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5 tips when preparing for change

5 February, 2017

When preparing for change; use these five tips to make change happen and stick!

The business environment is changing, and organizations need to adapt to these changes if they want to thrive and grow. The ones who don’t, won’t stick around. Driving forces behind the changes are the digitalization and IoT, now followed by Virtual Reality and AI, but also increasing demands from customers, price pressure, tougher competition and difficulties to recruit and keep the best and brightest co-workers.

To successfully grow, or at least adapt to the new business environment, companies need to go through a series of change initiatives or a transformation, to set a new direction for the company including new ways of working, structures, roles and behavior etc. A change initiative or transformation usually includes three (3) main steps:

1.     Set the direction, i.e. the strategy and goals for what to achieve

2.     Design the solution for how to achieve the desired goals

3.     Implement the solution in the organization and embed new behavior and ways of working 

Setting the direction and designing a solution is “less” challenging than the implementation of the solution, since it (most often) requires people to change their perspective of the business, adjust or change ways of working or to learn new skills. This behavioral change is the most challenging part, and at the same time the most important one to successfully implement and embed the change in the organization. Studies reveal that more than 70 percent of large projects fail in relation to the plan, due to not embedding the change successfully. The result is an extended project, increased costs, and failure to reach the desired goals and effects.

To successfully prepare for the implementation phase, we have put together five key success factors to address before the implementation of the solution begins. 

1. Answer the question “what’s in it for me?”

So, you have launched your change project; appointed a change leader, done your stakeholder mapping and completed your communication plan. It’s time to engage the wider organization and it’s usually in this phase companies make a common mistake and the challenges begin.

Change projects or transformations are driven and motivated by external factors like changing market forces or a need to grow revenue or profit margins. All while your co-workers are motivated by factors affecting them as individuals. The underlying motive behind a change initiative must answer the question “what’s in it for me?”, as in “why is this change important for me” and “how will it help me in my work going forward”? Not answering theseis questions will create change resistance and lead to an incomplete implementation.

Instead, tailor your message based on the recipient’s role or function. Then formulate why the change is important to them, how they will benefit from the change and how they can contribute to reach the goals of the change initiative.

2 … and spend time to move everybody up along the change curve

The decision to initiate a change initiative is made by senior management teams and are is foregone by discussions with a group of stakeholders. The bigger the change, the more people and the longer time it usually takes to make the decision.

Once the change initiative has started, a selected group of individuals are involved in the project where direction and design are discussed. During this phase, some communication may be needed to the wider organization, but predominantly via intranet or e-mail (one-way communication).

Correcting the course

When the design is complete, it’s time to implement the solution. The wider organization is now engaged in a more hands-on way, where the solution is presented and presumably is to be accepted and applied at once. But the organization does not in full grasp the why, what and how according to the implementation plan, which means you need to enforce corrective activities to stick to the plan. This leads to change resistance and firefighting to mitigate the response from the organization.

Early involvement

What is often ignored is that the senior management team has spent a long time discussing and formulating the why, what and how, while the wider organization has had very little time to receive and understand the information. Hence, the wider organization is expected to accept, understand and act in a much shorter time span than the senior management and project team, who have been involved from day one. You will have an organization that resists change (doesn’t understand the why) or isn’t able to grasp and apply the solution (doesn’t understand the what and how). 

Instead, engage the wider organization early on, starting by answering the questions of why. Reserve time in the implementation plan for the organization to understand and take on board the solution in full. There are several appropriate tactics to achieve this in a time efficient way, like using ambassadors, change leaders or making training available on demand (e.g. online) etc.

3. Make sure there is a receiving end of the designed solution

Once the launch is done, the change project is initially focusing on direction and, later, the design of the solution. Depending on the scope of the required change, these phases may take different amounts of time. None the less, at the end of the design phase there is a need to hand over the solution to a receiving end as part of the implementation.

When designing a new process, implementing a system or developing a new offering, there is a need to appoint a responsible person. Far too often the question of who shall be responsible for the solution, is answered very late in the design phase, causing at least two problems:

•   a lack of the right skill set for the required profile in the organization, highlighting the need for recruitment

•   a gap in competence, highlighting the need to train and raise skills and know-how in relevant areas

To avoid this situation, we recommend assessing the skills and roles required at the start of the project. Once roles and skills are defined, appoint people to new roles or mobilize (train or recruit) competence to ensure that the right people are involved before the implementation starts. It’s far better to prepare recruitment of key individuals than to implement a solution where the responsible individual or key competences is missing.

4. Achieve a quick win and promote it, promote it, promote it

Once the implementation has started, there is always a risk that the energy and persistence decreases, after the initial high energy level at the beginning and during the creative phases of the project. Hence, the implementation phase requires a team with endurance, patience and resilience. Without this the time and effort of the implementation activities are going to be cut short or done with less quality and impact, which will hamper the desired effect of implementing the solution.

Using sprint approach

Avoid turning the implementation plan to a marathon race; instead divide the implementation plan into a series of “sprints”, each with clear goals and effects to achieve. A “sprint approach” will provide an opportunity to achieve “quick wins”, minor goals and effects, by the sprint. Achieving goals early on during the implementation is a great way to promote the achievement and further motivate the new direction and its benefits. Creating success stories out of quick wins is a proven way to deal with doubters and add more energy to the change journey.   

Besides promoting quick wins, there are many other benefits to this approach: 

The sprint can be applied as a pilot, providing the opportunity to test, evaluate and learn whether the solution or implementation approach is designed in a good way. You also get a controlled scope that limits risks and potential financial downside if the desired effects are not achieved. It also offers the opportunity to involve and mobilize change leaders and ambassadors to scale up the implementation in the next “phase”.

5. Make sure you celebrate the success!

When involved in long-term projects, team members tend to put their head down and move on towards that long-term goal in the far-off distance. Along the way some achievements will be made, but since it’s part of the plan, it may only be mentioned in the passing of a regular status meeting. This tends to demotivate team members and lower the energy in the team. 

Instead, make sure to celebrate your achievements, and do it in style. Use every communication channel available. Promote individuals or teams that have gone the extra mile or delivered above expectations. This will for sure provide additional energy to the project as well as the wider organization.

Promoting through gamification

Celebrating and promoting success becomes natural when applying a gamification approach. But it’s important to choose the winners and criteria carefully. What gets measured and rewarded gets done, i.e. promoting team efforts ahead of individual ones if it’s desirable to promote collaboration.

Respect the challenge of making change happen and making it stick, it’s not an easy one. Change management or transformation is not a new topic, the terms have over 446 million hits on Google. But the challenges of change management keep changing along with globalization, digitalization, new business and industry trends, as well as a new generation of employees with different drivers and values. This is forcing the approach of the implementation to be tailored and adjusted to fit the challenges of each organization and project. When doing so, take inspiration from previous experience and initiatives, and ask yourself “does this apply to us, and if so, how”? 

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