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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 the people, therefore it is critical to understand the success factors to improve the outcome 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 its failure. These success factors form a framework that describes an organisational environment vital for success of change initiatives and provide a mechanism to help organisations improve. The degree to which these practices are established and embedded within an organisation are indicative of its capability and maturity.

Building on APM’s research on Conditions for Project Success (2015), APM’s Enabling Change Specific Interest Group (SIG) carried out a desktop research and identified six key factors that are known to contribute to success of change initiatives. This was further validated through a survey research (APM 2017) where the participants recognised all six key factors to be important and ranked them in the descending order of importance.

1. 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 co-ordinated to create a manageable ‘picture’ of change.

Taking a bottom-up as well as a top-down approach, involving people in the definition of the vision is the best approach as well as clearly articulating the drivers for change (why it is happening) and desired outcomes.

Ensure people understand how the vision differs from business-as-usual (’to be’ versus ‘as is’ state) and review on a regular basis to ensure relevance. Well-defined outcomes and benefits provide tangible benchmarks for people to understand, aim for and ultimately measure in terms of how successful the change has been.

2. 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 improvements can be made.

3. 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 lifecycle. Identify stakeholders early in the change programme, carry out a potential change impact assessment, develop an engagement and communication strategy to build commitment.

Communication alone does not guarantee engagement. Spend time to really understand your stakeholders – their perspectives and motivations. Nurture your stakeholders to build trust, so that they want to help you make the change succeed and feel supported through it (win hearts and minds). Consider the psychology and behaviours of change and pitch the timing of interactions at the point where they will have the most impact (neither too early nor too late).

4. Build a strong change team with the 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.

Ensure that you have the right people in the team, that it is diverse and multidisciplinary, that roles and responsibilities are well defined, and that there are recognition and reward mechanisms in place. Understand people’s motivations within the team to help develop understanding and ensure that you play to people’s strengths. It helps if team members have strong relationships with stakeholders, communicate well and have a passion and energy for their remit.

5. 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, improve capability and maturity for greater success.

Be structured (without being dogmatic) and flexible in your approach to match the nature of change. Manage programme/project interdependencies across the whole organisation avoiding a silo mentality and wasted effort. Have regular review and feedback loops to continually improve the approach for even greater success.

6. 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 to seek feedback. Ensure you have a baseline and success criteria at the outset, and relate measures to the originally defined vision, outputs, outcomes and benefits. Have a mix of qualitative and quantitative measures paying attention to relevance, measurability, ease of data collection, analysis and presentation.

Introduction to Managing Change is available in the APM bookshop

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  1. Emile Fakhoury
    Emile Fakhoury 15 June 2018, 09:07 AM

    nice well written post!