Why businesses should adapt and change to survive

Written by Russell Kenrick on 20 October 2016

I recently read in an article that only “25 per cent of change projects show any type of successful implementation” and that “when you communicate change within your organisation people are influenced by their bias.” Does that mean failure is inevitable? Or can more be done to ease the process of change management initiatives before it begins? 

There’s still a level of business uncertainty post Brexit. Commercial enterprises face a change imperative. They must adapt and change to survive. In large organisations this imperative can sometimes be less pressing and resistance to change is more common.

The public sector in particular consists of many large organisations where the process of evolution tends to be slower, and it may be necessary to take steps to proactively foster a culture of change. 

Proactively develop change management skills

Frameworks such as PRINCE2, which is used for project management, addresses change management principles, such as considering the speed as well as the appropriateness of change and how it may be a useful starting point for building a capacity for change.

However, change management is a broader discipline than project management. While PRINCE2 mentions the need for stakeholder engagement in change, it does not provide a methodology for tackling this, even though stakeholder engagement is fundamental to making change work.

Best practice frameworks and associated training can address elements including creating better business cases, change management practice, project or programme sponsorship or measuring benefits but not the broader context of change. 

An organisation’s learning and development efforts may result in individual managers having a good understanding of best practice when it comes to change management. Then the issue becomes one of knowledge transfer and creating a culture where colleagues share knowledge. 

Measure results

Measuring the effectiveness of change management initiatives is always a challenge. One good indicator is the absence of failure. If planned changes progress smoothly to successful completion that is a good sign that measures to involve middle management in change are working.

Look out for reductions in the lead times to change taking place. The time taken to carry out change and embed it should reduce, compare with the time taken previously. System and process changes may only take several months, whereas cultural changes can take several years. Time savings can be significant. 

Some organisations experience a form of homeostasis, so they deliver a change only to find things revert to how they were within six months because the change has not really been embedded and people go back to the old ways of working.

Changes in working practice may be mandated and as a result appear to come into effect quickly. However, change has only truly happened when it is embedded in people’s routine and employees do not give a second thought to it.

Concentrate on elements that are within your control

Effective projects must have effective management support at all levels. This is particularly true in the middle management layer within an organisation who are at the front line of handling change or having those changes imposed upon.

Enabling middle management to communicate credibly and directly to their people Is key. Employees need to understand why change is happening and share management’s sense of urgency about the need for the change. A good way to do this is for middle management to share ‘secret’ knowledge about the need for change with staff.

Giving privileged access to the possibly complex thinking that has led to the change builds a sense of trust in the relationship.

No matter how complex the change initiative is, when dealing with change, people are always at the heart of any change and must be a priority to ensure a successful or managed outcome. Some points to consider include:

1.    Develop a vision for the future and aim to communicate it effectively, to help people understand why the vision is necessary and why things cannot stay as they are.
2.    Invest in effective two-way communication – and remember to listen more than you speak.
3.    Make sure communication about change is little, often, consistent, appropriate.
4.    Deal with any concerns, but keep change moving forward.
5.    Reduce the learning anxiety associated with accessing the skills needed to support organisational change – by provide flexible training support.

Change management does not guarantee success, but by understanding where we are, who we are and communicating our goals effectively the organisation minimises risk and improves its ability to deliver the successful outcomes desired from change.

About the author 

Russell Kenrick is the Managing Director at ILX

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