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Why Projects Fail: Part Nine, Poor Organizational Change

Why Projects Fail: Part Nine, Poor Organizational Change

When organizational change is seen as “work to be started later” the project is already doomed to under-perform

"How well you do change determines how much change you can do."

The project literature abounds with papers on the causes of and remedies for "resistance to change". Resistance is taken as the norm, the basis from which to plan. Indeed, I recently saw a Change Manager's presentation pack to staff where over 80 percent of the slides were talking about resistance to change. He had, inadvertently, just trained his organization to resist the forthcoming change.

Even though change is something we all experience, it seems to be an area where we put common sense and experience aside and go with the prevailing (wrong) theories

Even though change is something we all experience, it seems to be an area where we put common sense and experience aside and go with the prevailing (wrong) theories.

In my first public lecture in Australia I quoted the common refrain that "People resist change". A man in the front row interrupted me and said, "No they don't! What they resist is poorly conceived, poorly planned, poorly communicated and poorly implemented change." And he was right.

The trouble now is that change has become a "hot potato" and no one wants to be accountable for it. Project Managers appoint (often too late) "Change Managers" to handle change. Change is seen as almost peripheral to the main project. "A necessary evil" as one project manager described it to me.

Sorry folks, but change is the whole purpose of the project. Every project is set up to introduce change (into the organization). Change should be the driving force for the project, the main agenda.

Change is more than just training and communications, it is about changing behaviours, belief systems, habits, work practices, policies, processes, measures of success, power structures (formal and informal), and so on.

When organizational change is seen as "another stream of work to be started later" the project is already doomed to under-perform, if not fail.

When organizational change is seen as the purpose of the project, and all other activities, including systems implementation, are subordinated to the implementation of change, then, we have measured, the actual benefits realized at least double. This makes the organization happy and far more likely to invest in more projects.

Unfortunately, the "change experts" are often part of the problem. They are the purveyors of the "resistance to change" paradigm. They portray going through change as going through the experience of dealing with a death. With such negative thoughts driving the change philosophy and approach, is it any wonder that change is resisted?

Instead, a useful trick is to use the word "improvement" instead of "change" in your thinking.

You're now introducing "improvement" into the organization. You are requiring people to "improve" and to adapt to "improved" jobs. You'll train them in new "improved" ways of working.

Suddenly, change doesn't have the same negative connotations as before. People want improvement, They like to see their processes improved (even when, at times, some or all of their jobs disappear). They'll welcome training that "improves" their skills and knowledge.

My interrupter's comments still apply. The "improvements" must be well conceived, well planned, well communicated and well implemented. But when this is done, organizational and staff support for "improvement" can be overwhelming.

If you think of your whole project in terms of the improvements you are making to the organization, its staff, customers, products and processes, the whole tenor of the project can change to become far more positive.

We find with "desired business outcomes" as our goal (note the word "desired"), and benefits as our target, we get overwhelming support, energy and action on the part of all staff. It's a case of "get out of my way, I want the improved new world" rather than any resistance to change (even in heavily unionized shops).

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