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Why the whole organisation must be involved in change

Marlowe change management experts Deborah Feakins and Ira Blake discuss what the future has in store for organisational transformation.


When is a programme truly transformational?

The definition of ‘transformation’ in the Business Dictionary is “a process of profound and radical change that orients an organisation in a new direction and takes it to an entirely different level of effectiveness”. It adds that “transformation implies a basic change of character and little or no resemblance with the past configuration or structure”. Think for a moment. Is this what transformation actually means in the context of our organisations today?

It seems that every other project, programme or change has the ‘transformation’ label applied to it – and it can be confusing. How can we know what is really going to impact our organisations the most, where the most pain will be felt and where the thrust of our efforts needs to be focused?

It is time to think again about how we deliver successful transformation. We need to look again at ourselves and our organisations to ensure we have the right understanding and capabilities. We need to move out of our traditional comfort zone of delivery and consider how we can improve our performance.

Our organisations today are faced with the reality of perpetual, unrelenting change. At the same time, the volume and velocity of change is increasing exponentially, driving a new practice of management. Change and transformation are happening at such speed that traditional programme approaches cannot deliver quickly enough. There is no time to absorb, recover and prepare for the next thing; there is no business as usual (BAU), because the next thing is already happening.

This is driving a need to move beyond traditional project and change management. Here, we define change management as ‘the long-term, sustainable realisation of benefits by ensuring the human element of change is successfully managed, while creating the conditions and encouraging the right behaviour for the change to be adopted’.

APM and its members have recognised the challenge this presents – how to deliver ‘successful’ transformation and deliver long-term sustained benefits realisation in a business-enterprise context or culture that is not change adaptable, agile or capable.

Delivering now

In the noughties, it was widely accepted that, in competitive environments, all new growth came from projects (for example, Nokes & Kelly, 2007). A survey of experienced project managers also revealed that two of the top five problems related to people: understanding them, and getting them to think differently and adapt their approach/style of working. In many cases, this became the purview of change managers working alongside or embedded in projects, and the relative skill sets diverged.

A typical view of the two disciplines can be seen in the table above. While the divergence has created clarity in role terms, it is only when the two disciplines are fully integrated as a seamless and combined approach that the chances of success really improve. Today, we know that many project and programme managers already accept and embrace the skills of a dedicated change management approach, but many major programmes continue to be delivered without considering and actively influencing the human element of change. It is only if people are willing to implement new systems, processes or ways of working that the attendant change and benefits will realised.

Transformation occurs when people work differently, and that requires change management to be fully embedded into transformation programmes. In 2017, the UK government assessed its ‘transformation’ programmes against seven criteria, including change management and people, and identified a significantly reduced number of programmes that met all the criteria across 12 departments/ministries.

Enterprise Change Management

It is encouraging that the profile and acceptance of the value of change management is increasing across public and private organisations. But when we think about the whole organisation that is transforming, we need these skills to be present in senior leaders, line managers and front-line staff – from the operational business to supporting functions.

Optimising a skill set is not new, and both of our professions have been supporting this direction for years. Conceptually, enterprise change management (ECM) goes beyond the change manager (and project manager) skill set and advocates experimentation and co-creation to generate and own transformation across an organisation.

Change management can have only limited success as a function of a project if it is disconnected from the wider enterprise

ECM capability underpins an organisation’s ability to adapt and thrive, and is characterised by the following:

  • dedicated job families, role descriptions and a career path to ensure that the ECM skill set has a recognised value within the whole organisation;

  • requirement for clear learning and development pathways in support of ECM (the options around good change practice and training have been growing in recent years as the discipline has matured);

  • establishment of change communities, which create opportunities across the enterprise to share ownership of the changes that are under way or on the horizon – practically, communities also support best practice and connections to develop unique insights and co-created solutions that benefit everyone; and

  • access to additional specialist support when it is needed, and the autonomy to engage external specialist support when required – these collaborations work on the same principles as ‘maker spaces’.

Specialist change collaborations promote curiosity and exploration; encourage peer-to-peer learning; and build a co-creating culture, pro-activeness and sharing tools

Co-evolution of P3M and CM

If we want to see greater transformation success, we need to disseminate our respective capabilities and skills across the entire business – enterprise wide. A good starting point for this is making the relationship between change management (CM) and project, programme and portfolio management (P3M) stronger.

In some companies, this is a model that is already being adopted through:

  • initially establishing CM as a discipline in its own right – a centre of excellence or communities of practice – acknowledging that there is a distinct set of CM activities;

  • ensuring that CM activities are configured into the transformation life cycle and stage-gate process;

  • building CM into assurance reviews and audits so that the human element of change is scrutinised and reported; and

  • making efforts to ensure that the traditional project management community and CM communities come together to understand hand-offs, overlap and the value of a truly combined and integrated approach.

Project and change management are both having to evolve. Accelerated by the pressure of unrelenting change and the rise of agile/iterative methodologies, the concept of BAU is becoming obsolete.

There is no BAU – just wave after wave of change that cannot be controlled or managed by a few experts

We must shift our focus beyond defining the detailed ‘what’ of a change and its specific impact to increasing our people’s ability to anticipate, and be receptive and resilient to the change when it lands. That is why we need an enterprise-wide, structured approach for helping the whole organization participate in and shape ongoing transformation and change. That is why we need ECM.

Interested in finding out about how Marlowe can help you with your change management challenges?

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