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Change - the imperatives for success

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The programme management of major initiatives is challenging but where such programmes incorporate significant transformational change the challenge is greatly increased.

In response to this imperative, over the last year Martin Taylor has worked to make the case for the establishment of an APM Specific Interest Group (SIG) that would focus on change management topics and areas of practice. This discovery based event is the final activity that Martin, as the prime mover of the Enabling Change SIG, has scheduled prior to the presentation of his formal SIG proposal to the APM SIG Steering Group committee on the 13th of November. The challenge for this event was to evidence how change management thinking and practices can greatly improve the outcome of such programmes.

What better way to welcome attendees to a change management discovery event than by giving them a taste of ‘things’ to come. The passes issued to attendees on entry to the CBI Conference Centre ‘knew’ the floor that they were to go to and programmed the lift accordingly. Very smart!

Martin was typically modest in introducing the event and few could have guessed at the effort that he and his team had expended in getting the Enabling Change SIG ‘project’ to this point in its journey.

The recording of the whole event is below:



During his introductory address, Andrew Bragg, APM’s Chief Executive, made clear his support for the proposed Enabling Change SIG and quite adeptly described the timeliness of the establishment of the SIG in the context of APM’s future aspirations and the project and programme management communities that the APM serve. Andrew made special mention of the fact- finding survey undertaken by Martin and, specifically, the fact that the vast majority of respondents had reported that a formal change management approach on their programmes was either non-existent or ad-hoc at best. He also described how it was the transformational change nature of the APM award winners, namely the BBC and B&Q, which had caught the attention of the judges.

The fact that APM and its partners are already ‘on the case’ with respect to change management can be further exemplified by referencing the 2013 APM annual conference which had the theme ‘ADAPT!’ and in particular the presentation given by Barbara Chomicka of EC Harris.

Totally in keeping with the aims of the Enabling Change SIG, each of the speakers provided us with a mix of the theoretical, research and experience based perspectives to support the role that change management plays in achieving successful change outcomes.

Alex Swarbrick, from the Roffey Park Institute, presented the results of a research programme that consulted a large number of senior managers on the subject of change management. The need to be able to change and the importance of leadership and people related issues were near the top of their concerns for the future. The work of Kubler-Ross and her team in analysing the experiences of those faced with terminal illness (unavoidable personal change!) was used to position the importance and need to understand each individual’s relationship and experiences with respect to a given change. Alex emphasised the fact that organisations should not be regarded simply as machines and that visible leadership ‘from the top’ must be in evidence to ensure that meaningful and effective engagement with its stakeholders is institutionalised to engender a shared sense of purpose.

Neil Ennis provided us with a great overview of why and how the Post Office is transforming itself to respond to the many economical, sociological, technological and political pressures to which it has been subjected. Upper most in this was the Government’s directive that there were to be no further closures within the existing Post Office network. The Post Office’s propensity to continuous engagement with the ‘customer’ was a great example of recognition of the need for a long-term change programme to be willing and able to respond to ‘mid-flight’ changes. A striking feature of his delivery was the recognition that change programmes must themselves be flexible and adapt to changes in the environment in which they are operating; the recent privatisation of the Royal Mail being a case in point. His presentation demonstrated how the union of pragmatic programme management coupled with considered change management thinking can be applied to good effect to large-scale transformation programmes. His open and frank presentation supported his view that effective change requires a truthful, open and transparent approach to be adopted.

John Wardle’s story was a great example of change leadership in action, in the Engineering team at Telecomms company KCOM. His whole presentation was focussed on how a change in his businesses leadership style was instrumental in turning around and enhancing the futures of the both the business and its employees (stakeholders). Not being afraid to tackle the big issues he was confronted with, he described how much work was required to overcome the apathy and disquiet that had become institutionalised within his organisation. To ensure adequate regard of the impact of changes on his workforce he described how a psychologist was employed and used to develop and implement the changes that were needed to be made. He emphasised that a characteristic of his role as a business leader was that he be prepared to listen to the views of his engineering employees and act on what he heard. Some harsh truths about the need to retain only those people that were a ‘good fit’ within the new organisation’s values was described and, as was the case with Neil Ennis and the Post Office, where people who were unable to conform to the new ways of working were encouraged to leave their respective organisations, a dignified and considerate approach was taken. It was recognised that this approach was as important for those remaining in the organisation as it was for those leaving.

John described how the use of targets, and the implication of his workforce in achieving them, was key to sustaining the current level of progress and to establishing a culture of continuous improvement. When he embarked upon his programme of change productivity was at 43% and today, only some two years later, it is now at 62% with an aspiration of 72% in his sights. In keeping with his desire to understand his workforce and the challenges they face he has sought to gain first-hand experience by spending time working alongside them. He has even recently arranged to climb a telegraph pole and, as if this were not daunting enough, he would, having extended the working hours of his engineers, demonstrate his commitment by doing this during the hours of darkness!

As each speaker most ably communicated, change management is not a ‘nice to have’ anymore, it is an essential discipline that has a key role to play in the achievement of successful change outcomes. The human side of change management was frequently brought to the fore by the use of such words as ‘trust’, ‘passion’ and ‘commitment’. The need to ‘live the change’ was described by both Neil and John who both recognised, with some humility, that good leadership requires difficult decisions to be made. The recognition of the need to capture an organisation’s ‘change’ experiences and respond to the lessons learned, demonstrated a willingness to establish a continuous learning platform, which enables all stakeholders to ‘have a say’. All of the speakers emphasised the importance to an organisation of understanding what the thoughts and perceptions of its stakeholders were and, significantly, the need for effective and frequent communication. The need for meaningful measures to be used to evidence progress, for both management and stakeholders alike, was also described.

Two questions from the floor that may form the basis for further events or research were:

• What can organisations do to prepare for change?

• If a change culture is not embedded - how do you get managers to listen and participate in change activities?

As the event came to a close the mood and energy in the room was buoyant and the speakers remained behind to answer questions and accommodate the high interest in the room. The great turnout (a full room with 66 delegates), coupled with the post event survey results which evidenced overwhelming satisfaction (94%) with the content and conduct of the discovery event itself, bodes well for the future development and growth of the Enabling Change SIG.

Download the survey analysis here.

The slides without sound can be seen here:



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