Operationalizing the changes - Change Management

When implementing change there are a number of different aspects that need to be borne in mind:

  • Is the change plan on track?
  • Are the changes actually being implemented?
  • Is the organizational infrastructure being realigned to accommodate the changes?
  • Is business as usual still being undertaken?

Ford and Greer (2005) looked at 22 organizations to see how well management control systems were used when implementing (planned) change. Their research suggested that managers used control systems less widely than other elements in the change process, although they found a clear correlation between the use of such control systems and change project success.

In their article on managing change, Pfeifer and Schmitt (2005) recognized the implementation phase to be the most problematical stage of the change process. They identified four barriers to success:

the management barrier reflects the problem that the focus of management activitiesis dealing with daily business, not discussing new strategies. The vision barrier arises when visions and strategies are not communicated to employees in a comprehensible way… strategic objectives are not broken down by means of target definitions on the employee level, with the result that participation of those affected is not achieved. The resource barrier means that resources are not purpose fully deployed for the implementation of the strategy. In strategic change, the endeavour to secure acceptance of changes by all employees as a whole usually fails.

They recognized that the change process itself can stretch over a number of years and fatigue can set in amongst managers, or yet another priority can come along. In such cases they saw the importance of controlling mechanisms, but mechanisms that were not too constrictive:

Although the implementation process has to be planned and controlled, it is important to understand that the planning of the implementation and the implementation itself cannot be separated strictly. A change process is dynamic and this dynamic always requires adaptations in planning. Therefore the management should be willing and flexible to adapt even the target definitions, made in the earlier stage of the change process, if changed boundary conditions require this step.

Sirken et al (2005) believe that some of the ‘hard’ factors rather than merely the softer issues (culture, leadership, motivation, etc) should take more prominence when implementing change:

What’s missing, we believe, is a focus on the not-so-fashionable aspects of change management: the hard factors. These factors have three distinct characteristics. First, companies are able to measure them in direct or indirect ways. Second, companies can easily communicate their importance, both with in and outside the organizations. Third, and perhaps most important, businesses are capable of influencing these elements quickly. Some of the hard factors… are the time necessary to complete it, the number of people required to execute it, and the financial results that intended actions are expected to achieve.

They go on to look at four key factors which came out of their study. They mention in passing that since the original research, the Boston Consulting group have used these factors to predict outcomes in more than 1,000 change initiatives across the globe.

The four factors are duration, integrity, commitment and effort. The duration of the project needs to generate a process of review – ‘a long project that is reviewed frequently is more likely to succeed than a short project that isn’t reviewed frequently’. Whether this is a rigorous project management style review with specific milestones and ‘gateway’ reviews, or whether there is a more informal reflective review depends on the circumstances and the approach you are taking to change. In the organizations studied in this book the more IT-based and restructuring changes needed a clear, transparent and rigorous set of reviews as did those parts of changes which had legal implications (mergers and redundancies). However, a notable feature of the more emergent types of change was the regular reviews either encompassed in a management workshop (Aster); a stakeholder meeting (the primary school); the practice of developing dialogue, understanding and insight (Aarhus); or using a leadership development programme to review progress(Institute of Public Health).

They define integrity as ‘the extent to which companies can rely on teams of managers, supervisors, and staff to execute change projects successfully’. This comprises the interesting mix of knowledge, skills and experience in getting changes done on time, to budget and the required quality. In each case study we saw that the change team comprised credible people (from a change management perspective and from those in the business) with access to a sponsor with power and authority. But we also saw in most of the cases that time and effort were spent in building the capacity, capability and cohesion of the team. They were also well networked into the parts of the business which were changing.

Commitment covers the demonstrable willingness of top management, the change team and the recipients of change to be engaged in the change. In some ways this is determined by the correct identification of the key stakeholders and the ability to manage them; by the ability to motivate employees to make a positive contribution to the change; and to manage the psychological transition as well as the actual implementation. Once again we can see good practice coming out in the case studies where by to team support and sponsorship were evidently present and employees were actively engaged in a process, which meant they were less ‘done to’ than being willing participants.

The fourth and final factor is effort. Sirken et al define this as the effort required ‘over and above the usual work that the change initiative demands of people’. If no allowance is made for this increased effort, or inadequate allowance, then the change initiative runs a higher risk of failure. This includes the focus by sponsors and senior management who will often have multiple time pressures on them or can move on to the next change initiative.

The change team themselves might be fully focused on and resourced up to the ‘go live’ date and may not have the time, budget or people to continue the change process. Managers have the sometimes unenviable task of juggling business as usual, implementing the changes in their areas, and managing staff through the transition. They can also be the recipients of change themselves, so under going both survival anxiety and learning anxiety (Schein,2002). Finally, staff involved in implementing change need time to do so, either by a reduction in their normal work load, back filling, or a recognition that there will be a performance dip.

Kotter (1995) looked at over 100 different organizations going through change and picked out eight key aspects of the change process which could either lead to a failed initiative or, if got right, lead to transformation:

  1. establish a sense of urgency;
  2. form a powerful guiding coalition;
  3. create a vision;
  4. communicate the vision;
  5. empower others to act on the vision;
  6. plan for and create short-term wins;
  7. consolidate improvements and produce still more change;
  8. institutionalize new approaches.

I think what is useful at the implementation stage is to continue to bear all of these in mind. If you don’t want the momentum to slacken then the sense of urgency needs still to be evident; likewise the abiding vision, whether or not it has evolved, needs to continue to be articulated and communicated; the guiding coalition needs to be sustained and continued levels of empowerment enabled across the organization. Progress needs to be acknowledged as and when it happens and incorporated into the organization’s way of doing things. In the process of doing these things you will be able to see whether you have drifted away from the vision or whether the vision needs to be fine tuned; you will have a greater understanding of the human systems at play and where you need to focus your attention in terms of possible resistance or blockages; and you will have a clear sense of whether you are on schedule according to your plan.

Commitment covers the demonstrable willingness of top management, the change team and the recipients of change to be engaged in the change. In some ways this is determined by the correct identification of the key stakeholders and the ability to manage them; by the ability to motivate employees to make a positive contribution to the change; and to manage the psychological transition as well as the actual implementation. Once again we can see good practice coming out in the case studies where by to team support and sponsorship were evidently present and employees were actively engaged in a process, which meant they were less ‘done to’ than being willing participants.

The fourth and final factor is effort. Sirken et al define this as the effort required ‘over and above the usual work that the change initiative demands of people’. If no allowance is made for this increased effort, or inadequate allowance, then the change initiative runs a higher risk of failure. This includes the focus by sponsors and senior management who will often have multiple time pressures on them or can move on to the next change initiative.

The change team themselves might be fully focused on and resourced up to the ‘go live’ date and may not have the time, budget or people to continue the change process. Managers have the sometimes unenviable task of juggling business as usual, implementing the changes in their areas, and managing staff through the transition. They can also be the recipients of change themselves, so under going both survival anxiety and learning anxiety (Schein,2002). Finally, staff involved in implementing change need time to do so, either by a reduction in their normal work load, back filling, or a recognition that there will be a performance dip.

Kotter (1995) looked at over 100 different organizations going through change and picked out eight key aspects of the change process which could either lead to a failed initiative or, if got right, lead to transformation:

  1. establish a sense of urgency;
  2. form a powerful guiding coalition;
  3. create a vision;
  4. communicate the vision;
  5. empower others to act on the vision;
  6. plan for and create short-term wins;
  7. consolidate improvements and produce still more change;
  8. institutionalize new approaches.

I think what is useful at the implementation stage is to continue to bear all of these in mind. If you don’t want the momentum to slacken then the sense of urgency needs still to be evident; likewise the abiding vision, whether or not it has evolved, needs to continue to be articulated and communicated; the guiding coalition needs to be sustained and continued levels of empowerment enabled across the organization. Progress needs to be acknowledged as and when it happens and incorporated into the organization’s way of doing things. In the process of doing these things you will be able to see whether you have drifted away from the vision or whether the vision needs to be fine tuned; you will have a greater understanding of the human systems at play and where you need to focus your attention in terms of possible resistance or blockages; and you will have a clear sense of whether you are on schedule according to your plan.

In a later article Kotter (2006) adds to his initial analysis by highlighting what he calls the ‘four mistakes’ that cause failure and the ‘three key tasks’ to ensure success. The four mistakes he sees as writing a memo instead of lighting a fire; talking too much and saying too little; declaring victory before the war is over; and looking for villains in all the wrong places. The first two of these relate to the way you communicate and engage with your stakeholders and employees and the way that you demonstrate leadership and commitment to the changes yourself. In terms of declaring victory too soon, Kotter is highlighting the fact that change takes time and a few quick wins don’t signal that the task has been accomplished:

When a project is completed or an initial goal met, it is tempting to congratulate all involved and proclaim the advent of a new era. While you should celebrate results, don’t kid yourself or others about the difficulty and duration of transformation.Once you see encouraging results in a difficult initiative, you are only six months into a three-year process. If you settle for too little too soon, you may lose it all. Celebrating is a great way to mark progress and sustain commitment – but note how much work is still to come.

The following list is adapted from Kotter (1995):

  • Establish a sense of urgency – ensure that the level of current dissatisfaction or future threat is sufficient to kick-start the change and maintain momentum.
  • Form a powerful guiding coalition – ensure that key stakeholders are engaged and the change team has the necessary sponsorship, power and authority.
  • Create a vision – have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve from the change and for it to be lofty, strategic and motivational.
  • Communicate the vision – ensure people are informed and hopefully engaged with the change by having a shared understanding of and commitment to the direction of the change.
  • Empower others to act on the vision – ensure that those people who are needed to make the change happen have the necessary resources, mandates and enabling mechanisms to achieve their goals.
  • Plan for and create short-term wins – be clear that progress is being made towards the ultimate goals through the achievement of smaller goals along the way, thus demonstrating success and maintaining momentum.
  • Consolidate improvements and produce still more change – build on improvements in the organization as and when they occur and continue to move forward with change.
  • Institutionalize new approaches – ensure all changes are embedded in the organization and the organization is fully aligned.

Kotter also highlights the fact that you need to be wary of pigeon holing certain groups into being resisters to change. It is often not employees who resist change but senior managers who have their own motives for so doing. As a consequence Kotter is keen that the guiding coalition is seen as representing all employees.

The first of the three key tasks is to manage multiple timelines – noting that transformative change can take years and that short-term wins need acknowledging and communication is an on going task. I believe this ties into the idea that there may be waves of change (or ripples, if you prefer) each with its ebb and flow. Communication and engagement need to be attuned to these happening.

Kotter sees building coalitions as the next key task. As indicated above, the coalition isn’t just the most senior or most powerful people in the organization but a grouping of necessary stakeholders. For this you need people with the right skills, or people who can learn them and people who work well together: ‘The best partners have strong position power, broad experience, high credibility and real leadership skills.’

Another ingredient is to realize that the coalition builds as the change progresses. Back to the images of the wave and the ripple, where the network of people involved expands over time and as the changes take place and take hold across and through out the organization. Kotter also underscores the need to invest in the change team through out the change – we have seen different change teams from the case studies invest time and effort in building their vision, developing their operating principles and tackling issues collaboratively.

The third of Kotter’s tasks is to build a vision and sustain it through out the changes. Here he is not prescriptive; he understands that the process is more: emotional than rational. It demands a tolerance for messiness, ambiguity, and setbacks. The half-step back usually accompanies every step forward. Day-to day demands pull people in different directions. Having a shared vision does not eliminate tension, but it does help people make trade-offs.

In Making Sense of Change Management (Cameron and Green, 2004) we introduced our own adaptation of Kotter – the Cameron Change Model – which highlighted and accentuated a number of other aspects of implementation.

Creating vision and values emphasizes the need to incorporate values at the heart of the change process, both in the sense of what type of culture you are developing and in terms of how you want to implement the changes. It will be counter productive, for example, to have wonderful espoused values if you take a coercive approach to change.

Communicating, engaging and empowering others is an on going process as the change unfolds. This is particularly true if you are operating under a more emergent or organic premise where those you are engaging with are in dialogue with you as to how best to implement the unfolding changes.

Noticing improvements and energizing involves staying in touch with the change process and seeing what is working and what needs attention. This is more than just monitoring the project plan in a mechanistic way and actively directing attention, other people’s as well as your own, to emerging themes. There’s an underlying assumption that this thing called change cannot be fully controlled but some how needs different sorts of interventions at different times.

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