Why your change programme needs change management… by Sophie Rena

Seems kind of obvious right? I was having a drink with an old friend who is a project manager and I mentioned change management. You know what that is, I assumed without even asking. He looked at me blankly. The next day I was listening to a podcast with some highly experienced change managers who were lamenting the number of times they had been asked to deliver consultancy on a change programme, initially on the basis that the client thought they were going to do ‘training or something’. When I’m hired to deliver communications on a change programme it surprises me how often those hiring are not familiar with change management or change communications – the very thing they are asking me to deliver.

So why is change management so little known? It is, after all, ‘the people side of change’ and surely people are at the heart of change, yes, even IT ones. It’s not new: Prosci, Kotter and a few enlightened leaders have been talking about change management for the last twenty years. What surprises me is how little understood it still is among those responsible for delivering change. Stop there and note the operative word: delivery. So much focus is placed on delivery in any change programme because, when it comes down to it, that is what the ‘deliverers’ are going to be measured on. It's also a lot easier to measure ‘bums on seats’ than it is, say, outcomes such as ‘empowerment’ or ‘accountability’. And, as my friend pointed out, ‘If it’s IT then they have no choice but to adopt it right?’ Well, yes and no. There might be a shiny new IT system in place but if your people ain’t buying into it then your organisation is going to know about it.

So it’s hardly surprising then that the oft touted statistic that ‘70% of organisational change initiatives fail’ is wheeled out so often (it’s a figure attributed to Kotter and Harvard Business Review among others). But what can be done about it?  Well, quite a lot. Change management is a big subject that anyone with any responsibility for change should get to grips with.  As an introduction here is a top-of-head list of some of the things that someone with experience of change management and change communications (which, as it says on the tin, focuses on the communication bit of change management) can help deliver.

Change managers and communicators will help you…

1.     Understand if your organisation is ready for change: Does it have clearly articulated goals and objectives? Is there leadership support for the project? Is there a desire to measure the outcomes? If not, what can you do to help mitigate? A Readiness Assessment is useful.

2.     Analyse your stakeholders: Who are they? What are their roles and responsibilities? What do you need them to do to support your change? Stakeholder analysis and engagement is critical to your change because it recognises that people - both the doers and receivers - are at the heart of change.

3.     Assess how the change will affect your people: What will the impact of the change be on employees? Will they have do things differently? Will that be hard for them? How can you make it easier? Is there a culture within the organisation that encourages change? Change management provides many tools to help you understand your people and their willingness and ability to change, as well as the impact that change will have on them.

4.     Communicate with and engage your people: Different groups of stakeholders will have different information and communication needs about the change. Even more importantly they will need engaging in lots of different ways especially if you are going to ask them to do something differently. That means not just providing the right kind of information at the right time, but bringing in the right people within the organisation to support the change process and providing opportunities for employees to talk, as well as listening and taking on board their concerns.

5.     Understand that it’s ok if there is a change ‘dip’: The ‘change curve’ is similar to the process people go through when they grieve. That means when it comes to change your employees will usually deny the change is happening, get angry about it, down tools, before they slowly come round to the idea. Also - different strokes for different folks - some people adopt new ideas and innovation really quickly (you only have to see the queues outside the Apple stores when a new iphone is released to see that), others won’t budge. Full stop. The trick is for an organisation not to panic: just keep communicating.

Done well change management and communications is not just about making people aware of your change (this is just the first step) but takes them on a journey with the change so that they really understand it, accept it, and are committed to adopting it. Change is hard. Most people don’t like it...at first. But with the right tools and knowledge, as well as lashings of great communication, you can make your change part of the 30% club.


Sophie Rena is a change and engagement consultant who has worked at Accenture, EY, Lloyds Banking Group and Imperial, among others. A former newspaper journalist she sees her career as a slow evolution and awakening: taking in internal communications and employee engagement but seeing the methodology and rigour of change management as the only way to bring about real change. She now spends much of her time banging the drum about the importance of putting people front and centre of any business transformation. She likes getting on her soapbox occasionally.