Change management as a profession – how we succeed in a major operational turnaround case

A couple a years ago I met with a CEO, we talked about change management. Whereupon he stated that he did not believe in change management and that this was just another fancy word for leadership. He believed everything was leadership, and he did not consider change management as a subject. He was right that there is leadership, but change management is definitely a profession, and it is not without reason that as much as 70% of all change projects fail. Due to over 70% of large-scale transformation programs fail, it is essential to focus on change management as a profession. A change executive will play a key role in ensuring projects and change initiatives meet objectives on time and on budget by increasing employee adoption and usage. This person will focus on the people side of change, including changes to business processes, systems and technology, job roles and organization structures.

The change management as a profession is become more and more acknowledged.  In the change management profession, experience really matters. People of all shapes, sizes, and cultures form the basis of change management efforts. Given our human vagaries, only experience with actual change initiatives can give you situational knowledge and skills that you can apply to future change work–how to encourage leaders, recognize resistance, assess culture, and map out an appropriately-scaled plan for the organization and its initiative, among a host of other challenges. This is not something you can learn by reading books. This is perhaps also why also 70% of all change initiatives fails. Too many people think they can read a book to manage change. Here academia has a great responsibility. Too much in academia is around theory. There is too little emphasis on practical experience and expertise. Especially in Europe we see too little of this, while in the US we have seen an increasing degree of different professorship with emphasis on practice. This is starting to come in Europe too, especially Germany is far ahead of rest of Europe.

I look at myself as a change executive who have contribute to several successful change outcomes through adoption and usage of the TIPS model by preparing, equipping, and supporting people with integrated strategies and plans.

Research shows a strong correlation between the success of a change initiative and how well the people side is managed. Change projects with excellent change management are six times more likely to meet objectives and outcomes. When I was leading the Project Management Office for Operational Turnaround in Lindorff Accounting for three years, my team and I dedicated change management resources to the change operations. We provided focus and kept track of all change management activities. We acted as a point of responsibility and accountability for all change initiatives in the whole company.  When budgets and schedules are squeezed, change management activities are easily pushed to the bottom of the priority list if there are not dedicated resources. Because we as a team constantly monitored and managed all the resources, we also had control over all the costs. Which meant that we not only delivered the project on time, we also delivered the project at 12% below budgeted costs.

Allocate specific resources

It can almost seem that large change projects are managed according to the method of the Incidence method as a form of governance. Something that the large error rate almost supports. Instead of operating in an ad hoc manner, my team and I allocated specific change management resources to approach the changes that need to be done within the organization.

TIPS – Formulation of a change strategy

At that time, I worked with the parameter of the TIPS model even if the model at that time was not fully established before some years later in my PhD dissertation.  I used the TIPS model to formulate strategy for what was going to happen. We then evaluate how big this change project was estimated to become, and who was going to be impacted to develop a customized and scaled strategy for managing the people side of this major corporate turnaround initiative.

Develop process steps of the change projects

Based on the strategy work, the team and I created a tailored set of plans for moving people forward, including a Communications Plan (When it came to communication, we hired extremely skilled consultants from Gambit Hill & Knowlton Norway. Partner Ole Tom Nomeland and senior consultant Tonje Sund were hired. I have rarely worked with such skilled communication consultants as these two.) , Sponsor Roadmap, Coaching Plan, Training Plan and Resistance Management Plan.

Training of key personnel in the change project

The change management resources are the coaches and go-to people, responsible for enabling success with the other roles vital to change management. That is why it was important to train key personnel in the change project. Key personnel are also important parameters in the TIPS model, which emphasizes intellectual capital as important parameters.

Get the right sponsorship

Sponsorship is one of the most important parameters to succeed in change projects. Without strong backing from top management, one will rarely succeed. In this project, we had the Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of the Lindorff Accounting Group as our sponsor. I’ve rarely had such a good boss as I had in Vice President Lars Anderberg. This was a leader and sponsor that you could discuss, disagree with and even if you didn’t get all their suggestions through you never felt like you lost. Lars was a great leader and boss. He was active and a visible sponsorship in this project, and one of the contributors to this operational turnaround success. Employees want to see and hear the sponsor’s commitment to the change. The authority they provide carries over to other change management roles. Effective sponsorship is a predictor of success or failure on the project. Therefore, it is important that the sponsorship is active and visibly participate throughout the whole project period. Sponsors must be present and seen by employees from start to finish.

Build a coalition of sponsorship and manage resistance

Build a group of sponsors that consist of leaders and influencers who will give the change credibility and priority back to their own departments, divisions, and workgroups. The primary sponsor must build and maintain a healthy sponsorship coalition.

Openly communication direct with your employees

Employees want to hear the business reasons for the change from someone at the top.

Focus on the organizational intellectual capital:

Human resources need to be close to the action. It is the HR departments responsibility to train and develop managers and employees so they can change how they do their jobs for the change to be successful. Managers are the preferred senders of change messages about the personal impact of a change on their team members.

There are always two types of change constantly happening: top-down initiatives launched by senior leaders, and responses to daily demands from customers and suppliers. HR and managers support their employees through both types of changes. The attitude and actions of a manager will show up in their people, whether the attitude is one of support or one of opposition. Therefore, one need to spend time on training and developing managers to embrace change.

The people within an organization that are impacted by change have a critical role to play. Without adoption and usage of the change, the probability of achieving the desired outcomes of the change is exceptionally low. This is particularly true when a large percentage of the project objectives or organizational benefits depends on adoption and usage of the change.

  • Organizational change requires individual change – Who must do their jobs differently and how?
  • Organizational change requires individual change – Who must do their jobs differently and how?
  • Change management is an enabling framework for managing the people side of change – What will we do to support adoption and usage?

To succeed with change management, it needs leadership commitment, an ability to engage with multiple stakeholders along the value chain, widespread employee engagement and disciplined mechanisms for execution of the change process. The ultimate goal of change management is to drive organizational results and outcomes by engaging employees and inspiring their adoption of a new way of working.

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