Everything was there – the project plan, the project management software, the project team, the change plan, managers and senior management support.
Everyone knew – the newsletters had gone out, the communication plan appeared to have worked, the team meetings happened, the posters were printed and the vision was mentioned often.
Everyone was working – the project manager, the project team, all managers were working very hard, and the people were busy and occupied. Unfortunately, the costs were also working as they continued to climb without real progress apparently being made.
And the results – the business case for initiating the new system was sound, however getting to those results was starting to feel like walking through syrup.
Or at least that is how David, the Managing Partner of this professional services firm, was feeling as he struggled to contain his frustration.
“Where are the results? I am not interested in activity! It is taking too long! “
How can so much action not appear to deliver results?
The answer lies in a combination of the project plan, the change management or people plan, AND in the way the people are experiencing the whole exercise.
Business results always reflect what people are working on and where their true focus really lies. Working on tasks and being busy with actions does not necessarily translate into intended results and performance.
We often overlook this insight when using a structured and formal change management approach to bringing about change, even when a communications plan is in place.
Professional services firms, by their very nature, employ people who view themselves as professionals, who see themselves as thinkers, and who gain personal value from making decisions that affect themselves and their clients.
A structured plan and set of activities that “tells” them to change what they do, when, how and for what purpose they need to do it, does not align with their view of themselves.
And so managers become hoarse from repeating themselves and senior managers get frustrated at the slower than expected rate of implementation.
Experience continues to show 90% of support given to people who are being asked to change their work behaviour, focuses on policies, systems and usually includes one way communications.
These activities are all good and necessary, however they tends to be highly task focused and are usually driven by the project or change management process itself.
This approach, whilst organised and well suited to organisations in the past, tends to view people as activity extensions of the project plan and its milestones. The result is lots of activity and not necessarily the expected results.
How to support a change project so it does not require resuscitation?
When people are being asked to change their behaviours they are also being asked to change how they think. To do this, they need a different kind of leadership and support to the style they receive for normal operational activity to occur.
This is particularly relevant when “changing” professionals. They need support which aligns with their personal views and attitudes first, so they can start to see the value in their becoming engaged with the change. They are not being “difficult”. It is just the way they think and have been trained to think.
Once again, experience continues to show when the significant majority of the change support focuses: on people issues and not solely on tasks; on their values and not solely policies; on their actions and not solely on communications plan, then change results tend to be delivered quicker.
As their level of engagement becomes more focused, different performance and results tend to last for longer and disruptions along the route become reduced.
All because people are being appropriately led, being inspired and being actively encouraged to create their own motivation to change.
Project sponsors and senior partners need to consider their own style and focus of leadership and what it would take to make it more appropriate and relevant to the successful implementation of the project in order to achieve the desired outcomes.
What does this style of Change Leadership look like?
Change leadership is more than sharing the “why” changes need to be adopted.
It is involves leading and encouraging people to talk about the gaps which exist between “their why” and “your why”.
It needs to include consistent two way open discussions filling in the gaps in understanding and highlighting the potential consequences of the change programme as the people see them.
Naturally including people in how to bridge the gaps and reduce the risks is critical for both long term engagement, and project success.
People are always inspired when they are able to see their contribution and passions being a real part of the new future.
They need to be able to create a picture in their head of how they can contribute to the successful implementation of the change and how they can make a difference.
In this way the project tasks become stepping stones towards success and achievement rather than something else that needs to be completed on top of a full day’s work.
People become motivated when they are able to see what they can actively do and achieve within activities that occur within the project plan.
Even professionals thrive on achieving smaller steps when it is clear that they can make a difference to the outcomes.
Holding focused discussion sessions that deal with both progress and barriers to success creates the space where motivation can exist and thrive.
Committing to this level and kind of support will enable everyone to move towards accepting the change consequences and delivering the improved results. The policies and systems will then be able to sustain the improved results.