5 Challenges you’ll face as a Change Management Practitioner

By Kishore Shahani

Change Management (CM) and how it is understood to add value to organizations has been evolving for quite some time now, accelerating over the last decade. That being said, it seems that the pitfalls and challenges that people face when they apply CM methodology and tools in specific projects and/or embed CM capability in their organizations have remained more or less the same. I’d like to draw on these challenges and discuss the most common ones, because if we can anticipate them, we will be better equipped to face them head on and overcome them.

Over the past 3 years, I have been associated with Faculta/Prosci (check out https://faculta.biz/  and https://www.prosci.com/ ) in the role of Advanced Instructor for the Change Management Workshops offered by Faculta. The workshops we provide are role based and focus on developing Change Management Competencies of people in roles across the organization: Leaders and Sponsors, Managers, Change Management Professionals, Project Managers and employees in different roles. During the workshops, I have the opportunity of listening to and learning about the challenges that the attendees face as they share their projects and experiences with me. I am so grateful for this learning opportunity as the conversations are so enriching (and also fun!). Throughout these experiences and Prosci’s documentation, I’ve been able to identify the “repeat offenders” of change management undertakings.

These are the Top 5 challenges I’ve seen come up in workshops that I have (total of more than 300 attendees) facilitated in México, Latin America and the USA:

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If you already know the types of obstacles you’re going to face, you’ll be better prepared and equipped with the right weapons to overcome them

 

  1. Weak or non-existent Sponsorship. I’ve written in previous blog entries about the fact that sponsorship is the make or break of Change Management initiatives. Whether it is a lack of sponsorship or an inadequate one, this important role in the CM equation seems to constantly pop up when we discuss “why aren’t things going as they’re supposed to?” So, prepare for it. Consider an appropriate allocation of time to provide adequate coaching and onboarding get buy-in from key sponsors and stakeholders of the project. Prosci provides an easy tool to assess the quality of Sponsorship in your organization. You can use this to help you design the action steps to improve Sponsorship and thus increase the probability of success of the project.
  2. Project Portfolio management. The fact that companies do not have a Project Management Office (PMO) to manage their project portfolio is eerily common. Projects are not adequately prioritized, project management is weak and unstructured and often there are too many projects being executed at the same time causing change saturation. Teams have little clarity as to which projects will actually move forward and when this will happen, so coordination with scarce Change Management resources becomes a challenge.
  3. The “Soft skill” trap. “Change management? That’s that wishy-washy communication thing those HR guys need to do, right? At some point tell them about the project and let them deal with the communications.” Sound familiar? Regardless of the proven and documented benefits that CM has brought to numerous projects all over the world, practitioners continue to face the challenge of generating genuine buy-in from key sponsors and stakeholders who do not understand the role CM should play as a partner throughout the project lifecycle. If this is something you’re facing, the good news is that Prosci has vast literature and case studies to help you to create awareness and enlighten minds in your organization. With the right tools, you can become a true ambassador and champion for change management, help your company understand that CM is a lot more than just communication and drive better results by capturing the people-dependent benefits of the projects. You can help the entire enterprise understand the value of developing change management as a core competency in all functions and roles. Make sure that top management has CM on their radar and that they perceive it as a strategic tool that can be a competitive advantage.
  4. The curse of siloes, egos and the lack of cross functional collaboration. In organizations where the leadership style is hierarchical and collaboration is not engrained in the culture, generating the right environment for change management to flourish, is a hard battle to tackle. Most projects impact different functions across the organizations. For change management to be effective, the collaborative relationship between all members of the enterprise is essential. This relationship should leave no room for jealousy or turf wars.  Open and direct communication becomes a crucial part of the coordination equation and all involved should leave egos at the door. In order to achieve this, consider any and all possibilities to drive a “we’re all in this ship together” mentality. The team needs to recognize that whether they row in sync and beat their competitors or sink to the bottom of the ocean, they will all be doing this TOGETHER.
  5. Untimely inclusion in projects. How many times have you observed the project team bringing in the CM specialist once the project has already failed or is on an inevitable path to disaster? Worse even, how many times have you heard “we need to involve you change people, but we did not allocate a budget for this. So, we will have to work with little to nothing. But hey! Everybody’s on board and has a great attitude!” Attitude alone is not going to fund your change management initiative. This makes me think of the following story: imagine you own a Formula 1 team and you need a champion driver. After a lot of effort, you manage to sign up Lewis Hamilton. But here’s the catch: Lewis is going to have to drive a car with no wheels, no brakes and a faulty transmission. Also, all of the rest of the drivers are going to get a head start of 30 minutes. Under these conditions, the chances of Lewis winning are pretty slim, right? The same happens with Change Management. You need the right people, with the right tools, brought in at the right time which is right at the beginning of the project.

I know that this list is overwhelming but that’s reality, so hang in there. You might find yourself asking “is the effort worth it?” The short answer is: YES, YES, YES. And why is this?  Because it is a proven fact worldwide that CM (together with project management) significantly increases the chance of maximizing benefit realization. The other good news is, as mentioned earlier, if you already know the types of obstacles you’re going to face, you’ll be better prepared and equipped with the right weapons to overcome them!

Kishore Shahani is a proven Business & Leadership Development Executive with extensive achievement driving businesses within complex markets and developing value-add cross-functional teams. He is currently bringing his more than 30 years of business leadership experience to action as a Business Consultant, Leadership Trainer and Speaker.  Contact Kishore for more info.

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Digital Transformation – 5 Reasons why Change Management is absent

By Kishore Shahani

Blockchain, IoT, cloud storage and processing, machine learning, predictive data analytics, augmented reality, data driven supply chain management, data ecosystems, artificial intelligence… the list goes on and on. These buzzwords have discreetly crept into our mainstream discourse and now they are part of our day to day conversations in the business community.

As former CEO of Cisco John Chambers said, “Every Company Will be a Technology Company” and so today we have a trend of companies rushing to embark in their own journeys of digital transformation, some through a well thought out and planned process, some detonating projects just out of #FOMO.

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Digital transformation projects are costly but if implemented correctly, worth every penny. They usually include implementation of new technologies, platforms and systems and imply changes to critical processes. Anybody tangentially close to change management (CM) practices would immediately identify the need for CM in 99.9% of digital transformation projects and yet, in my experience, most executives tend to minimize and sometimes flat out ignore this imperative, critical factor of success.  I’ve seen cases in which many thousands of dollars could have been saved if the need for change management had been identified and embraced sooner rather than later.

If the need for change management is so evident, why is it that companies keep making this mistake? Typically, the need for CM is recognized once adoption problems begin to appear.  Why are change management activities initiated so late (if at all) in the project? Here are some of the reasons I have identified for this seemingly irrational behavior:

  1. Most providers sell the benefit of the solution based primarily on the system or tool. Specialized IT consulting firms that don’t have a CM practice will often pitch their solutions as a magic black box, without considering the need to manage adoption and use by people who are required to do so. Their sales pitch focuses on things like “this new system will lower your logistics costs and lead times by up to 15%”. But guess what? No, it won’t. At least not on its own. With very few automation project exceptions, what drives the benefits is the adoption and use of the solution by the PEOPLE who need to do things differently as a result of the new system. And to do that people need to be helped to transition from the current state to the future state by using CM methodologies and tools.  In their intent to sell and close the deal, salespeople from the IT companies tend to downplay any additional investment their clients will need to drive adoption and usage.
  2. IT Solutions costs are seldom bundled together with CM services. While more mature IT consulting companies have started to bundle their solutions to include a change management component, most don’t. They’ll offer the service but usually as an addition or a separate, non-essential component. And given the fact that these projects are usually cost intensive, clients all too often sacrifice what is perceived as add-ons so CM is excluded. Customers then believe that change management is not part of the minimum value proposition… and that is an expensive error. The use of new IT tools and processes is understandably faced with resistance. People fear what they don’t know; they are also skeptical about new systems because they finally got used to using the old systems and unless they understand the underlying benefit (for them) of using the new one, they are, more often than not, going to want to stick to the old ways. This is why I stress that the product as a stand alone should not be perceived as an integral solution. It doesn’t even serve the supplier’s interest to sell it on its own. Sure, they’ll get the short term sale and commission but if the system does not deliver on the promise, it will affect the supplier’s relationship with their client, who will not want to buy from them again because “their solution never worked the way we expected and you told us it would do” (reason being, lack of adoption and usage).
  3. Decision-makers are not end users and don’t dimension the complexity of change. This is not exclusive to IT projects and is usually a problem in larger, siloed organizations. Leaders and decision-makers would do well in empathizing and taking the time to understand the implications of the projects they are approving.  A close friend of mine was directly involved in the implementation of a series of new SAP modules in a multinational company. When the project was initially approved there was no budget allocated to change management activities. When he raised the issue to the Executive Board, the CEO told him “Nobody change-managed me into using Microsoft Office the first time I used it. Why do we need anything additional? Can’t they learn on the go? We’re paying millions for this new system, I’m sure it is user-friendly enough.” Luckily, as the opportunity presented itself, my friend was able to actually do a test run with the executive board, placing them directly in front of the new solution in order for them to understand the implications of the change they were making, and it took no time at all for them to give the go-ahead for and additional budget for CM activities. The project was a success.
  4. “Use it or leave” attitude. A step further and more critical than the last reason, this is the case where leaders think they can simply threaten their organization into adoption and usage, so change management is unnecessary. Because the need for digital transformation is so obvious to themg, leaders tend to think it is obvious to everyone else and hence, they expect that everyone will automatically embrace, adopt and use the new model, processes and tools. Under this framework, they might conclude that anybody showing the least amount of resistance is against them and their view of what is best for the company and so they should be strong-armed. Does this sound familiar? “If people don’t start using the new model, they are against the company’s best interest and so they should leave. It’s just the way things are supposed to be done around here and if they don’t like it, the door is wide open.” Having led a number of companies in my professional life, I can understand the leader’s frustration when things aren’t going according to plan and YES sometimes you do have to consider removing a few “bad apples” before they spoil the bunch, but to jump to this conclusion without considering that resistance is natural and that it should be expected and managed, is poor leadership, poor resistance management and will cause unnecessary problems with morale and attrition. Firing people for not adopting the new practices should be the last resort.
  5. Leaders do not understand and therefore do not play their CM role as Sponsor: I constantly urge leaders to understand and adopt their role as “Sponsor” of the projects. This is the most critical success (or failure) factor.  Prosci describes the role of Sponsor as ABC: Actively and visibly involved, Build a coalition of sponsors and Communicate directly with employees. This role requires leaders to empower the teams, be directly involved, be the early adopters of the solution, encourage others to use the solution, explain the purpose of the solution and the benefits it brings to those who embrace, adopt and use, provide resources and, overall, be supportive of the project.

If your company is considering undergoing a digital transformation initiative, I urge you to learn from others’ mistakes and include change management as an integral part of the project as early as possible. Leaders would do well in taking the hint from the name “digital transformation” and understanding that transformation is a synonym of change. Unmanaged change puts benefit realization at risk. Let’s talk about it!

Kishore Shahani is a proven Business & Leadership Development Executive with extensive achievement driving businesses within complex markets and developing value-add cross-functional teams. He is currently bringing his more than 30 years of business leadership experience to action as a Business Consultant, Leadership Trainer and Speaker.  Contact Kishore for more info.

 

Sponsorship – The Make or Break of all Initiatives

By Kishore Shahani

One of the most vital factors when implementing change in a company, is the crucial role of the Project Sponsor. Typically, a sponsor is somebody who occupies a position in top management or, if it’s a smaller company, the sponsor would be one of the major shareholders. Prosci’s extensive worldwide research reveals that active and visible sponsorship is #1 on the list of top contributors or top obstacles for success.  Project and Change Managers know this. They live with this reality in every project that requires change management and can tell a number of stories of how a good sponsor can catalyze change and a sponsor who is not adequately engaged can completely derail the project.

When we look at underperforming or even disastrous implementations, we find that the constant and common root cause, more often than not, is poorly-executed Sponsorship. So, why is it that the same cause for failure, i.e. poor sponsorship, occurs over and over again?

In my experience, the biggest challenge when engaging with sponsors lies in getting them to fully understand, accept and perform their role.

confusedSponsors are not aware of what is expected of them in their role as a sponsor. Some think that their involvement is symbolic and associated with their position in the company. They see it as putting their name on a project charter, showing up for update briefings and celebrations and holding up their “yay” or “nay” paddles when decisions need to be made. Hence, they tend to confuse “position” with “role”.   Very often they are oblivious to how much of their time and engagement is needed in order to move the project forward successfully.

Another common occurrence is that this is the person’s first time as a sponsor and/or that he/she has not received the adequate coaching for the role. I’ve seen this happen so many times. Prosci´s research reveals that more that 50% of the sponsors have an inadequate understanding of their role. So, coaching becomes necessary in order to learn the relatively new art (and it is an art) of change management. This brings us to the next obstacle: arrogance and lack of humility and the question “how coacheable is the sponsor”?

As you get higher up in the food chain, not only are you expected to know it all, you start thinking that you do! And when that happens, arrogance kicks in. From my perspective, there is nothing more toxic in leadership and in sponsorship, than arrogance.

arrogantArrogance is an obstacle to learning.  It clouds your vision, blocks out constructive criticism and feedback and hence, impedes the sponsor from learning his/her role.  Arrogant sponsors become tyrannical micromanagers and if they are assigned a coach, they go through the coaching process just to tick off a box instead of actually listening to, learning and and implementing the coach’s advice.

Last but not least, unengaged sponsors might just be afraid of the vulnerability and responsibility embedded in the sponsor role.  Sponsorship of a project implies accountability and exposure. The easy way out for the sponsor is to delegate the role and that is a big mistake.

If you are a sponsor of a project and at some point in time in your career, you may be, here´s some advice: your change management specialist is your best resource and ally in your role as a sponsor. Please take some time to learn about change management so that you develop an awareness of your role, the desire, motivation and knowledge to perform the role and do allow your change management specialist to be your coach.  He/she can make you aware of the importance of your role, create in you the desire to perform in it, give you the adequate knowledge and training that you require and accompany and encourage you as you perform. Especially if this is your first time as a sponsor, believe me, you need a coach.

Kishore Shahani is a proven Business & Leadership Development Executive with extensive achievement driving businesses within complex markets and developing value-add cross-functional teams. He is currently bringing his more than 30 years of business leadership experience to action as a Business Consultant, Leadership Trainer and Speaker.  Contact Kishore for more info.

My Definition of a “Good” Leader

By Kishore Shahani

A good leader:

  • Makes things happen and achieves results, supported by his/her team.
  • Has the skills to inspire, guide, influence, listen to and engage with his/her team.
  • Is always congruent and respectful, with unyielding integrity.
  • Accepts and manages change.
  • Establishes direction.
  • Aligns actions to the goals of the business.
  • Is a role model.
  • Never stops learning.

Kishore Shahani is a proven Business & Leadership Development Executive with extensive achievement driving businesses within complex markets and developing value-add cross-functional teams. He is currently bringing his more than 30 years of business leadership experience to action as a Business Consultant, Leadership Trainer and Speaker.  Contact Kishore for more info.