Change Management: An Internal Affair

How professional services organizations can apply change management internally
by Carey Bettencourt, David Hofferberth and Jeanne Urich, SPI Research

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The one certainty in business is change. In fact, the velocity of change is increasing, requiring businesses to invest in programs to gain or maintain competitive advantage. The good news for every professional services organization (PSO) is that the industry annual revenue growth rate has exceeded 13 percent, per our “2012 Professional Services Maturity Model™ Benchmark”.

Unfortunately, according to multiple analysts, organizations are not successful in achieving their goals in most programs because of a failure to manage the people side of change. To help manage this risk, a growing number of PSOs have a change management practice, a capability embedded in their project management methodology and client engagement approach or both.

But do these PSOs apply the change management discipline and capabilities when undertaking their own programs? If not, the likelihood of achieving goals and sustaining results is no better.

Keys to effective change management

For those firms that consistently apply change management to internal improvement programs with perfect results, congratulations! For those PSOs with change management knowledge and skills that are internally inconsistent, this will reinforce the importance of this discipline. And for PSOs that are new to change management, this will help you internally and compel you to consider adding change management capabilities to your services portfolio.

First, the mission of change management is to create authentic buy-in to increase the likelihood that all key stakeholders support the program’s aims and make a commitment to its success. This means the stakeholders understand how the program affects them and the role that they need to play.

Second, the scope and scale of change management efforts must effectively align with the nature of the program’s change and company culture. Its complexity, organizational impact, considerations, strategic importance and visibility should determine the change management approach and activities. The greater the program’s impact, the more rigorous the change management efforts must be. And don’t overestimate the power of project management to override the need for change management. These efforts must be synchronized.

Third, we believe there are five key activities organizations must do to succeed in change management:

1. Gain visible and active executive sponsorship.

The key to any successful transformation starts and ends with leadership. The goal of leadership is to articulate the need for change, establish the future state and ensure that key leaders are aligned, in the know and supportive. The lack of strong leadership and vision will result in confusion within the organization and derail the change program.

2. Communicate!

We cannot underscore the importance of a robust and well-planned communication effort for any change program. The goals of a communication strategy are to effectively position the program as an enabler to the business and a catalyst for improved client experience.

As we know, communication voids often fill with negativity. Communication must be frequent and consistent to foster dialogue in the organization. Cater messaging to distinct stakeholders groups as necessary because one size does not fit all.

When facing change, people generally have five questions they need answered before they can understand and accept the change. Here are the fundamental questions that any change program must answer in order to be successful and move individuals along the personal commitment curve.

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. Why now?
  3. How will this affect me?
  4. How will we work together?
  5. What do I need to do to be prepared?

The commitment curve pictured in Figure 1 depicts the behavioral stages individuals go through over time as they make their way to the ultimate goal of internalization and commitment to the program.

Figure 1. Behavioral Stages of How People Respond to Change Over Time

CM Behavior Graph

Companies today have many communication vehicles available for broadcasting messages. Most people use emails, postings, blog posts and in-person meetings. But they should also look into social media, webinars and surveys to garner two-way dialogue. Look to past communications as your guideline on which channels to use for communications.

3. Involve stakeholders.

Engaging key stakeholders not only helps move the program forward but also serves to create advocates who will influence broader organizational perception and adoption of the program. Sometimes a key stakeholder may also be a change resister. Ownership is a powerful incentive, so make that stakeholder responsible for an activity or deliverable to accelerate acceptance and adoption.

Here are recommendations to successfully integrate stakeholders to ensure business needs are identified and potential advocates have a say and vested interest in the success of the program.

  • Treat key stakeholders and potential advocates as program team members.
  • Educate stakeholders about the program and the role they will play.
  • Empower stakeholders to act as change champions and advocates.
  • Convey the importance of stakeholders’ opinions.
  • Contact key stakeholders to garner feedback and document issues and enhancement recommendations throughout the program.
  • Recognize their efforts through premium items, letters of recognition and so on.

4. Align the organization.

Change programs can be transformative. Reporting relationships, roles, responsibilities, required skills and stakeholder expectations will change. Implementing these organizational changes to support the program’s objectives may also require developing skills and changing the incentive plans.

To be successful, PSOs must be aligned to ensure that each relevant function understands its role and obligations. Organizational alignment includes role design, organizational impact assessment, and skills and training assessment and results in the creation of a transition plan to overcome resistance and accelerate adoption of the program and processes. In particular, aligning incentives to program goals will build a sense of urgency and help foster belief in the change while reinforcing the benefits of the desired state.

5. Enable stakeholders and the organization.

Successful program deployment requires organizational readiness to integrate change. Training on the new processes, skills, behaviors, systems and methods required by the program must be addressed. Training must be tailored to stakeholder groups to be effective. Effective methods for training include classroom instruction, one-on-one coaching, self-paced and web-based training, hands-on training, and job aids.

Gaining change management acceptance

So, if your organization has proven change management skills and capabilities, unleash your talent internally. If this discipline is new to your organization, embrace it. It can be the difference between program success and failure. Consider developing it as a services capability. You will be able to credibly sell your change management expertise by telling a successfully change story: yours.