Managing change: difficult to measure but essential, by Natalie Bevan, Ovations Group Practice Lead for Business Consulting Services.
Regardless of the industry, when budget or timing constraints come into play on a project, it’s almost always the people change component that gets cut. One of the reasons for this is that the effects and benefits of change management are difficult to evaluate or measure. However, the importance of managing people change should not be underestimated, nor should the potential harm that may result when it’s overlooked, says Natalie Bevan, Ovations Group Practice Lead for Business Consulting Services.
A common misconception when it comes to implementing new software, processes or solutions is that people will eventually adopt them, and come to love them, if forced to. This fails to consider the lengths those resistant to change will go to in order to circumvent changes they don’t like and the lost productivity and negative sentiment this can result in.
In order to realise maximum return on investment (ROI) it’s essential that people buy into and adopt the change from the start. Measuring ROI tends to be linked to service level agreements or savings on hardware and software, but what is often not factored into this calculation is the required buy-in/investment by people which becomes difficult to measure.
Every person deals with change differently, and that’s one of the challenges for a change manager because they need to find the particular factor or element that each individual will buy into. Some are more resilient than others and are less affected by change fatigue, but those that aren’t will often try to find workarounds or other means to stick to existing ways of doing things. This can cause all sorts of problems with processes or, in the changing systems to meet new regulatory requirements, could put the company in a position where it risks fines or reputational damage.
Further, it may not be one specific change in isolation that’s the problem, but rather a culmination of changes that have been insufficiently managed. The latest change is then considered to be the issue, however, it may merely be the final one of many unresolved challenges previously unaddressed by change interventions that has resulted in the loss of ability to cope with continual change. Any change removes a level of comfort – whether it’s a new reporting line or revised process. What may be viewed by some as a simple, insignificant change may be perceived very differently by another who may feel challenged as their perceived support system and network has been altered or removed.
A good change manager understands this and recognises that the side effects of change can vary from individual to individual, even within the same department or similar roles. Moreover, a good change manager understands that there’s often a gap between those implementing change and those who have to actually deal with it.
Understandably those implementing a project have a vested interest in it, usually time constraints to implement, costs to manage and ultimately to ensure the success thereof, all of which drive behavior. Those on the ground may not have the same drivers for success and view the change as a disruption to the world they understand and are comfortable with. This in turn drives their behaviour, and resultant resistance to the change.
Resistance to change is often indicative that there is something important to the individual that they think – rightly or wrongly – will be changing. The change manager needs to identify what that is in order to mitigate it. It’s also worth remembering that it’s not only those who clearly demonstrate resistance to change that might be experiencing it. Some people will hold their tongues and soldier on even if they dislike a change, and this, too, needs to be identified and managed.
Good change managers are sensitive, observant, and people- rather than task-focused. Change management is not merely about ticking predefined boxes, but rather, requires structure, method and guidelines for approaching the change along with the flexibility to take the human element into consideration. Simply following a methodology doesn’t assist anyone and can make people feel they’re being dragged along through a process rather than being part of it.
When it comes to change, a blanket approach simply won’t work. Instead, a targeted message to the right audience at the right frequency is necessary. By preparing for, managing and then reinforcing the change there is also the opportunity to assess whether additional coaching and training is required and to identify other potential pitfalls up front.
Part of the reinforcement component after a change is celebrating the successes achieved and transferring ownership – in other words, turning a project environment into an operational environment.
Projects succeed because of people not products. Without the support of the necessary people a project won’t achieve the full benefit, and people won’t reach their full potential. People can be stretched, but much like an elastic band, stretch them too far too fast and for too long and they might not bounce back.