Tony Robbins (author of Unleash the Power Within) says that three things are required to bring about change in a person:
- The desire to change, and/or desire for a result.
- Something to change into.
- An interruption to give you a space to change.
What’s true of a person is true of an organisation.
The desire for change and/or desire for a result
It’s widely reported that we make decisions with our hearts, and then use our brains to justify the decision. Executives (directors, management) in organisations try to do it the other way around – to make a decision based on the evidence, and then create the emotion that inspires everyone to go along with the change.
This is where a popular discipline called benefits management, or benefits realisation management, comes in. Benefits management is the discipline of desire. It’s about quantifying how much desire you have and therefore how much it’s worth investing to satisfy that desire, and about quantifying whether the selected courses of action satisfy your desire. You will only get benefits if you have change, and to get change, you probably need to communicate the benefits.
Many decisions for change start out with a compelling why. The example often cited, most recently by UK Parliament’s Public Administration and Current Affairs Committee in their report Delivering the Government’s infrastructure commitments through major projects, is to host a successful 2012 Olympics, with an opening date of 27 July. But most projects have forgotten their compelling why. Communicating the justification for change is the wrong way around. The programme mandate (or other document) is tossed over the wall to the benefits managers, who are expected to go and search for logical reasons why the decision was made, without being told what the single, powerful and emotive why was. The benefits the benefits managers come up with are typically a bit insipid – not inspiring enough to drive change.
Now that we have our justification (remember, this is after the decision), we spend a fortune on change agents whose job is to bring enough energy and excitement to get people enthusiastic about the project. So we throw away the first inspiring and compelling reason; make up some new logical reasons; then find someone with energy for hire to make the logical reasons sound compelling.
The key benefit of any planned change is that one compelling objective which inspired the decision in the first place. The driver behind the programme mandate. The big project why.
That’s what we need to quantify. That’s what we need to describe in benefits language. Whether it’s a compelling result (an opportunity), or a compelling need for change (a burning platform or problem), we need to capture it in terms of benefits and make that the energy that creates the engagement that results in change.
Something to change into
Does anyone start a change without knowing what they want? It’s been said that all improvement requires change, but not all change is an improvement. We need to know where we’re going, and why, or we could end up somewhere we don’t want to be.
Benefits management helps. By quantifying the benefits of each of the options and alternatives (benefits management activities start when a problem or opportunity is discovered), a leadership team can choose what is the best shape to change into. The power of benefits management is that anything and everything can be quantified, and done right, can be quantified in such a way that an investment panel can compare apples with apples and make the right decisions, every time.
Government wants to optimise quality of life: we can quantify that. Will it be expressed in quality adjusted life years (QALY), or happiness right now, or reduced inequality – we can give you options. We can show you how to measure lead indicators along the way, so you can make the right decisions before you get the results, when you are still choosing amongst options. Not only inspiring, but also illustrating progress.
A commercial outfit wants to maximise profit: we can quantify that. We can show how different options will give you less profit now, or more profit further into the future. We can show progress on this too – better focus group scores means more income later; fewer defects means lower costs later.
An interruption to the status quo
Even if you have a desire for change, and something to change to, inertia is a powerful thing. You as an individual struggle to change bad habits, you as an organisation struggle to change the status quo.
Kotter’s 8 step change model begins with ‘create a sense of urgency’. Benefits are the reason for change – written down. The sense of urgency. Properly presented, the communication can be the interruption that’s needed, that makes the space for new habits to form.
A good benefits manager is a master (or mistress) communicator. We understand how difficult change is, and many people embrace both benefits and change disciplines because of the overlaps. We understand the need for Tony Robbins’ three step process, and the need to assemble the communications needed, in the right order.
Why do benefits managers want change?
If you love your profession, as I do, then you want to see results from your work. Benefits won’t happen on their own. No matter how good it looks on paper or in the computer model, it doesn’t exist until change happens.
So change managers are our ideal partner. Change managers convert our plans into reality. We provide the drivers for change, the change managers make the change happen, and we show that it’s happened (or show where it isn’t as good as it could be, so the change managers can change approach). It’s a marriage made in heaven.
What other factors help change to come about? What other effects ensure that benefits happen? What’s your opinion of the views expressed here?
Share your passion for project management and connect with others on APM’s community pages – apm.org.uk/community
Dr Hugo Minney, ChPP, is lead author and chair of BSI’s panel on benefits management for a forthcoming standard, and co-chair of the APM Benefits and Value Specific Interest Group.
Donna Unitt is head of delivery for Rocket Consulting and chair of the APM Enabling Change Specific Interest Group.
Image: Marta Design / Shutterstock