At Ten Six Consulting we provide advice and health checks for companies embarking on change initiatives. We also help companies that are struggling with implementing new things. Change initiatives fail more often than business owners would like, but you can stop that from happening to you. Here are five reasons why some change initiatives don’t work out and what you can do to prevent them.
1. Unclear vision
Change impacts everyone. Make the vision for your change really easy to understand so that everyone gets it. Creating a clear vision means getting to the heart of what you really want to achieve. Is it implementing a Project Management Office or is it improving project success rates? Is it launching an enterprise project management tools like Primavera P6 and Deltek Cobra or is it gathering better data to help manage project costs?
One way to ensure that your vision is clear is to establish how you will know when you get there. Think up some measures that you can use to assess how close you are getting to your goal. Knowing what success looks like will help the whole team work effectively towards to it.
2. Ineffective communication
If we were asked the single biggest risk factor with change initiatives, we would say communications. Some companies are very good at communicating downwards: change projects are launched with balloons and a fanfare. On the surface, at least, everyone knows the content of the latest project newsletter and how their work contributes to the overall objectives.
But communication works both ways. Upwards communication is also important, from the people affected by the change to those who are implementing it. How is it really going at the front line? Unless there are effective communication methods to gather this feedback, the executives won’t really know how the change is being perceived – and thus whether it is likely to stick.
3. Lack of cultural fit
Implementing a structure-driven, process-led PMO in a company where there is an open, networked culture is not going to work. Equally, a highly collaborative, collective project management function with little reliance on structured methodologies will struggle to be successful in a highly regulated industry. Great ideas for change are only the start of the journey. You also need to ensure that the way you implement them provides a cultural fit to the rest of the business. If it doesn’t, work to change the culture first.
4. Lack of ownership
Unfortunately, this happens all the time. The executive sponsor leading the change initiative takes another job, or loses focus, and the change ultimately fails. There must be someone at the top owning the change and driving through the activities required in order to achieve it. This person is the one who will explain to the staff at town hall meetings why this change is so important. They may hold the budget, and they will certainly be accountable for the outcome. If you lose your change leader, consider stopping the change project – at least until you can find another executive sponsor to champion the cause.
5. Declaring success too soon
Hiring a PMO manager is not success. Issuing user names and passwords for your new software is not success. Many change initiatives wither and die because complacency sets in. There is more to making change successful than just switching something on. In the early days the novelty may well be enough to carry through any benefits, but over time, unless this is sustained, people will go back to the old ways of doing things.
Don’t shut down your change project team too quickly. Make sure the change is fully transitioned to the business as usual way of doing things, and address any concerns. Ideally, take away the ability for staff to do things the old way. Change champions in each team can also help as they can watch out for lapses and mentor their colleagues.
Of course it is possible to make change stick. Our Ten Six consultants see many examples of successful change initiatives but they would all agree that it takes time for changes to be embedded in the organizational culture.
This article has picked out five of the things that we believe are important areas to consider when planning a change initiative, but projects fail for any number of reasons. The biggest piece of advice we have is to think about what you want to achieve at the end. If you know the end goal, the thing you are striving for, articulating and communicating this to other people becomes so much easier. Plan for your end state, make sure you know what it looks like when you get there, and make it possible for everyone to want to travel there with you.