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4 Points for Change and Transformation Directors to Deliver a Successful Change Programme


As the first in a series of events for the change community in the NW of England, we were delighted to bring together Directors and Heads of Business Change and Transformation to discuss challenges and share potential solutions around delivering successful change programmes.

Attendees came from a variety of sectors including hospitality, retail, logistics, finance, NFP, insurance, and telecoms, which allowed for an in-depth discussion around collective experiences, and guests shared insight around what has, and hasn't, worked for them over their career. Discussion focussed on three key areas to drive an impactful change agenda: People, Embedding a Culture for Change, and Approaches.

Here are their 4 key points to delivering a successful change programme.

1. You need sponsorship.

Senior change professionals have incredibly varied responsibilities, from balancing resourcing projects, to managing the delivery team, to executing projects on time and on budget. It can be very challenging to manage this, and deliver lasting change, especially in large corporates where it often feels like senior stakeholders simply want reports and results.

That's why, in order for a transformation programme to truly succeed, it is vital to have a senior executive sponsor the programme. They must be hands-on; working to build collaboration, and willing to challenge bad behaviour through difficult conversations.

Work with a senior leader as your programme sponsor to establish expectations and set clear targets from the beginning. This will enable you to work together towards an achievable goal and means you won't constantly be playing catch up to changing demands from the board. It will also make subsequent conversations easier if things aren't going right, as you can cite those original objectives.

2. Make change, permanent.

Change is inevitable. But it's also ambiguous – and so change professionals are constantly facing an uphill battle when it comes to embedding change and making a programme stick within a business. Often senior executives either don't embrace change or don't understand it. So, how do you go about embedding real, lasting change in an organisation, long past the conclusion of a programme's end date?

a. Start at the beginning
This will sound obvious, but every successful change programme begins by ensuring the business is change-ready. If you start a programme or project too early, before the organisation is ready or agrees on desired outcomes, you're doomed before you even begin. Avoid starting a programme from the back foot, otherwise, it will always feel like a pipedream.

It may be difficult in certain environments but be regimented about starting slow and working with key stakeholders to set expectations around the project and its outcomes. This will also give senior execs time to consider what exactly 'change' means for them and the how they see it impacting the business. To do this, try changing tactics and sell the change programme as a business tool that, if utilised correctly, allows them to do things such as deliver on their strategic objectives, pay stakeholders, and keep bums on seats. Ideally, they should look at a transformation programme through its outcomes, as a tool that will make them more efficient.

This approach will also give you enough time to really get ingrained in the business. This - perhaps slow - process is difficult; it's natural to want to dive in headfirst and get stuck in as quickly as possible. However, if you're going to drive an effective change agenda, you need to know the ins and outs of how the business works and operates.

b. Make more friends
Once you have your sponsor at board-level, look to work with the HRD as early as possible. This way you can discuss, together, the opportunities available through the project, and how to best present to these to the wider business. In the end, the programme isn't yours, it's theirs, and you're just there to help them get to where they want to be.

Once you have the HRD on board, work with them to communicate the outcomes of the project to the rest of the business. Commission a few 'project champions' who are willing to be test subjects and will shout about successes. These plants are your advocates and will do the groundwork for you.

When looking for the right type of employee to enlist as these champions, consider those who are already highly engaged, willing to take projects on outside their day job, and are, in general, more knowledgeable.

Finally, once you have a strong executive sponsor, a core foundation across the business and a solid team around you, be sure to give your project managers the space they need to get things done – so they're not just completing paperwork. If everyone is aligned from day 1, it'll be much easier for you to give them the autonomy they need to really get stuck into the project and drive your programme forward.

3. Language is everything.

Big corporations are an especially challenging environment for change. Too often the focus is on spend and planning, rather than on what they want the programme to achieve. Vast charts, lengthy excels and verbose project-plans are all well and good, but how do you actually embed change, so you can do things like create efficiencies for the customer, make operational processes better, and improve the business overall?

a. Cut out Zelda
Language is everything. And one seemingly simple solution is to rename your projects. It's all well and fun to have a 'Project Zelda,' but these secret code names are actively working against the project.

Create a psychological shift in the business by naming the projects based on what they're setting out to achieve. And make these as clear as possible, e.g. Project Zelda becomes the 'Improving the CRM Platform to Increase Efficiency' project. It might be less flashy, but it can have a lasting, positive impact on how the project is perceived around the business, subsequently getting more buy-in from employees.

b. Make up job titles
Language is also important when you consider your job titles; re-name these to align with the specific project or programme (as above). Rather than employing numerous 'project managers,' try identifying them by a specific project, for example, 'Lead for Efficiency Project'. And, when that project ends, so does the job; in which case you either re-work their job title or hire someone else with the right skills to lead the next project.

In a similar vein, when you hire, don't just hire a project manager with experience in a particular industry or company, instead, you should be hiring PMs with the right skill-set to help you achieve the outcomes of your project or programme. Work with a recruitment specialist rather than a generalist to find these people; you're still hiring a project manager but be vigilant in hiring only those with the exact skills required to deliver the specific project.

c. It's okay to fail
Developers have been saying it for years, but it's time to adapt this into project management as well.

Be agile in your methodologies and allow small projects to fail. It's not a failure if you've tried and tested a solution that doesn't work. Make changes and modifications, set new projects, new outcomes, and new targets.

4. Get a seat at the table.

The event concluded with a final shared challenge; lack of access to the board. Even with a senior leader as your sponsor, change professionals struggle to successfully deliver lasting change without having constant, direct access to the executive board.

After all, CEOs look to their CFOs for financial advice and strategy, CMOs for marketing strategy, CDOs for data, and so on, yet there's no equivalent for Change Directors. Would programmes be more successful if organisations had the expertise and knowledge of a change and transformation director in their C-suite?

As a series of events, each of our roundtables will focus on a different topic, working together to create a culture of change in the North. And we're ready to pick this debate up from where we left off at our next event in June. So, please don't hesitate to get in touch and join the conversation.

Get in touch:
07834 177 533

Where to next?

Search for change management jobs here.


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