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The influencing factors of change programmes: how to get it right first time

Neil Harrison

Given the world is increasingly subject to change and uncertainty, the case for focusing on the right activities from the very start of your transformation programme is compelling. In last week’s post we looked at getting the basics right, which experience tells us includes:   

 ✅ effective change leadership and senior sponsorship

 ✅ a business case and governance with focus on outcomes and benefits 

 ✅ the right organisational design 

 ✅ human-centred change planning 

 ✅ behaviours and culture that match strategic ambitions

In this week’s blog post we’re lifting the lid on some of the common causes of programmes under delivering, in our experience, and why the points above are therefore important to get right from the start.

Insufficient Board support for the change

Without a clear understanding of how the Business Case aligns to the strategic aims of the organisation, not only at the start but throughout the delivery, it is very difficult for the Board to understand and get behind the programme.

Business Cases are important for getting the Board fully behind the change they need to lead and sponsor, not only its strategic value but how it will support their own key performance indicators.

Business Cases should be ‘living documents’. At their most basic level they provide the Board with the case for whether the investment is worth the benefits it will bring – cost vs benefit.  Of course, it’s more nuanced than that. The Board should ask “is the investment still worth it?” throughout the life cycle of a programme. This is especially true now, given external changes across the political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal landscape.

There’s a risk that once funding for a programme is secured, the Business Case becomes shelf-ware.  Having the Business Case clearly aligned to strategic goals, and then reviewing the cost / benefit of the programme regularly, ensures conscious board decisions are made about the programme’s viability and scope.

The Board also need to be clear on their role in the programme, and who they are holding to account for what.

Leadership of the change is poor

Active and visible leadership and sponsorship of the change is essential for success.  There are two key questions that need asking:

1.     Do leaders and sponsors have the capability to lead the change?

2.     Do they have the capacity to lead it?

This can sometimes be overlooked in the decision-making on a programme’s viability. 

It is easy to ignore the demands of business-as-usual (BAU) on change leaders and sponsors, so their time in support of the programme needs to be built in to programme plans – what will they drop to accommodate their role in leading the change?

It is also easy to assume that they have the necessary skills to lead change, and whilst leadership skills and change skills are closely aligned, there are change ‘tools’ that need to be assessed ahead of delivery. For example, storytelling is a powerful component of the role of a change leader, how effective is the storytelling ability of the sponsors?

There’s unrealistic expectations of the organisation’s capacity and capability to change

Going beyond the leaders and sponsors of the change, the same capability and capacity questions can be asked for all of those affected by the change.  Do middle-managers and the people directly affected have the capacity alongside their BAU demands? Do the people on the Change Network, Change Agents and Super Users have the time and skills required to provide the local support and engagement needed?

How coherent is the change of one programme alongside all the other change initiatives taking place? 

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Insufficient focus on benefits

We touched on this earlier, but Business Cases should be very clear on the benefits being sought, and the benefits should be measurable with an indication of the ‘how, who and when’. The monitoring should continue post go-live too, it’s not uncommon for benefits to be realised months later.

Clear owners of benefits should be identified, and governance should be in place to ensure benefits are realised, or if they need changing, informed decisions made based on data. 

Is there sufficient data to make decisions? Is there confidence in the baseline data (an understanding of the current state)? Is there confidence that the target is achievable based on past performance and learned examples?

If you’re not measuring and tracking benefits, how do you know if you’ve achieved the return on investment?

The change plan, communications plan and delivery are poor

Alignment with key business teams upfront is important, relationships need to be built with corporate communications teams and HR to align messages and obtain reach. Change and comms planning needs to be a collaborative activity, not only with the programme team but also with credible influencers and subject matter experts in the business units.

Early and regular engagement is important, do those affected by the change feel a part of it and able to influence how it is implemented?

Are the most appropriate comms channels and technologies being used for the engagement?

Are seniors playing their part, not just in broadcast comms but in listening to the concerns of those most affected?

It’s the people who achieve the benefits of a programme, so the governance of the people-change needs to feature, in equal measure, alongside the risks and issues arising from preparation of the system.

The culture is not right for the change needed

If the change is transformational, then understanding whether the organisational culture is compatible with the transformation you’re seeking is important. The company culture should be assessed, and plans put in place to ensure the right behaviours are understood, recognised, and rewarded. There should be clear alignment with the organisation’s strategic aims and its values too, ensuring a clear case for why the culture needs to change and examples of the behaviours expected.

Utilising a recognised cultural assessment framework opens the possibility for authentic cultural change which can then be managed as a continuous process rather than through big shifts which are often in response to a crisis.

An early focus on addressing these issues will improve adoption of the change and reduce the cost inherent with delays.

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