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Understanding the psychology of successful change management

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Enabling teams to thrive and create meaningful change through projects is no easy task. Bringing people on a change journey requires a nuanced understanding of what makes them tick. As experienced project professionals will know all too well, it’s not enough simply to rely on technical tools to bring about change.

To understand more about these challenges, the APM Podcast hosted a discussion with two project professionals from the life sciences sector: Sarb Hoskinson, a Senior IT Programme Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Jo Stanford, Head of Corporate Portfolio Office at Health Education England.

The discussion was chaired by APM’s Senior Business Development Manager, Gavin Spencer. Below is an edited extract from Gavin’s conversation with Sarb and Jo, which you can listen to in full here.

APM Podcast: What is your definition of change management?

Jo Stanford: Change management is really the people side of change. It’s about the people, the processes, the ways of working, the end users. How do you get people to deliver the new thing that you’re creating and how do you make it become sustainable? It’s the process for taking people on that journey.

Sarb Hoskinson: For me change is about identifying what’s not working or what is starting to strain at the seams and looking at what we need to improve going forwards. It’s people who deliver change and it’s people who deliver projects. A lot of the time, people come to a solution that needs to be in place, and when we talk about solutions, people talk technologies – but it’s so much more than technologies. It’s about the people, the process, and the industry and market change that we’re having to deliver to. It’s also the cultural changes that need to go alongside the change within our organisations, because we don’t just put a change in place and hope for the best.

Why do some projects fail to deliver their intended value? Is there too great a focus on process and technique, and not enough on the people side of change?

JS: In the public sector, in healthcare, we tend to separate out project management and change management on fairly big project complex projects. The products and the processes have been delivered, but the change manager is there to ensure that value is created by embedding and implementing them across the environment that we wish to influence. Where I think we aren’t achieving sufficient value is because we’re not putting enough focus and emphasis on all of the effort and activity that needs to take place on the change management side, which is around engaging, influencing, collaborating and embedding the products that are being developed so that the value can be generated and measured, and then the success ultimately defined.

How do you bring people with you on a change journey? Are there any techniques or tips that you can share?

SH: The actual psyche of the individual is key. It’s about understanding the team, building that relationship with them and understanding what ‘safe space’ means for them. Is it psychological? Is it physical? The other element is building trust and honesty so that people feel comfortable enough to admit to making a mistake. But it’s not up to just that person to resolve that mistake. As a team, you build that environment where you all help resolve problems.

What is the significance of role models and mentoring in this debate?

JS: All of this really starts with the self, because ultimately you can’t influence other people unless you can influence yourself first. For me, that leadership role is critical, because that sets the tone for everything. As leaders, we have a responsibility to set the culture, the behaviours, the approach – and to create psychological safety. If that’s not something that you’re very familiar with, then Amy Edmondson’s book The Fearless Organization is a great starting point. How do you create an open, supportive, engaging environment that allows people to flourish? If you can do that, you can then enable them to become successful and deliver in their own specialist way.

SH: When we look at role modelling and mentoring, it does start within yourself – identifying what qualities you want to improve and what values you have versus what values you want to develop over the years. I think that continual learning and a hunger to continually learn is key. The fundamental idea of a role model is somebody that you look to, not necessarily as a hero, but because of their qualities and values. Do I have confidence in that person that if I go to them and I raise an issue, we’re going to resolve this collectively? Do I have confidence that no problem is too big or too small and we’ll get through this together?

Listen to the full podcast with Jo and Sarb here or search ‘APM Podcast’ on your preferred podcast app.


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