.

By standardising change management, change managers can build strong capabilities in using a consistent approach, develop a community of practice to share learnings, integrate with project management and best of all, make it easier for sponsors and managers to perform their roles without confusion or gaining a Masters in change management.

Related Articles

admin
Catherine Smithson is a leading facilitator, educator and consultant in change and leadership. She has 20 years’ experience as a senior manager and a consultant and has an in-depth understanding of best practices worldwide. She is the managing director of Being Human.
Catherine Smithson has written 4 articles for us.

Comments from the community

  • Rick Maurer says:

    Catherine -

    Thanks for a thoughtful post on change management. I was especially glad to see your emphasis on the uniqueness of each change. I shudder when my own clients trot out a formula (even if it’s a formula that I might have devised as an example in an article or book).

    The focus of my work is on resistance and support for change, and applying a one-size-fits-all approach without regard for all the factors you identify, just invites massive resistance. And then, the well-meaning leaders, scratch their collective heads wondering what went wrong.

    I hope your post gets wide circulation. And I look forward to reading further posts from you.

    Rick Maurer
    author, Beyond the Wall of Resistance