In a world where the pace of change accelerates and the number of transformation programmes underway seems to increase year on year; it seems surprising that it becomes more awkward and difficult. Why is change hard?
There has been an awful lot of effort in larger organisations to address change culture but still most companies seem to find it a major challenge.
Type of change
So is it the type of change that causes an issue or the pace. Or the fact that there are fewer periods of stability the causes the most impact. Is it that deep seated fear of change itself? Or has recent experience of poor implementation influenced our opinion? Are we more biologically suited to behavioural adjustment over a period of time? But the modern world enforces an acceleration of new ways of working and new processes.
Change for its own sake is not always productive. But people do hang on to old ways of working. In project management one often comes across the phrase “but we’ve always done it that way”. So, the challenge to project managers is to enable people to see a value. A reason for change taking place. Justify why the new situation is better than the current. Alternatively engage with people to confirm the current way of working is not best and a better way can be found. Sounds simple doesn’t it; but if it’s truly that simple why are so many transformation programmes struggling.
A structured approach and the full engagement of everybody involved in a project increases success. Warning everyone up front what to expect in a change. then guiding them through and involving them as the project executes. Allowing their input at key stages allows for a more suitable outcome. But it also allows for more palatable results because there are fewer surprises.
Much of stakeholder engagement can be improved by introducing the concept of future change well before a project starts. This gives us the advantage of the project outcomes being foremost in the mind of stakeholders before their formally introduced to a project. Not only does it mean they are more comfortable with new ideas; they also have time contemplating the start of the project. This means they have more opportunity for constructive input.
Start of Project
The key point of engagement in any project is a project launch meeting. This is the opportunity for the project management team to connect with the customer the delivery team and any stakeholders beyond the immediate project. This establish is the ground rules and tempo for the whole project.
During the Project
Regular engagement with stakeholders during the project should be a natural process to project managers. But it is not just about producing a regular status report. Regardless of the project approach or methodology used, the project team should seek to involve stakeholders in outcomes. Listening to feedback and adjusting the project according to the most appropriate outcome means everyone get the best out of it.
Adjustment to change is not finished when the project ends. For the customer or recipient of project output; there is a time of normalisation post project. This is when a changed behaviour becomes a normal and regular behaviour. It is not until this becomes a matter of routine and everyone is comfortable with the new status quo that the change is finally complete. One of the difficulties in living in a time of rapid change means that teams or individuals often find it difficult to reach a steady state before encountering a new set of changes. Project managers have moved on to new project. Even change managers in some organisations are assigned to new initiatives. But any organisation that can accelerate the normalisation of recently delivered change can gain some advantage.
Why is change so hard? Its uncomfortable for most of us. But well managed delivery is far more comfortable then chaotic change. Change is necessary and cannot be avoided. Constant steady state means extinction. Organisations need to adapt to changing circumstances and the quicker their teams can accept those circumstances the better they will perform.