5 tips for a successful change management program

Over the last 15 years, I have seen many transformation projects succeed brilliantly and fail miserably too. As a change practitioner, it’s not just following a methodology, having an extensive toolkit or sending out great looking communications that will deliver a successful change program. There are several other factors that need to be considered to stand a good chance at success. Many of these involve a real commitment to the people side of a project and the importance you place on it. It can’t be just lip service.

Here are 5 factors that have stood out for me over the years, in particular with HR technology projects.

The Project Journey

We know it takes more than a good solution and design to make a project successful. There are groups of stakeholders or decision makers who could influence the success of the project or break it. When I look back at past projects, the successful ones are those that made stakeholder management a priority.  Don’t lose sight of these people and make sure you have a process in place with your change lead to review them at least once a month and a plan in place to help them fulfil their roles. Keep in mind your project timelines and make sure you start building a relationship with these key stakeholders well before your project impacts on them.

Tip: Assign a stakeholder relationship owner (someone within the project team) to help with managing these relationships.

Is Middle Management the middle child of an organisation?

Projects often concentrate their efforts with employees, and with all the recent discussions on employee experience, it has certainly driven change practitioners to focus on this as well. However, front-line employees are seldom our most resistant group; by far the most resistant group are our mid-level managers. This group of managers become resistant to change due to a number of reasons including organisational culture, being risk-averse, past negative experience with change, mistrust between lines of business, and lack of awareness and knowledge about the change, or what the change means for them in terms of return on investment (ROI). Middle managers can also present a lack of buy-in due to beliefs that the change would fail or they would be worse off, as well as a lack of confidence in their own ability to manage the people side of change for their business.

Tip: Communicate openly and early with this group and share with them the need for change including painting a clear picture of the future state for them. It also helps if you start engaging their direct senior leaders and getting them on board early to help advocate the change with their direct reporting lines.

When is the best time to bring in your change management team?

Many of us have seen the situation where a change manager is brought in during the implementation phase to start the people engagement, and of course we’ve all seen how ineffective this has been. Whilst I often joke about having a magic wand that I bring out to fix things, we all know there is no such thing, and ‘fixing things’ should not be the reason we commence people engagement. So, when is the best time to bring in your change management team for a project? Well, Prosci’s 2018 Best Practice Change Management study indicates a direct correlation between when change management started on the project and the likelihood that the project met or exceeded objectives.  In fact, 51% who started change management during project initiation met or exceed project objectives compared with 33% who started during implementation.

Tip: Onboard your change or people transformation lead early in the initiation phase to help you design and shape the people engagement for the project. Other change managers, analysts and training resources can be brought on in the planning and design phases.

Finding the right change resource mix for your project

I’ve been on both sides of the fence, as the client and as the vendor. What I’ve learnt is that when it comes to HR technology projects, the right mix of knowledge and experience of your change management team is very important. You need a spoon or two of business knowledge and process, a cup of technology project experience and a pinch of subject matter knowledge.

Tip: Blending together a mix of in-house change resource (with knowledge of your business) with an external change consultant (who can bring the tech and HR experience) is the recipe for a successful change program!

Active positioning of your Change Management Program

The success of your change program has a lot to do with your project manager and sponsor’s attitude towards change management and the importance they place on people engagement activities. To meet project objectives, timing, budget and benefits, there needs to be a close alignment between project sponsorship, project management and change management. Keeping your change lead at an arm’s length from project governance and leadership will weaken your ability to do this and remove a direct line of sight to your people needs. Where I have seen successful change occur is where change management has a seat at the table on project governance activities, a direct line with sponsors and a close alignment with project managers.

Tip: Ensure your change lead has a formal membership at the project steering committee and set up regular meetings with project sponsor, project manager and change lead to assess the overall health of your project.

This piece was written by Presence of IT's Maria Papusheva and published on LinkedIn.