Benefits management – an opportunity not just a process
Contrary to popular belief benefits management is more about organisations and their people than it is the projects invested in to enable the achievement of their business goals.
Effective benefits management can help ensure that the ideas and knowledge from our enlightened workforces don’t go untapped and are exploited for the much-needed creativity they bring to the change process.
All too often organisations are seen to focus primarily on the identification and realisation of financial benefits with insufficient regard for the changes needed to enable them.
Financial benefits are often, if not always, enabled through the realisation of non-financial benefits, e.g. improved productivity or reduced number of defects. These ‘enabling,’ or ‘intermediate,’ benefits are far closer to and help define the change enabling solution.
There is often little or no dialogue with the people impacted by the required changes and those who must make the required changes work for the business. Where there is an exchange of information it is normally one-way and driven by a tick -box approach to address the need to ‘communicate’.
Consider the simple benefits map below. We can see that although the ‘objective’ and ‘end benefit’ are financial their realisation is dependent upon the realisation of the enabling non-financial ‘intermediate’ benefits. Good practice benefits management activities are undertaken to identify the intermediate and end-benefits and the relationship between them and the business objective. This stage in the benefits process is achieved through dialogue with the stakeholders of the change initiative. This engagement is a key success driver in that it involves and implicates the participants in the change process.
Using a benefits map, such as that shown above, we can undertake two further activities that directly support the change process:
- We can exploit the domain knowledge of the stakeholders to identify suitable measures for each benefit and, through discussions around the proposed changes, set targets for each of the selected measures. Rather than simply wait to see the impact of the changes we have invested in on the business objective (sales revenue in the example above), we can monitor, and track progress being made on the intermediate benefits which, being ‘leading indicators’ of the change process, provide evidence and build confidence that the investment in change is well-founded.
- We can now also engage with our stakeholders to understand first-hand what challenges they face and their ideas regarding the work-place changes needed to realise the benefits. This inclusive approach further embeds the stakeholders into the change process and helps gain their buy-in for the required changes. This will be crucial when the changes are transitioned into business-as-usual.
Looking beyond the benefits process
One of the main obstacles to capitalising on the ‘change dividend’ that benefits management activities present is the failure of benefits managers/facilitators to look beyond the process. Having said that, the benefits management process is invaluable in that it, for all stakeholders, provides the context for the required changes e.g. Why are we changing? What are we changing? What is my role and how can I best contribute to a successful change outcome? And, importantly, what is the value of these changes to the business?
While benefits management definitions, such as those below, are helpful, their primary focus is on the benefits process and not the people who help to facilitate change outcomes:
‘Benefits management is the identification, definition, planning, tracking and realisation of business benefits’
APM Body of Knowledge 6th edition
Benefits realisation management:
Collective set of processes and practices for identifying beneﬁts and aligning them with formal strategy, ensuring beneﬁts are realized as project implementation progresses and ﬁnishes, and that the beneﬁts are sustainable—and sustained—after project implementation is complete.
Change management challenges
Benefits management seeks to emphasise the need to focus on the delivery of value/realisation of benefits rather than on the delivery of change to time, cost and quality. As seen above, beyond simple communication, benefits management engages with, and implicates, people in the change process.
One of the key success enablers of active benefits management is its inherent engagement with the stakeholders of the change initiative. Each stage of the benefits management process requires effective dialogue with those people (and/or organisations) who will benefit or enable the realisation of benefits.
Some of the classic change problems that can be overcome through engagement in benefits management activities include:
- Failure to understand ‘What’s in it for me’ (WIIFM)
- Failure to understand what the change goals are
- Resistance to changes that impact stakeholders
- Inability to capture and exploit the creativity of an organisation’s people
- Enabling effective transitions to new ways of working
Businesses are increasingly aware that there is a need to capitalise on their successful change outcomes before the next ‘change driver’ hits the streets. Prompt, effective and sustainable changes that people are reconciled to enable businesses to better accommodate future change.
I am a firm believer that it is the responsibility of the benefits manager to inform and convince the organisation’s senior management of the relationship between change and benefits management – and in doing so, seek to cement the unique contribution that people make to the change process.