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Employing a culture of change in project management

Karen Williams
August 10, 2011

The project manager and organisational change manager must bring about a sustained change that will benefit their client. These two roles are pivotal. In addition to delivering on time, on budget and to quality standards, they are required to navigate the new organisational culture in which they and their project team find themselves. The challenge however, particularly for project managers engaged on long-term projects, is to be aware of the culture, but not immersed in it.

A project’s success depends directly on the ability of the project manager and organisational change manager to read and understand this culture, quickly. Organisational culture will directly impact their ability to make decisions, to extract critical information from subject matter experts and, above all, have deliverables signed off.

Avoiding clashes

Bringing together internal and external team members effectively means disparate cultures come together for short and often intense periods of time. If these cultures conflict to create a ‘we clash, who cares?’ apathy or a ‘he said, she said’ scenario—project outcomes will be hindered.

Experience demonstrates that full-time employees often regard project teams, particularly those that comprise external consultants and contractors, with suspicion and scepticism. Mismanagement of this mentality can corrupt wider corporate values and ethos, particularly if the project runs for an extended period. The project develops a reputation for being ‘hard-nosed’, not delivering, causing trouble and the like.

Every successful project dynamic requires its project manager to be a strong-minded leader responsible for generating ideas and driving these within the team while being sensitive to nuances of organisational culture. From the outset, project managers should take steps to engage internal staff members in project activities and open lines of communication. These might include:

  • Establishing parameters to enable internal and external staff to work efficiently and effectively together as soon as possible;
  • Being transparent with regard to the change process (using flowcharts etc);
  • Illustrating key players and their roles, particularly the importance of the contribution of internal staff members;
  • Involving the team in regular evaluation of the project rollout;
  • Encouraging the entire team to celebrate achievement of deliverables.

Understanding emotions

Undertaking change always challenges organisational culture. Significant organisational change, such as that involved with mergers and acquisitions, often brings with it the complexity of emotion.

Merging companies or organisations are faced with integrating their operations, systems, processes, histories, traditions and, of course, cultures. The mission critical is to get on with the job as a new entity as smoothly and efficiently as possible with minimal disruption to business. The process of merger or acquisition, particularly for the company being merged or acquired, is one for which organisations are often ill prepared.

Anxiety is sky-high as deliberations take place regarding new structure, new roles, employee contracts, potential layoffs, transfers, unfamiliar colleagues and new surroundings all start to become a reality. Careful and considerate management of the ‘people’ element of the organisational culture is key to uniting the new organisation in a common cause.

The most common detrimental factors to mergers and acquisitions are clashing cultures, poor management of the acquired company (its people, processes and systems) and the inability to implement and sustain change. A thorough, detailed and strategic approach with an appropriate evaluation element is tantamount to successful change management and to ensure the success of any merger or acquisition.

Many businesses may only experience a merger or acquisition once in their working lives. They need to understand the impacts this will have on them personally and professionally and take steps to manage themselves throughout the process.

Embracing change

Here are some recommendations for implementing and sustaining change during mergers and acquisitions:

  • Engage a full-time integration leader, preferably a trusted external consultant because managing change is a full-time, dedicated task.
  • Identify the ‘change champions’ in your organisation—those people who are trusted and have influence in the business.
  • Plan a communications strategy to ensure staff receive information at the right time, by the right source.
  • Maintain a steady flow of communication by updating staff daily, weekly or where appropriate.
  • Prime your change champions to be the ‘source of truth’. Refer to them for the fullest and latest information regarding the change.
  • Describe what a ‘day in the life’ of the new working environment will be like.
  • If relocating, encourage staff to bring key office ‘mascots’ or items of corporate pride with them.
  • If changing to new systems and processes, ensure dedicated support is given in terms of training.
  • Identify and provide necessary learning and upskilling opportunities.
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Karen Williams
Karen Williams is the principal of Message Stix, specialists in change management and providers of communication solutions.
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