Don’t wait to embed change

Catherine Smithson
March 1, 2012

There’s a fatal flaw in most project management methodologies: change management activities happen way too late to be effective.

Embedding change needs to occur at the start of change projects. Sustaining change needs to begin at the project kick off. I know this sounds counter intuitive, even slightly crazy. How can you embed or sustain a change that hasn’t been designed yet?

What I see over and over again is a massive effort by project teams into designing ‘the solution’, whether it is SAP, process improvement or a new structure.

Project teams and sponsors are understandably reluctant to communicate about the change until they have something concrete to show. They don’t want to communicate too soon, just in case. We have all had egg on our face from making a big announcement, which had to be unannounced. I should know: I spent five years marketing computer software, so I have a track record in launching ‘vapourware’!

However, when change management and ’embedding change’ are delayed until the solution is designed, the engagement of executives and managers is lost. It’s very hard to win back the support of managers and executives after the fact when key decisions have been made and resources and time have been invested. Engagement is needed right from the start of the change, to ensure change is driven by executives and managers.

When change isn’t embedded from the start, we hear comments from executives and managers like: “This change is an add-on to my real job”; and “I don’t have time to spend on this change.”

Embedding and sustaining change at the start include activities such as:

  • Explaining how the change connects to the business strategy, rather than being an add-on;
  • Showing WHY the change is needed and the consequences of not changing;
  • Prioritising the change against all the other initiatives underway;
  • Highlighting the ‘whats in it for me’ for different executives/managers and their teams;
  • Including KPIs related to the change in the executives/managers performance agreements; and
  • Developing tailored key communications messages to be cascaded to all levels.

A project manager put it to me this way: “On my last project, we had so many people issues after go-live, we started a new project phase called Embedding, which ran for six months. If we had only put as much thought and effort into change management at the start of the project, we would have saved a lot of time, money and effort.”

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Catherine Smithson
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.
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