The purpose of a project is to create change. To be successful, this change has to ‘stick’. Whether it’s new infrastructure, processes, systems or technology, the new future must be permanent and sustained. It’s only when change is embedded that outcomes will emerge and benefits will be realised.
Cultivating sustainable change is challenging. Encouraging people to leave behind the familiar and embrace an uncertain future often triggers resistance. This may manifest as anxiety and apprehension as people seek to cling to current ways of working and resist the changes. Incomplete or temporary change will compromise the realisation of benefits and ultimately erode project value. To avoid this, you should seek to create a ‘sticky’ project. To ensure that new ways of working become permanent, consider the following ideas.
1. Embrace evolving environments
Projects don’t take place in isolation and are often delivered in an evolving environment. This could include changes to organisational strategy, regulation, technology, consumer preferences or the competitive landscape. Whilst you can’t control these factors, you can plan for the impacts on your project. When engaging with stakeholders, it’s important to explain how the project is congruent with the evolving future direction. This will demonstrate that your project is future-proof and a worthwhile endeavour for your stakeholders to support. Ensure that you have explained how your project contributes value to the new objectives, goals and priorities of the organisation. Consider using analysis techniques such as PESTLE or SWOT to identify potential future changes in your project environment.
2. Integrate into routines
We have a natural tendency to repeat behaviours and stick to routines which poses a challenge to the introduction of new ways of working. However, we can leverage this inherent desire for routine by integrating new ways of working into existing processes in the form of behavioural cues that stimulate specific actions. A prime example is leadership role-modelling. When leaders adjust their language, strategic focus and priorities, it triggers a corresponding shift in behaviour amongst colleagues. Additionally, behavioural cues can be woven into instructions, checklists and standard operating procedures to stimulate change. These strategic actions help to solidify the change as a repeatable routine, gradually turning it into a habit.
3. Recognise and reward
We all appreciate acknowledgement for our hard work and achievements. Encouraging and rewarding individuals who embrace change fosters a change-positive culture. This becomes even more impactful when recognition and reward activities are made visible to groups of colleagues. The opportunity to be acknowledged taps into our natural inclination for social recognition and conformity. To leverage this psychological phenomenon, encourage senior leaders to actively recognise, praise and express gratitude to colleagues. In addition to praising the efforts of individuals, consider recognising temporal landmarks to build motivation.
4. Intercept new joiners
The average rate of colleague attrition for UK employers in 2023 was 35%. Practically, this means that over the course of a year, an organisation will lose more than a third of its workforce. When managing projects with a lengthy duration, you should consider how to ensure that new joiners are brought up to speed with the change and are encouraged to work in a way which aligns with the desired future from the outset. This will avoid training people in outdated processes and systems. Ensure that your change and the actions required to support them are included with induction materials such as training, procedures, contracts, objectives, handover notes and job descriptions.
5. Dismantle and dissolve
Perhaps the most effective way to embed change is to retire old ways of working by permanently removing them. Dismantling both tangible and intangible structures will ensure that people don’t (and can’t) revert to legacy routines. This could involve removing capabilities from software programmes, revoking building access, removing old machines/technology or changing reporting processes. Whilst this is an effective approach, unless sufficient support is in place to help people through the change, this could cause frustration and anxiety as people are left without viable options to complete their work. To leverage the impact of removing legacy ways of working, ensure you have a robust approach to communicating this message to colleagues.
Consider how you can make your project ‘sticky’ and comment if you have any other ‘sticky’ ideas.