If you are the change lead for a project, it’s critical that you believe in the change yourself. What should you do if the change you are leading is not the best change for the organization? The prerequisites for the successful implementation of a change are:
- The change has been agreed to and is actively supported by the leaders of the organization who are accountable for its successful implementation.
- The change is well defined (e.g. it supports the achievement of the organization’s strategy, the desired outcomes are clear, etc.).
- The change is technically feasible.
If these prerequisites are not met, proceeding with the design and implementation of the change is not a good business decision.
A number of years ago, we were asked to develop a change management strategy and plans for implementing a work management system in a large, complex organization. Shortly after we started working on the project, it became apparent to us that the leaders of the impacted operational groups were not in agreement as to the desired outcomes from implementing the work management system. The lack of agreement amongst these key stakeholders filtered down the organization and in turn created significant challenges for the project team in terms of how to proceed.
We recognized that developing a change management strategy and associated plans, in the face of this lack of agreement, was not the right thing to do. We interviewed the project sponsor, the leaders of the impacted groups and other key stakeholders to understand the similarities and differences of their perspectives. We asked four questions.
- What is the project?
- Why are you changing?
- What are you changing?
- Who will be changing?
We learned that:
- There was a common recognition that the existing system required replacement, i.e. the need for change was valid.
- The selected technology had been successfully implemented in other organizations of similar size and complexity.
- There were very different understandings of the business benefits that the organization would achieve by implementing the new system.
- There were also conflicting understandings of what would be changing.
We summarized the interview responses into common themes and reviewed the information with the project sponsor. She recognized that the lack of agreement regarding business benefits and what would be changing could jeopardize the success of the project. We recommended that she convene a workshop with the key stakeholders to share the differences of opinion, understand why the differences existed, resolve the differences and present a unified front to the organization. We facilitated the workshop and a number of follow-up meetings, which enabled the key stakeholders to reach agreement on the desired outcomes and what would be changing. Achieving this agreement enabled the project to move forward and achieve the desired business benefits.
What Can You Do?
It can take significant courage to recommend to your sponsor pausing a project to re-confirm the need for and validity of a change. Making such a recommendation should be based on the presence of one or more of the following indicators:
- The senior leaders who are driving the change are communicating conflicting messages regarding the purpose of the change.
- You are hearing objections to the change that are supported by valid arguments from a business, technical or other perspective. (e.g. “it will never work here” is not a valid objection unless supported by additional information that explains the statement)
- The individuals who are speaking out and believe that the change is not the best for the organization are viewed as credible by their peers and are otherwise receptive to change.
If your initial assessment reveals the presence of one or more of these indicators, take the time to gather additional information, share it with your sponsor and recommend how to move forward. Exercising this due diligence will help ensure that the change you’ve been asked to lead is the best change for your organization.