Change Management - Looking Back to Plan Ahead
Now more than ever, companies are seeking to ensure their investment in projects and strategic initiatives provide the maximum returns in the shortest amount of time. They are also realizing this is no small task, especially when it involves managing cross-functional team input, organizational changes and overhauling processes and systems. It takes an experienced crew to navigate through the perfect storm of change.
Fortunately, most organizations have weathered many such storms—some successfully and probably some not so successfully. Where many organizations fall short is in leveraging those past experiences and applying key takeaways from lessons learned. An experienced Change Management consultant can provide key insights and analyses into those lessons learned that help an organization look back in order to plan ahead.
Change Management and Communications are the most frequently under-valued elements of any project, initiative, or transformational effort. They are often an add-on or as an afterthought, and most organizations believe they effectively communicate when, in reality, few do. Additionally, not including Change Management and Communications as an integral project work stream with dedicated, experienced resources results in poor employee engagement in and adoption of the changes. This means there will be an increased ramp-up time to operationalize the changes and realize the full strategic advantages, with a strong possibility that the full benefit may never be realized.
Everyone has experienced the thought of, “If only I’d known then what I know now…” As part of an effective Change Management program, hindsight is a vital part of preparing for the next initiative. Inevitably there will be new elements to include in the overall Change Management and Communications Plans, as well as improvements to or elimination of existing items. Consultants can provide valuable guidance in structuring survey questions to obtain the appropriate level of input and feedback from participants and key stakeholders. This is critical to ensure useful data is captured that can be applied going forward.
Additionally, a Change Management consultant also offers a detached view of the initiative, and can remove themselves from the personal aspect of the feedback. This is often difficult to do for those individuals within the organization who actively participated in or led the initiative. It is hard not to take the feedback personally when so much of their time and effort was dedicated to the project, making objectivity difficult. The independent, third-party view of a consultant offers a significant advantage in providing an objective analysis and recommendations for future initiatives.
Key areas in which Change Management consultants help clients look back to plan ahead are:
- Communication – This is one of the most critical elements to a successful initiative. Without effective communication, there can be no shared understanding of the strategic objectives or the purpose driving the change. In short, without effective communication, the initiative will likely fail – at best it will be extremely painful. Looking back, organizations can adjust Communication Plans to:
- Better define target audiences – understanding the different needs for each in terms of messaging for both internal and external (if applicable) groups. There is rarely a “one size fits all” audience approach.
- Better define message content – understanding the need to provide business process related messages, technical/IT related messages, compliance/regulatory related messages, general project updates, etc.
- What does the organization want to know vs. need to know? Create a balance between the two.
- Better define messaging frequency/schedule – what is too much vs. not enough? Let the organization drive what is needed/desired. Ensure messages are sent in a timely manner when action is required.
- Better define messaging a review/approval governance process. Creating a team and agreed to process at the beginning of the project and ensuring executive sponsors and stakeholders are aligned will ensure a more efficient messaging process and prevent bottlenecking.
- Business Process Owner Engagement – Engaging the right internal resources is essential for many reasons. Obviously, without business process owner involvement, there will be significant gaps in process and system design. Less obvious is the potential for bad press that can result from not including key business resources in the effort. Certain key individuals can either be the biggest supporters, helping to rally the troops, or the biggest detractors, acting as catalysts for full-scale mutiny Involving key process owners creates a group of delegates who can act as representatives for change among their peers in a way management and consultants simply cannot. Looking back, organizations can adjust their Change Management Plan to engage business owners:
- Earlier in the process – involve them in planning meetings and ask for input on timelines, project plans, key tasks, and available resources.
- In communications – ask for input regarding message content, include them in the review/approval governance process, and ask them to be stewards in the communication distribution process.
- In key project tasks – delegate tasks to them whenever possible, making them key members of the team. Ask for input on key deliverables and decisions.
- In gathering input – ask them to gather input from their team members regarding key process changes.
- In training – ask for input on training design and delivery. Train them first, so they can then participate in training their team members and serve as a Subject Matter Experts (SME).
- Technical and Business Process Support – Implementing even the best designed system and most efficient process may still fail if end-user support is not provided on the back end. Regardless of how smooth a transition, there will inevitably be questions and issues, and someone must be available to address them. An organization will feel abandoned or feel the project is incomplete if there is no one to support them after go-live. Looking back, organizations can adjust their Change Management Plan to:
- Include system/application end-user support – this may include a Help Desk with a hotline and/or email inbox staffed with a team of individuals trained to address/resolve end-user’s technical questions.
- Include business process user support – this may include a team of individuals who are experts in various business process areas embedded in key areas to address/resolve end-user's process issues/questions.
- Include short-term and long-term (if needed) support options – this will depend on the scope and breadth of the changes implemented.