Organizations across multiple industries are anticipating change as being a significant part of their near and long term futures. According to the most recent benchmarking report, Best Practices in Change Management by Prosci, 72% of respondents expect change to increase over the next two years. The resulting reality for most employees is change saturation – according to a Strategy&/Katzenbach Center survey, nearly 65% of respondents report that change fatigue is a problem.
Despite being considered best practice, it is also common for projects to lack a dedicated change management resource within their teams. The same survey highlighted that nearly half of all change initiatives fail due to lack of skilled resources to sustain the change over time. It therefore has become increasingly important for project managers themselves to be proficient in change management approaches. So how does a project manager rise above the noise and achieve the benefits set out by the project?
Before a project manager can address the challenges brought on by change saturation, they must first understand what it looks like. A saturated employee may experience increased anxiety, be disengaged or apathetic towards the project, unable to prioritize tasks or align with the new way of working. The downstream impact of these symptoms is ultimately seen in the project’s decreased value proposition.
As a project’s benefits are directly tied to user adoption, a disengaged, saturated stakeholder group can single-handedly cause cost overruns via retraining or schedule delays due to retroactive engagement activities. These delays often lead to a longer time to benefits realization, which translates to missed value capture.
Once identified as operating within a change adverse environment, Project managers must evaluate, and more importantly, prioritize which activities from their chosen methodology will add the most value.
For example, Pcubed project managers often leverage the 8E Model, Pcubed’s Change Management Approach. While there are eight ‘E’s in the model, from Envisioning through to Embedding, saturated stakeholders may not have capacity for adopting all of them at once. We always recommend to adapt the approach to the needs and capability of the organization. In the case of change fatigue, we suggest focusing on a few prioritized activities that will provide the most value, three of which we have highlighted below.
1. Communications Approach
As most projects depend on some form of stakeholder adoption, success depends on teams embedding the solution to enable the change. A plan to engage stakeholders can often be the difference between a project’s success and failure.
To address communication within change management, one should note that an organization’s ‘standard’ communication practices may not be sufficient. Communications that do not stand apart from everyday noise will not accomplish their objectives. Instead, creative and innovative communication strategies should be leveraged, as these can make a big difference in stakeholder engagement.
Project managers should first work to understand what the preferred media of communication are in their organization. With those stakeholder preferences in mind, project managers can then leverage additional mediums to help push their message. The most creative thinkers will strive to link new media and communications strategies to their organization’s standard communication tools. The goal of every communication program is to get the message out, but in change saturated environments, it is even more difficult to reach those stakeholders who are hoping the newest change will just go away.
2. Leadership Engagement
In every change management benchmarking study conducted by Prosci, executive sponsorship was the key to success yet also the reason for failure in critical projects. Project managers today understand that they need Executive Sponsorship. However, to put it bluntly, we often go to ask for help but are not clear on the exact help required. Project Managers must work with their executive sponsors to clearly outline the sponsor’s responsibilities and agree on the level of involvement that will be necessary to facilitate effective adoption.
3. Identifying Priorities
Finally, no communication or sponsorship plan can fix poor prioritization. Executive leaders push for projects that address the shifts, regulations, and pressures that face their organizations as “priorities”, but as the saying goes, “If everything is a priority, then nothing is.” Executive leaders must work with project managers to align their change portfolio to ensure that value can be achieved early and often. Sometimes it is better to get a quick win on a project that adds less value in order to create momentum for the following, more difficult projects, which without proper engagement would cause considerable disruption and resistance.
Clear priorities allow stakeholders to focus their attention on what support project managers’ need, in the order that aids maximizing momentum. This can lead to smoother implementations and a faster rate of adoption.
By focusing on the activities that add the most value early on, being specific on what help is required, and being creative and innovative in performing change oriented tasks, project managers can set their projects apart from the “noise” of their ever-changing environment.
While this may seem a daunting challenge, Pcubed uses proven change management methodologies to provide project managers with the necessary tools to successfully accomplish this task. One of the key tools Pcubed uses is our Change Readiness Assessment, either deployed at the onset or later in the project, to objectively predict how an organization's people will adapt to strategic change, pinpointing crucial early indicators which could ultimately mean the difference between success and failure.
JD Jacob is a Change Management Consultant with Pcubed. He started his career in change management at Prosci, and now brings his passion for change management to the work of program and project management.