Ch ch ch ch change
Halebury’s Chris Rawlinson discusses the importance of culture in delivering successful change projects in part one of a two part series on change management.
Many critical company projects fail to consider culture and people sufficiently. This is true of reorganisations, acquisitions and disposals, IT projects, office moves and process changes – all change projects of one type or another. Its just people after all, we can’t let those difficult folks get in the way of a major IT rollout!! Wrong. If people, their user experience and their interaction aren’t at the centre of any project, outcomes will always be sub-optimal.
Let’s explore the importance of placing people at the centre of any project from a technology perspective. We increasingly spend our lives interacting with technology, good bad and indifferent. Most of us use the technology we perceive as good because we want to and the bad and indifferent technology because we have to. Consequently, those companies offering us technology in our private lives know that they need to make it ‘good’ for us to use it. If they do not hit this sweet spot they know they will fail. The best and the most successful companies follow this approach with their employees, especially in the context of change programmes. Some call it culture, some communications, others call it caring. In my view its best described as culture, and you need to believe in its power. This should not be confused with giving people everything they want, that is not the answer. Nor is it about encouraging a set of homogenous behaviours. Quite the contrary, breadth of thought, different perspectives and respect for that breadth of thought and perspective by others are critical and at the heart of a ‘positive’ culture.
Let’s extend the technology thread further and take a real example, an update to a major system, automation for the first time, maybe a switch from one system provider to another, maybe a move from server based technology to a cloud technology, it doesn’t matter, the change process is broadly the same, there are:
- technical changes
- inevitable process changes
- a different user experience
In a ‘positive’ culture these elements will be looked at together. For example, can the technical changes allow processes be simplified? Can these make people’s user experience better? Can repetitive tasks be removed? This may result is less people working on the new system versus the old and those working on the system having more engaging roles and interaction. This is a win-win scenario with the exception of the folks who are displaced, whose role is no longer required. No wait – it’s a win-win for all, in an organisation with a ‘positive’ culture, this should present an opportunity for these people to do something else, something more interesting, in the organisation or elsewhere, it will take work, but everyone should end up more fulfilled.
Contrast that with an organisation with a poor culture. There will often be poor alignment about what the project is trying to achieve. Often there will be resistance to change, “nothing wrong with the existing system”, “its waste of money”, “it won’t work”, so effectively the abacuses and wax tablets work just fine! This culture has delivered a low level of engagement on the project and that engagement is largely defensive engagement. The three limbs above risk being looked at in isolation resulting in limited positive process change, more a case of processes being rewritten only where necessary so generally complicated not simplified. People will try and hang-on to their current role which will give a strong feeling of insecurity and the jobs will be less fulfilling. Ultimately the project will underperform or completely fail to deliver its expected and budgeted outcomes.
So what can you do to ensure your project is a success? Work on the people elements, the cultural aspects, as your very first priority. Put culture at the heart of your project. This may even involve postponing activities until the culture is right. I would encourage you to engage a colleague or even external help from a specialist with cultural change experience to ensure your project is a success.
In my next article, I will explore some of the tools and techniques that can help people with change.
Chris Rawlinson is a senior in-house lawyer with Halebury with a background in change management.
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