One of the things most IT system implementations have in common is that they involve a change in the way people go about their day‑to‑day tasks. If you’ve had experience overseeing or managing IT deployment projects you know that even the best intended and well‑resourced projects can splutter, stall and eventually collapse without a sound change management strategy in place.
Research has been conducted in the field of change management to discover what’s needed to ensure that projects involving the people side of change achieve their objectives. With business technology deployments failing in more than 60% of cases, it’s worth taking a look at what this research tells us.
The 2014 Best Practices in Change Management report by change management firm Prosci, draws on studies conducted over many years to pinpoint the best strategies for leading and managing successful change. Year after year Prosci’s research reveals the number one contributor to the success of a project is active and visible executive sponsorship by the project / change sponsor.
What is a change sponsor? Whether at an executive or managerial level, the change sponsor is someone who is invested in the change, and charged with the authority to implement it. If you’re in the role of change sponsor, you may be responsible for securing the necessary resources to bring about the change, building a coalition of change supporters and educating those impacted by the project on how the change will affect them and why it’s important.
Active and visible sponsorship refers to the change sponsor being proactively involved in the change process from initiation through to completion, all the while demonstrating to stakeholders their ongoing commitment to the change process. The report draws on four key elements to this:
1. Supporting the change with consistent attention
Enthusiasm and focus typically run high during the initial stage of a project. What is often overlooked is the importance of maintaining momentum and focus. If you’re the change sponsor it can be easy to fall into the trap of playing a more reactive, rather than a proactive, role in the project, getting bogged down in ad hoc problem solving and struggling to do what’s required to stay on track. Here it’s important to stay focussed on the overall business objectives and to maintain ongoing engagement with everyone involved with the change process, and provide the right level of support to both project teams and key stakeholders.
- Ask yourself, does this action/ decision support the business objectives of the project?
- Identify all those impacted by the project.
- Schedule adequate time for this project and for regular updates to stakeholders.
- Have you got the right support and training in place for all stakeholders?
2. Championing the change
If as the sponsor you’re not enthusiastic about the change to come, in all likelihood your change stakeholders (specifically those impacted by the change) won’t be either. It is important for you as the change sponsor to be the evangelist, championing the change and engaging energetically with stakeholders so that they are motivated to embrace, rather than resist, the new way of doing things. The project exists to deliver on sound business benefits, so those benefits need to be promoted into a WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) for the stakeholders to be converted. If you as change sponsor genuinely believe in the merits of the change, this will be noticed by others. By taking the lead, others will follow.
- Keep in mind the benefits and objectives of the project even when you’re busy with details.
- Are you communicating clearly the specific benefits of the project to those who will use this system?
- Are you addressing concerns of all stakeholder groups?
3. Making effective and influential decisions
To ensure a successful project, you will need to engage with a variety of stakeholders and address their concerns, interests and priorities. From executive leaders through to front‑line managers and their teams, a range of people will be impacted by your decisions. If you engage with stakeholders thoroughly and frequently and build a solid case for each of your change‑related decisions, you’ll be well‑placed to maintain the required momentum through each phase of the change project, and make decisions that align with impacted areas of your organisation.
- Consult stakeholders about their needs and check in regularly with them.
- Communicate major project decisions and communicate why/ the benefits to stakeholders and relate to the specific issues they have raised with you.
4. Maintaining direct communication
Communicating openly and honestly to team members and other stakeholders about why the change is necessary and what it means for both the individual and the organisation will go a long way to delivering a successful project. The better you can answer the ‘what’s in it for me’ question, the easier your task will be. Be sure to always be in regular communications with stakeholders so that you can answer their questions, address their concerns and lead them in the right direction. If stakeholders feel that they have a receptive change sponsor the more they will feel they are a part of the change process, which will help with user adoption long after the project is complete.
- Don’t just broadcast your communication, engage. Have conversations, even in the kitchen. Keep it authentic. These people know their job and have useful insights to share.
- Have the project and updates on your company intranet or Yammer. This makes it easy for your people to stay up to date.
This type of open communication will also help you identify and overcome roadblocks sooner rather than later, while also providing you with the information you need to work out what new resources may be required for you and others to get on with the project.
The need for project sponsors to lead from the front, to take the initiative and to communicate with stakeholders openly, persuasively and often is critical to the success of a change management project. The bottom line: Be active and be visible. With the right level of personal commitment, supported by sound change management strategies, you will have every reason to expect that your next change project will deliver on its promises.
So, are you being active and visible?