In the media – Creating leaders for successful change management

– This article was published in Strategic HR Review; Vol 13, No. 3 2014, pp. 127-129

Organisational change is a constant feature of modern organisations and the dependence upon successful project and program delivery has never been higher. Traditionally, best practice has reflected the engineering and IT roots of most

change management theory. There is a focus on process, reporting and assigned areas of responsibility that is helpful for managing clearly defined, discrete projects, but today’s organizations operate in constantly changing global markets, driven by competition and social and technological change.

Senior executives must continually refine the organization’s objectives and operations to anticipate or respond to those challenges and typically increase the number of projects – or programs or projects – to cope with the volume of change needed. High levels of failure, even among projects led by experienced change professionals, indicate that traditional models do not provide the full answer to the problems faced by modern organizations.

What is going wrong?

The Office of Government Commerce identified common reasons for project failure, including a lack of agreed measures of success; a lack of skills; a lack of team integration; and a failure to break the project into manageable steps (Office of Government Commerce,

2005). Expectations and culture also can be counter-productive. For example, media reports and stakeholder sentiment often reflect expectations of failure – particularly around high profile, public sector projects – that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This in turn creates nervousness among managers, diverting their attention from what really matters and this too leads to failure. The post-mortem of a failed change program will tend to concentrate on process, missing the most obvious point – that people’s skills, attitudes, attributes, capabilities and relationships are at the root of most of these issues. Comparatively little attention is devoted to the people involved – particularly the leaders – and even less on getting to the heart of resolving people issues.

When trained, experienced change professionals speak out in a safe environment, the extent of these problems becomes clear. Teams and stakeholders can include unengaged, fearful or ignorant people, who are difficult to manage. Change professionals often admit they lack confidence, in spite of decades of experience. They may have ingrained habits of focusing on the minutiae of the project because they are nervous about failure, rather than leading and empowering the team and focusing on the big picture. In addition, they may not appreciate the power of inter-personal skills, emotional intelligence and networking to overcome barriers to success. In short, change leaders need leadership, mentoring and development that helps them deliver success.

Building leaders, teams and networks

A large organization employing close to 1,000 project and program professionals and committed to best practice had faced public criticism for project failure. A lack of experienced program and project sponsors was identified as a potential barrier to success and so a program of support was established to develop existing and potential sponsors. Sponsors are senior business leaders who are held accountable for the success of a program of business change. This addressed shortcomings in skills and provided these senior executives with a sounding board to discuss problems in a safe environment. The program was relatively successful among enrolled participants but achieved limited buy-in across the organization, which continued to experience project and program failure.

With the support of a new chief executive the mentoring program was expanded to encompass senior project and program leaders. An academy-style approach was adopted to increase take-up and buy-in, offering participants a year-long, structured program that addresses their personal needs and the needs of their department. The program consists of four events through the course of the year, with coaching and mentoring in between. Participants join the program in small groups and both the events and the structured content of the program are tailored to the needs of each group. The program is delivered by an external team of consultants working closely with the internal heads of profession.

The program helps senior, experienced professionals with decades of experience to take a fresh look at their working practices and emotional intelligence. Individuals commit to a set of agreed actions that are shared with their line manager and, for many, are entered into their performance appraisal criteria, thus increasing their level of accountability. Within group discussions, participants come to realize that they are not alone; they share the same fears and problems and can lean on each other for advice and support. In effect, the change academy helps participants build personal networks where they act on their own initiative – outside the academy program – to set up groups and workshops and tackle common problems together.

The benefits of a change academy

The academy program has delivered real results. Participants say it is the best personal development intervention they have experienced in their career. It has helped to establish a program and project management (PPM) profession within the organization, offering continuing professional development aligned with the Association of Project Management and the Registered Project Professional qualification. Participation is an objective in the personal development programs of the target audience and is seen as aspirational, encouraging people to sign up in larger numbers.

The academy demonstrates that the organisation is doing everything it can to ensure that change professionals are well trained, coached, mentored and managed on an ongoing basis and that credible, professional people lead its change programs – increasing expectations of success. The organization has enhanced its capability for change; there is a can-do attitude and it is now commended for the success of its change initiatives and is often held up as an exemplar for others to follow within its sector.

Visibility and a common approach deliver success

The change academy program is proving successful for several reasons. First, change management is on the CEO’s agenda as a critical objective to improve performance. The CEO receives regular feedback on the program and personally delivers qualification certificates – increasing the visibility of change management. Second, encouraging project and program managers to focus on the big picture, to use their network to solve problems and to communicate with key stakeholders delivers successful outcomes. Third, the change academy is being rolled out across all business departments, creating an organization-wide approach.

Ultimately, the academy reflects the new reality of change management – it is a journey, not a destination. Plans and processes are important, but it is even more important to work with people and through people to allow the organisation to evolve on a constant basis to meet new challenges and opportunities.

Note: ‘This article is © Emerald Group Publishing and permission has been granted for this version to appear here. Emerald does not grant permission for this article to be further copied/distributed or hosted elsewhere without the express permission from Emerald Group Publishing Limited.’

150 150 Eddie Kilkelly

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