Change Management

Business Projects and initiatives are often titled something like “Upgrade The Financial Reporting Process” or “Implement A New ERP system” or “Improve Inventory Control.” These titles describe what a project or initiative is intended to achieve. However, what is often missing in significant projects is the recognition that the biggest risk and time-consuming activity is dealing with the people (and other companies) that will be affected by the project.

Most people enjoy change. But they enjoy it when they initiate it themselves.  Or when they believe the change will clearly benefit them. Then they can get onboard with a change very quickly.

The opposite happens when someone else initiates an upgrade or new process.  Or when someone doesn’t clearly see how he or she will benefit from a new system, a new process, or a new operating structure. When that happens, human nature kicks in and we resist such projects. Quite simply, it is much more difficult for people to get onboard with changes initiated by others.

Change Management problems arise in small companies just as often as they arise in big companies. The difference is that in big companies and governments, major changes typically take longer to implement than in small companies. But small companies can be killed by projects that aren’t managed well, even if they go quickly. In fact small companies can suffer setbacks precisely because changes occur quickly and the rest of the organization is not adequately prepared to deal with them.  Organizational politics, ambitions, and skill limitations in any enterprise can negatively affect any project. I have personally seen this happen in start-up companies, $20Million companies, and $Billion corporations.

Machiavelli once wrote “It must be realized that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more uncertain of success, or more dangerous to manage than the establishment of a new order of (things); for he who introduces it makes enemies of all those who derived advantage from the old order and finds but lukewarm defenders among those who stand to gain from the new one.”  This is as true today as when Machiavelli wrote it around 500 years ago.

Significant projects and initiatives are like that. People affected by project(s) will often resist or at the very least will not readily help.  Existing company cultures resist new system(s) and process(es) far more than most executives fully appreciate. And while cultural issues might not derail a project while it is running, they can cause problems after the project is considered complete. This happens when people fail to use the new system or process as intended, or when certain people devise their own way(s) of using the system after it is implemented, and their new way causes unforeseen problems for others.

Effective Change Management requires considering the end-state of the desired project or initiative.  This means thinking beyond the initial implementation of the project or process, and determining how to prepare the necessary people to accept the change or system and to fully adopt it.  Often this requires communications, training, testing, operating metrics and measures, compensation or bonus changes, personnel changes, etc.  It also requires managing and over-communicating to achieve the desired result. Effective Change Management also requires having a senior level sponsor within the company who will back the required actions to assure that the business benefits from the project.

In IT environments, “Change Management” is often equated to the process of tracking and managing hardware and software updates and system additions over time.  While this is not easy to do well, it is typically not the most difficult type of Change Management to master.

The far more complex and challenging definition of Change Management relates to the people that must change their behaviors, actions, and tasks as a result of a business initiative or project. It takes solid skills and experience to effectively address this type of Change Management and to see that key projects achieve their strategic and tactical  goals to drive business success.

We understand Change Management and cultural issues very well. We are highly experienced at leading them. If you are experiencing a challenge with your project(s) in this area, or if you want proven recommendations and approaches to address organizational Change Management, please give us a call.

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