Humans are curious creatures. For all of our wisdom, technological might and evolutionary progress, we still thrive on routine. By following a process or sticking to a habit, we free up precious brain space by “automating” certain tasks. Because we’re used to our routines, we have to think less about what we’re doing. We also tend to follow these processes because, over time, we get good at them – and doing stuff we’re good at makes us feel happy. Great, right?
Well, not always. Sometimes it’s important to disrupt a routine, to break a habit. Businesses face this challenge on a regular basis; we are continually learning, adapting, and evolving processes, strategies, and systems. And that’s a good thing; we need to adapt to remain competitive, to make sure customers are getting the best from us, and that our staff are happy.
So why do project managers struggle to implement new ways of working?
Why is Change Management Important?
Change management is a formal approach to planning and managing efforts that allows people, teams and entire businesses to do things differently. It might sound simple, but a surprising number of companies struggle to change effectively. According to McKinsey & Company, “70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals”.
Change programs often fail due to a lack of support from management, and stiff resistance from employees.
Without a change management program in place, it’s almost impossible to effectively manage a project and ensure successful outcomes. It’s essential, especially for project managers, to consider the broader picture of change.
There are standard elements to every project that dominate the spotlight. Whether it’s the Gantt chart, risk matrix, cost tables or resource plans, the “traditional” elements of project execution tend to hold the most attention. This often means that the softer side gets missed; the people involved with, or impacted by, changes.
It’s an easy mistake to make, but a crucial one. Having people on your side, engaged, and supportive of your change management project is essential to success. They could be end users, key stakeholders, sponsors, or budget holders – they all have an important part to play. If they are not aware of what you are doing, have no desire to support it, and no knowledge of how to engage, then they won’t back you up.
This leads to resistance. People will protect their habits, processes and routines unless you can provide a compelling reason for them to change.
How many times have you been invited to a training workshop for a new platform, only to arrive and wonder what the tool is, where it’s come from, and why you need to use it?
If this sounds familiar, then you’ve missed the first key step: awareness. Project managers should create a plan on how they will alert the business to this work. By contacting the people that will be impacted by the change and telling them what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and why it’s important, you’re more likely to succeed in later phases. This also helps to lessen resistance, as your employees can understand why they’re expected to break their precious habits!
Once you’ve made people aware of the work, the next step is to create that sense of desire and want within the teams. This will impact how engaged – or resistant – they are. Each person could have their own unique reasons for engaging or resisting, and sometimes these are reasons that are not even related to the change.
If an employee has no desire to change, they may be labelled as difficult, inflexible, pessimistic or unsupportive. The best person to help a resistant employee is their direct manager or supervisor, who is usually closest to them and able to translate the change into the employee’s personal context. Managers need to engage in coaching conversations to help connect the change to personal motivators and to identify how barriers can be removed or minimized.
Only after awareness and desire are built should project managers begin providing detailed knowledge of the change. Unfortunately, it is often the case that an organization sees a change coming, and the very first step that they take is to send employees to training. The result of this approach is ineffective training, wasted time, and needless cost. Employees are not engaged in the detailed functionality of the software because they are not prepared to learn.
To make the most of a training investment, it must come after initial awareness and desire building.
Three Tips for Successful Change Management
There are three simple steps to follow to start your journey of successful change and project management:
- Start with awareness. Help people understand why this is happening, and what is going to happen. Surprises help nobody!
- Create desire. Make sure your teams understand the benefit of this change. You want to break their habits, so you better have a good reason.
- Develop knowledge. Create a framework for knowledge sharing that allows people to build on their awareness and desire for change, learning how to practically make the change themselves.
If you’d like to see an example of these three points in action, check out how we implemented a huge change within our own business – the move to a four-day working week.