Seventy-two percent of the participants in Prosci’s 2016 Best Practices in Change Management Study indicated they expected a slight or significant increase in the volume of change in their organizations over the next two years. With the increasing volume of change, many organizations are approaching the point of change saturation. Change saturation occurs when the number of changes being implemented exceeds the capacity of the individuals in an organization to effectively adopt and use those changes. Seventy-eight percent of the participants in the 2015 study reported that their organizations are near, at, or past the point of change saturation, up from 77% in 2013, 73% in 2011, 66% in 2009 and 59% in 2007.
Senior leaders, who sponsor many of the change initiatives in their organizations, often assume that they can’t influence change saturation because they don’t control the pace of change – it is dictated by the external environment. “Employees will just have to learn to cope with the increasing amount of change” is a response I’ve often received when questioning a senior leader about change saturation. My belief is that senior leaders can reduce or mitigate the negative impacts of change saturation and I offer the following six recommendations for action.
1. Develop and maintain an inventory of all the “significant” change projects currently underway or planned in your organization.
- Use the inventory to distinguish non-discretionary from discretionary change initiatives.
- Non-discretionary – typically a response to changes in your external operating environment, such as a direct competitive threat, a mandated requirement from a regulatory agency, etc.
- Discretionary – typically initiated internally and could include development of new products and services, introduction of new technology, continuous improvement initiatives, etc.
2. Be deliberate about managing the amount of change your organization is implementing.
- Assess the relative contribution of every proposed discretionary change to the achievement of your business strategy and use the assessment results to:
- Eliminate non-aligned and “pet projects”.
- Postpone or eliminate discretionary projects that you can’t effectively support.
- Prioritize the remaining initiatives to develop a portfolio of projects.
- Confirm that every member of your senior leadership team is fully committed to ensuring the successful implementation of the initiatives in the change portfolio.
- Be realistic about your organization’s current capacity for change. Always retain some capacity for unplanned, non-discretionary initiatives.
3. Use a structured approach for every high priority/high risk change initiative.
- The structured approach should include a people risk assessment to determine the amount of change management resources and effort required to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved.
- Provide dedicated change management resources and funding. Don’t expect people to do change management “off the side of their desks”.
4. Be a great sponsor of change in your organization.
- Prosci’s research clearly shows that active and visible executive sponsorship is the most important contributor to the success of change initiatives. Success builds confidence and can help increase organizational change capacity. Role model the A,B,C’s of sponsorship yourself and expect your direct reports to do the same:
- Active and visible participation
- Build a coalition of sponsorship
- Communicate directly with employees
5. Ensure that the project benefits are measured, achieved and sustained over time.
- Define the finish line for each initiative based on when the desired benefits will be achieved and sustained, not based on the project implementation date.
- Insist that the integrated project/change management plan for each initiative include a reinforcement phase to ensure the project benefits are achieved and to provide an effective handoff from the project team to the operating side of the organization.
- Structure the performance contracts of executive team members to reward benefit realization and sustainment of each change initiative in the portfolio, rather than rewarding the initiation of changes.
6. Be constantly alert to signs of change saturation (at an individual, project and organizational level).
- Meet regularly with managers of impacted employees. Ask questions, based on Prosci’s ADKAR model (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement) to assess their ability to effectively lead their teams through the changes.
- Make a habit of engaging with employees who are directly impacted by current changes. Use the ADKAR model to assess how well they are adopting and using the changes.
- Look for evidence that sponsors and project managers from different initiatives are collaborating to address concurrent impacts on stakeholders, schedule conflicts and other related issues.
- Monitor customer satisfaction data for any indications of negative impacts from current changes. Anticipate and address potential negative impacts from future changes.
- Review organizational health indicators (engagement scores, absenteeism rates, retention rates, etc.) for negative impacts that may be caused by change saturation.