Change Management – Prevent Failure by Dissolving Resistance

People don’t like to change. In fact they react badly and sometimes destructively when forced to change. Statistics tell us that 70% of change strategies within organizations fail to provide the desired outcome and often cause a great deal of discontent. It is interesting to note that this also applies to large scale organizations, such as the entire population of Australia. The population of Australia has NEVER passed a referendum to change the constitution, no matter how minor the proposed change has been. So the resistance to change pervades entire societies. What chance do you think that you can get your organization to accept change?

So what do we do about that when it is sometimes critical for an organization to change in order to survive? This may be an entire culture change or a procedural change, but if you don’t get the correct methodology in place you will fail.

There is a great deal of complex psychology behind why people behave this way and resist anything they are uncomfortable with. It is perhaps more of an issue now when the world seems to be changing so rapidly that few people feel any sense of security. The development of a change program, the extent of the change, your relationship with your people and HOW you explain the requirement for change, will all impact on the response and effectiveness of your change plan and management procedures.

A key determinant in the success profile is how well you understand the values and beliefs of each individual, and the organization as a whole. If you don’t have a clear understanding of these elements, don’t even think about trying to introduce a major change. You MUST understand how the organization and individual values either conflict or support each other and HOW you can make the two congruent. This is not the realm of a Project Manager since it is not a simple planning process by any means. The larger the organization, the more complex the management scheme must be.

A second key determinant is the skill with which the requirement for change is communicated. A hastily prepared email or letter to staff and management is probably more likely to cause conflict than solve the problem. People in an organization are first individuals and second a member of a group. That group is more than likely also broken down into sub-groups or cliques, each with its own natural values system. These must all be understood and in some cases unique communications methods for each group must be prepared so that the language and imagery provided to each group is perceived unconsciously as congruent with their values system.

Change in an organization is often seen as a management negative, introducing changes that will negatively impact groups or individuals. As a manager it is essential to try to let this negative perception by having an external specialist do a complete and confidential evaluation of the guaranteed resistance points in the organization (and there will be many). And when I say “confidential” I mean that members of your company or organization must feel their privacy is protected from management. Hence the need for external resources to undertake that part of the change project.

The good news is that we know how to do it, and enhance productivity at the same time!

Change Management – 3 Key Reasons For the Catastrophic 70% Failure Rate

Failure reasons in change management are many and varied. But one thing is painfully clear. Any organisational initiative that creates change – or has a significant change element to it – has a 70% chance of not achieving what was originally envisaged.

There are 3 main reasons for failure:

1. The gap between the strategic vision and a successful programme implementation and the lack of a practical change management model and tools to bridge that gap.

2. The “hidden and built in resistance to change” of organisational cultures, and the lack of processes and change management methodologies to address this.

3. Failure to take full account of the impact of the changes on those people who are most affected by them i.e. the absence of good strategies for managing change.

It may occur at project level [at the execution “getting it all together” level] so that the initiative doesn’t get off the ground – or doesn’t get completed.

This is where most people focus – on the “getting it done” bit.

But the bigger and more critical issue here is that even when the projects – the new capabilities – are completed on time and in budget, a failure can still occur at programme level – and from a statistical perspective it probably will!

A programme level [more accurately a “no programme” level!] failure occurs when the envisaged benefits [the whole raison d’etre] of the initiative are not achieved.

The root cause of failure

The root cause of this failure is lack of clarity and lack of communication – and even more fundamentally – the lack of a language and contextual framework to articulate and manage the necessary processes of change.

This is what a Programme Management based approach to change is all about and why it so important.

As with most specialist areas of knowledge, there is within this discipline a universal or generic set of “truths” that transcend the boundaries of the formalised models and tools of programme management, applies to all organisations experiencing step change, and can be expressed in simpler language.

Just as an aside, I feel that whilst it is absolutely necessary for there to be experts and centres of technical excellence – the very processes by which they function separates them and the knowledge from the far wider audience who could benefit most from that knowledge.

Time for some definitions:

Programme Management

  • Is the holistic perspective – takes in the bigger picture.
  • Is the coordinated management of a Portfolio of Projects that change organisations to achieve benefits that are of strategic importance.
  • Is the understanding and management of Benefits, Risks and Issues and the provision of an Organisation Structure and Process Definition.
  • Does not replace Project Management – it is a supplementary framework

Differences Between Programmes and Projects

  • A Programme is all about delivering the overall business benefits in line with the strategic vision and over a longer period of time than a project.
  • Whereas a Project has a definite start and finish point, with the aim of the delivery of an output that may be a product, service or specific outcome.
  • Programme management focuses on the management of all key stakeholder relationships and the delivery of defined business benefits and in addition to managing the project portfolio will also include the management of any other activities that are necessary to ensure a complete delivery.
  • Whereas Project management has narrower terms of reference with clear, specific and (relative to the overall Programme) limited scope of its deliverables.

And yet despite the fact that programme management as a discipline has been around for over 10 years – the failures still keep mounting.

Men always dislike enterprises where the snags are evident…” [Machiavelli “The Prince”]

The whole of my approach to change management and dealing with the “snags” such as fear of change and resistance to change is based on this model of a programme approach.

My preference for this is that it forces senior management (and their advisors) to take a holistic and structured look at the wider factors that need to be addressed – and that are often “mission critical”.

80% of companies [or rather 80% of directors] – haven’t got a clue about programme management

In my experience the size of a company is no indicator as to whether or not it employs a programme management approach. I have sat across the table in meetings with directors of UK based £1bn+ turnover corporates – household names in some cases – who didn’t have a clue about programme management.

I would go further and say that the vast majority of companies know little to nothing about programme management.

A useful indicator is the number of online searches on Google AdWords for project management and programme (or program) management

For the month of March 2009 there were 450,000 searches for project management and 39,200 searches for programme (or program) management.

One reason why programme management has not yet permeated the business “mainstream” is because – in my opinion – it appears to be complex and to address dimensions that don’t resonate or connect with mid range corporates and larger SMEs.

This is partly because corporates are more complex – but also because the talented and experienced professionals who compile these things think that way!

However, it is my belief and experience that the broad principles of programme management can be set out in a simple model and using simple language that can be applied in any organisation of any size.