A Review

Those of you who have read the article “Keys to Implementing Change” or who have read the series of newsletters from 2010-2011 may recall that the last key I talked about was Management Support for Change.  I talked about the importance of management establishing a steering committee or other structured approach to regularly checking in on support of the change implementation plan and making the decisions/commitments of resource needed to support the implementation team.

It turns out that this piece is rather challenging.  Having gotten them to let go of the problem that prompted the need for change to begin with and to put the problem in the hands of a design team composed of front-line workers dealing with the problem each day (key #4 – Those Doing the Work Should Re-Define the Work), we now ask top management to be fully supportive of that first-line team.  Not sure if it is out of sight out of mind or that direct interaction with the front-line by top management goes contrary to structure and culture or just what, but we have found this “hands-off” then “hands-on” duality difficult to achieve in many cases.

The #1 Lesson Thus Far

As talked about frequently in these newsletters, managing change is difficult.  Based on national research, the odds are 1 in 3 that you will succeed.  Our experience has been that if you follow all of the principles we have laid out, you will make it.  We have had some that have not and in almost all the cases, the #1 problem has been that management has not sufficiently supported the implementation effort.

change_signWe recommend that if the organization is undertaking several change projects at once, that a Steering Committee of members of top management and possibly some technical experts from in-house be created.  The group would meet once every two weeks to 1) hear an update on the status of the implementation plan, 2) consider requests for resources/decisions needed as part of implementation, 3) assist in resolving unforeseen problems as they arise and 4) encourage and support the teams’ efforts.

As it turns out, those organizations that implement this recommendation are successful and those that don’t are not.  There are some other factors contributing to the fate of some projects, but this one factor has been a consistent pre-requisite of success. It would appear to be a solid “make or break” factor.

A Prescription

There are three steps the implementation team can take to assure a fix for this disconnect that is derailing successful change management efforts:

  1. Be certain that top management has complete buy-in to the design for the change. In presenting the change to leadership, the project team(s) should be certain to take sufficient time to walk them through a) findings on the sources of poor performance from current process, b) the performance of the current process in terms of cost, quality and other relevant measures, c) the breakthrough strategies included in the new process, d) the new process design itself and e) predicted performance (and therefore value to the organization) of the new process.  Think of this as a sales presentation and be certain you have made the sale.  Why?  Because there will be opposition to the change, there will be a period of confusion when you are transitioning from the old to new process, and management will need to provide investment, resources and patience to fully implement the new process.
  2. Do not proceed unless there is a commitment management to have the new process implementation team present progress and data regularly (recommend every two weeks) to the management team or a committee of that team.  In addition, consider having management designate a coordinator from top management who makes certain that the decisions, resources and support are delivered when needed and to stay in communication with the implementation team project leader.
  3. Deliver what we call “early releases” or small changes that demonstrate improvements in the near term.  This will give the implementation team momentum and morale and give management confidence that they are getting a return on their investment of time and resources.

For management, I would offer that you consider adopting a view of the change project as one in which Your Hands are Off but Your Hearts are In.  That is, truly delegate and empower the implementation team, but understand that their work will be very challenging because of the resistance to change that is inherent in all of us.  It is likely they will become dispirited when it doesn’t go as well as expected.  They will need your active support and encouragement to stay the course and get to the finish line.

Lastly, if you are employing an outside consultant to guide you through process improvement or whatever change you are contemplating, consider the potential ROI of having that consultant facilitate both the implementation team meetings and the interactions with the steering committee or management.  Probably our most successful process change project here at PGS was guiding the State of Alaska through design and implementation of the shift from “Welfare” to “Welfare to Work”.  All of the troubles detailed above were avoided.  As an outside consultant, we were able to advocate for what we needed to implement whereas a front-line implementation team sometimes is challenged in confronting management with those needs.  For this project, the savings to the State were over $1 million in year one, so that investment paid well.

What to do?

If you would like to discuss your experience with managing change or find out how we can help, drop us an e-mail.  We also offer an assessment of Change - Blue Buttonyour readiness for a successful change initiative.  Click the button to begin
– Bill