Changing The Way We Think About Change....

Change is a force to be recognised and there can be significant organisational consequences if its impacts are not managed, as the established 70% failure benchmark for change programmes illustrates only too well....

‘The only thing that is constant is change’.  This frequently used quotation by Heraclitus is a key mantra for change management practitioners.  Change is a perpetual force and the sentiment that nothing ever stays the same has widespread acceptance, particularly in business where it can be considered as the foundation for strategic planning, investment decisions and career development, to name but a few examples.  Change is a force to be recognised and there can be significant organisational consequences if its impacts are not managed, as the established 70% failure benchmark for change programmes illustrates only too well.  Whilst this statistic is naturally influenced by the definition of success, it provides a salutary warning that merits greater consideration.

Having spent my career shaping and leading change, I am surprised by how often change management is regarded as an optional rather than essential organisational capability.  Let us consider a new programme of work to deliver an important business outcome.  It will be important by implication as the company will spend time, use resource and make direct financial investment to realise the outcomes.  It will also be taking the organisation from where it is now to some form of future state and will therefore be a change programme by implication, even if not regarded as such.  The programme will require people to do something differently to how they operated before.  If it is to deploy a new system, they will need to be trained in the capability it provides; if it is to improve a process, they will need to adapt their ways of working; if it is to move a new organisational structure, they will need to develop the behaviours required.  In reality, it is likely that there will be a combination of people, process and system elements and with far greater interdependency and complexity than this simple example can illustrate.   

To deliver the programme, there will typically be a programme manager to plan and direct the work, project managers or workstream leads to take responsibility for key areas of delivery, business sponsors to define outcomes and provide guidance, together with a Steering Committee to review progress and resolve barriers to success.  Whether there is also change management support will depend on a multitude of factors, including appreciation of delivery complexity and the scale of change impact, not to mention the availability of skills and budget.  The frequently recurring reality is that change management will either be packaged into the roles of the programme team or expected to happen organically through delivering the programme.  Even if the need for specialist support is recognised it is often engaged after the programme has been scoped, too late to provide the crucial foundation for engaging people on what the change means and for maximising their adoption of it.

Given that such a large percentage of change programmes fail to achieve their outcomes, and with all programmes inherently being change programmes in some form, specialist change management skills are critical to success.  Programmes are not delivered without programme managers and relevant subject matter experts and the use of change managers should surely be no exception.  Whether through the use of external resource or the creation of in-house capability, change management provides the insight and experience to shape the delivery approach and to ensure the outcomes can be achieved and maintained. 

If the only constant is change, managing its complex and unpredictable dynamics is essential for all organisations.  Change management needs to be at the core of any programme of work from inception to realisation, ensuring the change is understood, informing its delivery approach and enabling it to be embedded.  Making this change to how we think about change will ensure organisations are better placed to navigate the challenges of this pervasive and underestimated force.

 

 

 

Simon Tayler-Smith,  Liveryman

Simon Tayler-Smith is a Business Change and Transformation specialist.  His change ethos is that people are a critical success factor in any change and should be at the heart of all change management activity. He is a Liveryman of the WCoMC.