Why change fails - the people perspective.

Why change fails – the people perspective

Many surveys show that the ability to execute transformational change is not improving.  In these surveys, the issues noted 20 years ago for the lack of change success, are still quoted. The survey results are so consistent, some consulting firms use them as a marketing tool. They encourage you to complete their free survey of your transformational change projects. Safe in the knowledge it will deliver lots of room for improvement!

If professional people can understand why change fails, then life must get easier…discuss!

Our business lives have become more pressured over recent years. Computing and telecommunications improvements have a lot to answer for.  The smart phone has led to instantaneous communications wherever you are in the world.  Before that, email led to more interpersonal (and impersonal) communications than ever. We ask more questions than would have either mattered or been answered before. Thanks to increased computing power and complex software.

A little test; Rank the following 5 statements in the order that they apply to you;

  1. I need more emails
  2. I always have my mobile phone switched on
  3. I prefer to send emails rather than pick up the phone
  4. I’m asked for ever more complex analyses
  5. I work longer hours than ever

Depending on your role and/or outlook, 2-4 will be in the middle in any order, 5 will be at the top and 1 at the bottom. No empirical data of course, but we all know the realities. Whether this is right or wrong is the subject of a whole different blog.

Amidst all this increasing complexity, managers are also required to improve productivity. They have to grow or contract their operations. Outsource or insource new systems. Manage legacy systems, buy and dispose. The working environment is changing inside organisations all the time. And for our customers it isn’t any easier.

There isn’t always a willingness to accept the reality of change inside organisations. But since it is a reality, why do we always make it as hard as possible for ourselves? The reality is we communicate more than ever. But we are not good at managing the people-impacts of change.

Picture the scene. You’ve been having sleepless nights since your boss asked you to install a new system. You’re no IT guru, but you know you are going to have to get new hardware, software, and train people. You need to build, install, test, and make sure all the processes work. You’ll may need consulting help to get it all done on time.

Well, your sleepless nights are set to continue. At what point did you think about the people affected? What do they think, feel? You know they need training, but have you thought about what they’ll be worrying about.  How do they make the current systems work with undocumented workarounds? How will they feel about the slim flat screen when their family photos and fluffy toys fall off the top?  People will be worrying about the ‘business case’. New system = greater productivity = fewer jobs. This is the normal justification for these projects, isn’t it?

I could go on. Managers tend to think about processes, and good managers tend to think about people. There’s middle ground somewhere. But, when you wonder why your project is failing. You’ll come to the following conclusions;

  • The people are worrying about the business case. Productivity has plummeted, and coffee consumption has increased.
  • The people hate the new system. The technical consultants you used didn’t ask them what they think. No-one remembered to ask how they use the current system. Productivity has plummeted.
  • The system doesn’t work – the old world has prevailed, the workarounds don’t work any more. Productivity has plummeted.
  • Testing is inadequate, training is inadequate! No real understanding of the journey from current state to future state exists. Productivity has plummeted.
  • Your peers are taking the opportunity to sneer and jibe. Your productivity has plummeted.
  • Your boss isn’t pleased…your productivity is seizing!

Although people think you don’t care. At least the super-slim flat screens leave more room for photos on the desk. Result!

The People Perspective. Systems are inanimate. Buildings don’t care who occupies them. Processes will operate with the right inputs. People are a whole different matter. ‘Command and control’ regimes are not de rigueur and will not work in modern business. It’s no good expecting to ‘tell’ people what to do. They’ve got brains, personalities, and egos, and all need nurturing.

The People Perspective. So how can you prevent them stopping your change programme? Talk, communicate, email, webinar, text. This is where we come in. Use the technologies that you have available. Involve people, especially those affected in the decision processes. Ask them what they think and believe. Be careful not to make all communications electronic. Talking is far more effective in delivering the change necessary. It’s part of being human.

Back to your sleepless night. If only I’d;

  • Explained the business case up front. “There will be job losses. But we’re going to transition people to new roles. The purpose of the system is to solve long-standing problems. Hence we’ll need more people doing more interesting jobs. There will be job losses, but this is what we’re doing to make it as easy as possible.” If only you had explained this.
  • Asked people what they do. “What does and doesn’t work in the current state, what will make your working lives easier and more fulfilling in the future state?”
  • Been more visible. Showed sponsorship and got the team behind me.
  • Involved key people. To choose the replacement system. To build the revised processes. Establish the testing. Deliver the training and support me in selling the benefits.
  • Got my peers to buy-in. To support the approach I was taking. To involve them in the project, to help steer progress and maximize the benefits.
  • Managed my boss better. To encourage their involvement and visibility in supporting me and sponsoring the change.

You need people to go through the whole process of change. Shock and anger, denial, understanding, challenging and commitment to the change. Whether it’s a new system, location, process, PC or business acquisition. Prepare for the most common questions in their minds. ‘What does the change mean to me’ and ‘What’s in it for me?’ It is often time consuming and painful. But getting it right is always worthwhile.

People and change are inseparable. People stop change. People make change happen. People deliver successful projects. People provide you with business results. So, focusing your management effort on people is likely to derive most value. Wouldn’t you agree?

So, if you want an easier life. Focus on the people aspects of change – it will pay dividends in both your sanity and business results terms.