Making it stick - Change Leaders and ETL

Following various conversations with client organisations and influencers including senior managers at NHSE/I a recurring issue has emerged – that of how to make the change permanent. According to Forbes, 70% of change programmes fail. *

Healthcare planning team master planning and modelling

Many organisations are reporting that as they undertake transformations, be they change to processes, systems or work practices in relation to built assets there are most often problems with the changes becoming embedded in the organisation or actually taking place as planned at all. This is a waste of resources and the opportunity for improvement.

ETL Project Management Consultant

Why doesn’t change always stick?

The need for change is usually identified by the organisation itself or by an outside agency which has a role to curate change in order to re-set the overall system, look for efficiencies or adapt to changes in the environment or legislation. When the Harvard Business Review, in conjunction with Strativity, conducted a landmark study on change participants were asked to create a list of reasons for failure, ‘insufficient budget’ was cited by 23% and ‘insufficient time’ by only 17%.

Instead, participants ranked poor communication (62%), insufficient leadership and support (54%), organisational politics (50%), lack of understanding of the purpose of the change (50%), lack of user buy-in (42%) and lack of collaboration (40%) as the most critical issues. These are all human problems.

Kelsey in a meeting

Every change is a ‘people change’

Often consultants will be appointed to develop a change plan in detail outlining what the change is, for example, a new process for the treasury department or a new IT system, even plans for a new building. What many clients feel is that once the consultant's plan (report) is delivered, the employer is left to their own devices to implement the change.

Many organisations have little experience in transformational change. Responsibility for its implementation might be given to a senior manager who has never undertaken this kind of work before. Even if external project managers are appointed to assist, it is usually the organisation itself that must drive the change and plan for it become embedded in the future.

The single biggest mistake made by many organisations encountering the implementation of a process, system or asset transformation is that the impact on the people involved with or impacted by the change is not fully considered at the beginning of the transformation process.

Transformations are often perceived to be solely about the new system or process change being put in place, or an asset creation as a building project when in fact every change is about people change. This lack of engagement leads to:

  • Those people leading the change being unsupported by those impacted by it
  • Slow take-up of the new system and a ‘problem finding’ mentality developing
  • This negative mentality can often lead to resistance to permanent change and if there is sufficient ‘groundswell’ the change can become diluted, compromised and it doesn’t take root.

How to make change ‘stick’

Once a transformation or change project is identified its successful implementation must be carefully curated by:

Identifying the right change leader

Often an organisation facing change looks to a manager – often an underutilised one - and makes them the fulcrum for all change activity. Sometimes the change leader has ‘the day job’ to contend with in addition to the new role of a change leader.

For a change leader to be successful they must be freed up from all other demands on their time to allow focus on the transformation. The change leader must be given delegated authority for making decisions within defined limits and easy/ regular access to the organisation’s most senior leadership to get significant approvals agreed speedily.

The change leader must be a great communicator and coordinator and must be a people-orientated individual. Successful change leaders have had previous experience of organisational change all be it that this might have been in a support role. Change leaders should exude positivity and be innate problem solvers. ETL can assist with the evaluation and selection of a change leader and can support the successful candidate with change training, focusing on the development of essential change leadership skills.

Support the change leader

Successful transformations occur when the change leader feels the support of the organisation’s leadership and those staff who will be impacted by the change.

To do this the organisation should establish a stakeholder change project board that has full authority for project delivery. This team comprises senior leadership, senior user representatives and the change leader.

This group should establish what objectives it has for the change and these objectives should be regularly revisited along with programme and budget constraints to ensure that the project can deliver the impact/outcomes that the organisation desires.

ETL facilitates an initial client engagement that over ½ a day, using a structured methodology that establishes the organisational objectives that will create the desired impact of the change. These are the measures by which the change will be judged successful.

Communicate progress to the stakeholders and those impacted regularly

To make the change stick it is essential to take the people with you’, encouraging those who will be impacted to participate in it at every stage. Allow regular face to face communication sessions and progress presentations. Ideally, ask for ideas to improve the change process and incorporate these into the transformation. Often, we find that by canvassing positive ideas and importing them into the change programme, the transformation has broader ownership and consensus. This is the cornerstone of making the change permanent.

It is also essential to identify some early ‘wins’, meaningful objectives that can be achieved early in the transformation process and can be a signpost to progress. Celebrate these wins with the stakeholders and those being impacted by the change process!

Training for the post-change world can’t start too early

So far, we have selected the right change leader and have supported them with change tools to equip them for success. We have ensured an agile and engaged stakeholder by creating a change project board that has established the measures for a successful change. We have engaged with those who are impacted by the transformation and sought their ideas through regular communication. Ideas for improving the change have been incorporated into the transformation plan.

Most change programmes lose traction because the people who impacted by it are not supported by training.

It is puzzling to see companies spending £50 million on a new technology platform but often almost nothing on employee engagement. Employees are treated as passive followers who will do whatever they are told to do.

But employee engagement must be high quality, the difference in engagement between simply taking part in a process “because you’ve been told to” versus “because you believe in it” is the difference between failure and making it stick.

Training programmes should be participatory and increasing in focus as the change project moves to its conclusion.

Training shouldn’t simply be technical focusing on the new process or project but must also incorporate modules related to softer human-centric topics such as dealing with change, team working and dynamics, and communication.

Celebrate the change

Once the change is ‘live’, and the new process is running and the new building opened, many organisations simply move on with the day to day activities post-change. However, to make change permanent it is essential for the organisation to celebrate the change and those involved with it. This public recognition provides corporate support of the change and endorsement of its success. Have a launch celebration, make awards for participation, have the CEO applaud those involved in the process. This may seem trivial, but it underscores the permanence of the change.

Finally – the after-action review

No matter how successful the change process has been, it's vital that once complete a detailed review of the change process is carried out – what went well – and what could have been done better? How did the change team perform against budget and programme constraints? What unforeseen issues occurred, why and how were they resolved? This open review is most effective when an independent 3rd party conducts it because people typically feel able to be more open when discussions are moderated by an outsider.

The lessons learned will provide additional focus for the next change programme.

ETL and its sister organisation GSTT- Consulting have been involved with over 40 change programmes over the last 7 years and have developed support processes to ensure successful change outcomes that make the change permanent. We do this by offering:

  • Change leader assessments
  • Change leader support
  • Change agents (secondees to manage change alongside or on behalf of an organisation)
  • Change management services
  • Workshop solutions
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Employee engagement
  • Change Learning and development programmes
  • After action reviews
  • Change Programme management services.

*Why do change programmes fail? Sally Percy. Forbes March 13, 2019