In my previous post, “Change Management for the Project Manager – Know Your Audience,” I examined the need to determine the general change management requirements for each specific project. Identification is only the first step, however. While it is certainly vital to change management success, the actual actions taken to promote change management will be what creates a lasting affect and determines the final result. End users need to accept the project in order to maximize its long-term likelihood of success. Here are several suggestions to assist with the change management implementation.
Develop a Strategy
Depending on the level of push-back anticipated based on the initial evaluation, the change management strategy may be very broad – inclusive of the major events or deliverables that will promote change – or incredibly detailed – down to the level of specific phrasing for individual conversations. I recently sat in on several one-on-one meetings in which staff members were being informed of significant changes to their daily work lives. One of the project team members was speaking in terminology that I recognized would be confusing to the listener. The new changes were already expected to be poorly received by the staff members, and the incorrect verbiage only added to their confusion – and therefore hostility toward the project. It was necessary for me to mention to the team member mid-meeting that the terminology needed to be changed in order to avoid confusion. The greater the anticipated level of hostility and lack of acceptance towards change, the more specific the change management planning must become.
Listen to the End Users
A major reason that end user may be hostile toward project changes is that they do not understanding the reasoning behind the changes. Organizations may do a poor job of communicating this information to users. The situation is frequently compounded by the “just do your job” attitude – specifically, managers or senior management who believe that it is an employees responsibility to do what they are told by their superiors and if they are unhappy with that they should seek another job. While this attitude does have a strong element of personal responsibility, approaching change from this perspective can be problematic. Often, employees just want to understand the reasoning behind decisions. Sadly, this information is not always shared, and is less likely to work its way down multiple levels of organizational hierarchy.
“Established systems are inherently hostile to change. – Newt Gingrich”
When dealing with future users who are hostile towards the future changes, listen attentively to their concerns. Part of project planning should include addressing these concerns to the extent possible. When a specific concern cannot be addressed, be open about that with the end user. Perhaps the user does not view the project as an improvement, either in part or its entirety. In the absence of hard data, acknowledge that the project may prove to be inferior to the existing system, but that the project team is working hard to do everything possible so that is not the case.
End users love the opportunity to provide suggestions and feedback and project ideas, goals, and designs. It is wise for project managers to include them in the planning process. Some projects, however, may be implemented at the direction of senior management or due to some external forces that require change. In this situations, it is insincere to illicit thoughts from end users in a manner that suggests those thoughts may have some impact on the project outcome. Whenever there is a “do this because we say so” situation, it is better to be honest about it with users. The bad reception for this information will pale in comparison to the reception after the user has had reason to believe the change is not a foregone conclusion.
Change is not easy for most people. It is even more difficult for people to recognize the beneficial elements of change when that same change effects them negatively personally. Nevertheless, change management is essential to project management success, and should be taken seriously by every project manager. The change management plan should be reviewed for each individual project and revised as necessary.