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Using research to improve the delivery and effectiveness of change programmes

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 Merv Wyeth


by Merv Wyeth 
Chairman of the APM Programme Management SIG



Over two hundred delegates forwent their lunch break last week to participate in the Programme Management (ProgM) SIG’s latest webinar entitled "using research to deliver change more effectively”.

The context for the webinar is that while the pace of organisational change appears relentless the ability of organisations to deliver effective and successful change remains at an unacceptable level. Research consistently shows that between 60% - 80% of change programmes are deemed to have failed.

The presentation included five polls so there was lots of interactivity. In addition a record number of questions were tabled either via ‘go to webinar’ or using ‘twitter’. For the speakers' answers to all the questions posed, please see the final section of this post.

The webinar included three presenters:

Jim Dale Jim Dale

Jim’s proposition is that change is frequently introduced using models and procedures that lack any evidential research base and that some of the existing corpus of knowledge is contradictory, poorly evidenced, out-dated and simply not conducive to the delivery of effective change. Jim referred to the Collaborative change survey which he invited delegates to complete.  




Rod Willis Rod Willis

Rod continued the theme set by Jim by introducing research he had undertaken in conjunction with Henley Business School.  

This research identified seventeen ‘symptoms’ or reactions to change and these informed the development of the ‘Grow through Change Framework’. As part of the research Rod examined the psychological understanding of change leaders and found that there was a clear correlation between the leader’s effectiveness and ability to engage at a deeper psychological level.




Martin Taylor Martin Taylor

Martin is spearheading the movement to create a new ‘enabling change specific interest group’ within the APM and in the summer distributed an on-line survey to the APM membership.

The key findings were that over 50% of respondents describe their approach to change management as informal/ad hoc, incidental or none and only 41% believe their approach to change management provides value most of the time or all of the time. This highlights a significant opportunity for improving the way we go about implementing change, ensuring it is successful and adding value to the organisation.

The results reinforce the need for a group focused on change and the intention is for the prospective SIG to be a collaborative, cross-cutting group that works across the APM and with the existing groups. This will help improve the change capability of organisations and members and provide the opportunity for the APM to enhance its own capability in this crucial area.  


A Discovery Day is planned for 7th November 2013.


You Tube:

A full recording of the webinar is below:



Future Events:

Please come and join our annual conference, Delivering More 4 Less in Birmingham on 26th November 2013. 

It is an action packed day with some great speakers.



Answers to your questions:

Here is a list of the questions you posed during the webinar together with responses from Jim, Rod and Martin:

1. What about the nature of the changes? Often they are top down and involve capital substituting for labour, and/or routinizing work, which is inherently against the interests of workers.

Rod: It all comes down to the purpose of the organisation, that of the change initiative, that of the group you belong to and your own purpose (if known). Sometimes misalignment is a result of poor leadership, other times it is a function of a change needed to respond to the market (environment), so does this mean there will always be winners, no.  
However if people are adversely impacted, it can ALWAYS be managed professionally so raising the possibility of an overall positive outcome for those that may leave the organisation.


2. What's the point of being better at what we do, if what we are doing is the wrong stuff?

Rod: Great point, I think it is not so much we are doing the wrong stuff, more a case of being stuck in our Silos.  If we can develop our knowledge, understanding and skill on a broader basis that will only make us stronger practitioners. This challenge is not unique to the PM space; it is becoming an issue in many roles, as it is a function of human development.  See Kegan’s work.

Martin: Projects and the required change must be directly linked to the overall organisational strategy to ensure alignment and that the right things get done.


3. Can we move past a string of quotes????

Rod: If we want to learn ‘yes’, the quote serve a purpose to remind us that we have not moved on. Once we move on the quotes will reduce in value and impact and then no longer be used.  

Jim: Quotes are useful for providing context and are also valid means of means of presenting rich research data. I guess this is down to personal preference.  I like them.


4. I think it is worth mentioning the Change Management Foundation and Practitioner qualification that provides an excellent understanding of the psychology of change over 5 day

Jim: Thanks for mentioning this. It is an excellent course based on the excellent work of Cameron and Green.

Martin: The trick with any qualification is putting the learning into practice, this is what makes the difference.


5. What types of programmes are you referring to?

Jim: Programmes which focus on delivering transformational organisational change.


6. How much of the project budget should be allocated for the 'resistance to change'?

Rod: None specifically, if you expect it you will get it. The approach of managing all the domains in a proactive manner will remove the probability of even experiencing this to symptom to a great extent.

Martin: I have never allocated a specific proportion of the project budget; as discussed ‘resistance’ can be positive and negative and could be managed as part of overall stakeholder engagement and management.


7. A lot of what has been discussed seems to all come under the banner of stakeholder management. In my experience, close management of stakeholders in the wider sense is key to successful business change.
Do the presenters agree?

Rod: Yes I do agree, the issue however is ‘stakeholder management’ means different things to different people, some see it as a deep level and engage accordingly, others do not. So the challenge is how to have efficient and effective ‘stakeholder management’

Jim: Yes - I agree absolutely but I prefer the term stakeholder engagement to stakeholder management.

Martin: A very good point and in my experience effective stakeholder engagement, management and communications is essential to achieving successful change. However the time to undertake this properly is often underestimated and therefore this crucial area can be skipped over resulting in an adverse impact on the success of the change


8. Thank you for the lectures, very interesting. I have a question regarding the dynamics of the project environment. Have any of you, in your experiences, come across the different divisions of the project environment (i.e. project, programme, portfolio managers, sponsors, steering groups and PMO) preventing change initiatives due to their own internal interests and  vying to appear the most relevant to an organisation?
Andrew Morris - Associate Member, Cambridge

Rod: Yes I have, it was in a major M&A and the personal interest of a few in power, clearly influenced the approach and arguably was not in the best interest of the organisation or the majority of the stakeholders. Basically the governance model did not function, as one would have expected it to.

Jim: Yes. It does happen and I do have experience of this. The best approach is to focus on developing a united team through regular workshops, developing a common purpose and an environment where everyone can win.

Martin: There can be difficult challenges with change, even with the teams and individuals charged with the responsibility of delivering the change. This can be dependent on the culture of the organisation and requires strong leadership to overcome.


9. Values and beliefs tend to be embedded in a person by the time they get to working age, how can PMs help a project team to view things differently without offending values or help someone change their views it being viewed as discriminatory or not valuing diversity?

Rod: Great question, the first step is to help people become aware that we ALL have this characteristic, this increased self awareness will generally start to open up individuals minds to alternative possibilities.  In my experience, just be sharing frameworks that explore personality type and traits, behaviours and relationship models, start this process. This is MOST powerful when performed so in a group setting (action learning). There are some large consultancies that have used these techniques and others called Constellations to great effect. This is not so much about teaching; it is about facilitating a personal and group/team learning experience.

Martin: Engage with the people affected, explain why the change is needed and the benefits this will bring. Communicate regularly and consistently and try and understand the change from their perspective. People want to know how they are personally affected and what is in the change for them, so help them through the transition they need to go through.


10. Thanks for the webinar today. I'm studying Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and this is directly applicable to understanding the process of perceptions, thoughts and beliefs. Interesting stuff, recognising there is room for improvement in PM change. Any tools and techniques that help to understand your stakeholder’s standpoint/actions should be exploited.

Rod: The CBT and NLP will help a lot, and as we are always evolving, we need to continue to learn and encourage knowledge, understanding and practice from other domains into the organisation change space. After all, there are People is all the spaces we operate, we are the common denominator!

Martin: Agreed and a good point. As raised earlier, stakeholder engagement and management is crucial for successful change. By undertaking this comprehensively the understanding can be gained of where people are coming from and how to help them through the change.


11. Isn't there a danger in trying to making the focus of change programmes to change PEOPLE even more rather than changing the management theory and systems that people work within?

Martin: The focus of programmes should be to deliver effective change that helps the organisation to achieve its strategy and objectives. As part of these programmes people will need to work with new processes, products, systems and technology.

Rod: This is more a statement, and whatever way we can effectively bring balance into the combination of enabling technology, process and structure redesign and people will help significantly.


12. Is change management considered a profession?

Rod: My personal view is it should be a core competency of all managers otherwise we will not be able to cope with the future.

Jim: I agree with Rod. This should be a core management competency.  

Martin: A profession is a vocation founded upon specialized educational training, the purpose of which is to supply objective counsel and service to others” so change management is a profession.


13. Question for Jim - with such a poorly failure rate - is it not true then that the gateway review process is not fit for purpose?

Rod: Nice question!!!

Jim: I do not agree that the gateway review system is a failure. The scheme has been in operation for fourteen years. While there are examples of poor reviews I believe the scheme generally adds significant value. I say this as a reviewer and a project manager who has had his project reviewed by an external team.


14. Question for Jim - which evidential base are you referring to?

Jim: I’m sorry I don’t understand the context but you are welcome to contact me directly via email to elaborate.


15. But the frameworks don’t work - you have just told us that...

Rod: Frameworks, like maps are never 100% of the story, they help us engage and to frame what the territory is, the trick is to remember there is no one right answer, people and social behaviour is just not that simple to model. However, to know what to look out for helps us engage accordingly.

Jim: We need to insert the word some. Some frameworks do not work. The APM’s research suggest that many project managers do not consciously use a framework when embarking upon change. Of those that do some may not be appropriate to the culture of the organisations or the type of change planned. Other models have no evidential base and are therefore of dubious validity.


16. What do you see is the difference between project management and change management

Rod: Very much depends on the size and scope and the purpose of the project/change. For me change management is about changing the organisational and social structure of a group of people (large or small). You may use project management methodologies to define monitor and control what needs to be done, the change management team. Immunity to Change by Kegan & Lahey explore change management at great length, a good way to explore this question at the depth the question demands. 

Martin: In the recent survey for the prospective Enabling Change SIG the following characteristics were identified as more relevant to a change manager; managing cultural impacts of change, managing resistance to change effectively, linking change to overall business strategy, linking change to benefits realisation and understanding specific change impacts of projects. The following characteristics were identified as more relevant to a project manager; effective communication, stakeholder engagement and management and leadership. I think project management focuses on the delivery of the project within time, budget and quality and change management focuses on the strategic linkages, the embedment of change and achievement of benefits and outcomes beyond the end of the project timeline.


17. So are we doomed because this deep people stuff can’t be trained in?

Rod: The good news: we are not doomed as it can be trained, the question is how to train many in an efficient and effective manner. Those that do not want to learn will not do so. Those that want to explore how to extend their existing competencies will learn how they can do just that in this space. My suspicion is the new PMs coming into industry will be more open to this, however I have worked with people in >50 who also effectively learn if they are open to do so. 

Jim: We can be trained and we can increase the level of management competence as a consequence. I am a advocate of reflective practice which I find invaluable when tackling some of the ‘softer’ issues of change.

Martin: The people stuff can indeed be learnt and there are books and courses but it is the application of learning that makes the difference.


18. We don’t test ability to apply.

Jim: If you are referring to the ability of managers and leaders to deliver change I think we should test. Assessment centres are a great way of assessing these areas. 


19. Why do we waste so much money on knowledge based 'qualifications'?

Rod: There is an interesting question here, when is extending our knowledge a waste; this is in the eye of the beholder. Another question could be, do our programmes REALLY benefit the practice we want to develop or are they missing key elements?

Jim: Knowledge needs to be converted into practice to enable competence. My view is that there is an over emphasis on knowledge based qualifications. I am a great advocate of the APM Practitioner Qualification, which assesses competence in a project setting.

Martin: Money is only wasted on knowledge based qualifications if the knowledge/learning is not put into practice.


20. Hi, If we address behaviour and value in change, what % success rates do you think will be achieved?

Rod: Now that is a tough one, how long is that piece of string? One approach I would recommend is, if you have a project that has not delivered what the stakeholders had wanted, try to quantify what were the key measures that demonstrate the gap. Try to quantify on monetary terms where applicable, if not that then outcomes and a value statement. Next project, try to use the same measures and bring in another perspective to inform your current methodology. One approach could be what is described in this book, Immunity to Change by Kegan & Lahey explore change management at great length, a good way to explore this question at the depth.

Martin: The first thing is to define what success is for each project, but assuming this is based on time, quality, budget and benefits/outcomes it would be a useful starting point to assess current performance and set a benchmark for future projects. Closely measure and report these Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for all projects, learn from project mistakes then review the benchmark again. I deployed this approach and moved project success from around 60% to 80% over a 3 year period.



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