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Six key factors in successful change

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Almost all organisations undergo change of varying degrees, complexity and magnitude, with billions of pounds being invested every year. The cost of failure can have a catastrophic effect for the organisation and its people; therefore, it is critical to understand the success factors to improve outcomes and optimise return on investment.

Success factors are management practices that, when implemented, will increase the likelihood of success of a change initiative. Their presence does not in itself guarantee success, but their absence will contribute to failure. 

Building on APM’s research on Conditions for Project Success (2015), the Enabling Change Specific Interest Group (SIG) carried out desktop research and identified six key factors that are known to contribute to the success of change initiatives. This was further validated through a pulse survey carried out by the SIG, where the participants recognised all six key factors to be important and ranked them in descending order of importance.

  • Formulate a clear vision and strategy, supported by well-defined benefits

People are more likely to accept change if they understand why it is happening, what it will entail and how it will affect them. Individual change projects and programmes must be aligned with the overall strategy of the business and coordinated to create a manageable ‘picture’ of change.

  • Ensure strong leadership and sponsorship

Actions speak louder than words. It is important that senior leaders and sponsors advocate and act as role models for the change. Sponsors need to have the necessary sphere of influence, the time available and the attributes to deliver, such as communication and listening skills, integrity, the ability to engage and inspire, trust, emotional intelligence, and gravitas.

Involve the relevant people to drive and support change so that there is real ownership of the change from the wider business. It is also important to have feedback mechanisms in place so that improvements can be made.

  • Understand, engage with, build commitment from, and support all stakeholders

Stakeholders will perceive and respond to change differently; therefore, it is important to understand, engage with, build commitment from, and support these stakeholders through the entire change life cycle. Identify stakeholders early in the change programme, carry out a potential change impact assessment, and develop an engagement and communication strategy to build commitment. Communication alone does not guarantee engagement.

  • Build a strong change team with necessary capabilities for success

Build and nurture the change team to make it a high-performance unit that combines a clear focus on its task with strong interpersonal relationships. Make sure that the purpose or remit of the team is well defined, and in relation to other teams, including the overall programme or project team. Equip team members with the necessary change process and soft/people capabilities or skills to enable successful change and ensure that you have the right people in the team.

  • Define and follow a well-structured and integrated approach

If your organisation does not have a defined and structured way of managing change, then consider adopting one of the many well-documented change methodologies and standards. Ensure that, in all cases, you take a holistic, integrated approach that covers all aspects and is the right fit for your initiative and its environment. This is important to ensure everyone in the change team is aligned, to ensure consistency of delivery, and to improve capability and maturity for greater success.

  • Measure the success of the change initiative

Organisational change is often a non-linear, evolutionary discovery process, and it is not possible to know absolutely everything at the beginning. The external and internal organisational environment can change during the process, and it is very difficult, and even unrealistic, to evaluate a change initiative in the same way as other aspects of the business, such as operations. Measures can be an excellent tool for engaging and communicating with the wider organisation and stakeholders on the effectiveness and impact of the change over time, and for seeking feedback. 

According to the authors of the new APM publication, Introduction to Managing Change, "all projects and programmes are ultimately created to deliver change of one form or another. Whether it be delivery of a new asset, process, structure or system, until it has actually been adopted and is used in the way it was intended, the change is not complete and the full benefits will not be realised."

The new publication helps you to find more about the key principles and practices of change management in the context of the latest research on the most important factors necessary for successful change, as well as guidance on the appropriate application of different change management methodologies.


The full article on key factors for successful change will appear in the Autumn edition of Project journal.

Parag Gogate

Posted by Parag Gogate on 15th Aug 2017

About the Author

Parag Gogate is an APM Enabling Change Specific Interest Group committee member.

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