For years I have studied the differences between successful change project implementation compared to the projects that fail.
Firstly, it is not an easy process because this exercise required me to completely drop my ego in order for it to be successful. While I am proud to say that I have implemented several change projects successfully, keep in mind that I’ve had to continuously make references to both successes and failures to achieve great results.
After all, I was involved in two major change projects where ROI was an illusion. One of these projects never moved forward, and the other one was so chaotic that it led most of the participants to either take the exit door, get disengaged or eventually burn out.
In fact, while my successful projects implementation got me to brag and feel great about my achievements, it was the failed projects that motivated me enough to go beyond my limits, reach out to people in different fields of expertise, and collaborate to help me uncover the secrets of successful and unsuccessful change project implementation.
As a change leader, here are a few key aspects to focus on in order to deliver your change project successfully.
1. Change implementation as well as change adoption is a process.
Don’t expect people to change habits built up over years or decades with a couple of days of training. Training alone is not enough; people need support and guidance during the process, which is valid both for the leaders and the participants. In addition to training, also provide your team with coaching and guidance - or else, the change you are trying to create may just send everyone in a circle.
2. You are about to move some powerful energy.
Never underestimate the magnitude of the combined forces that you are about to face when moving people out of their comfort zone.
Neuroscience demonstrates to us that our brain is made for survival, and that it protects us from unfamiliar and doubtful situations. Organizations are made with people, and regardless of what powerful technology we use, we must remember that it is human minds who command or operates such technology and processes. With such knowledge, it’s clear that leading people should be one of our main priorities when implementing change.
3. Transformation requires disruption and realignment.
The entire process is both eventful and impactful for everyone involved. Therefore great communication and clear documentation are important for analysis and decision making.
Up to date business and technical requirements and change historic are very precious when changing anything. It is important to know what an information system is made of, as well as its contributors and dependents. For instance, it is important to know when the dependents use it, for what purpose and how they use it. Trial and error can save the day but not always. In addition, roll-backs are not always successful, either.
4. Top management support is always needed at some point.
Even if they intervene just once on a project, it may be the one time that saves the project.
Decision making is a crucial and recurring element of a change project, but often middle-management will shy away from the hard decisions; as such decisions may impact departments or services other than their own. No one can implement change by himself/herself so build a great support team. Implementing change requires teamwork, which is why there is also a need for good leadership.
5. Soft skills are a must!
Transformation and change involve continuous learning, innovation, creativity, communication and problem solving.
Change is also about the experience that the people are having; and experiences lead to emotions and feelings. Since you are at the mercy of your emotions and other people emotions, then emotional intelligence is key.
6. Plans are often useless but strategic planning is essential
You don’t plan for the plan itself, because it is just one outcome that is going to change constantly. You plan to not only know what to expect and prepare for, but also to define your vision, leverage your resources, create a roadmap, milestones, goals, risks and contingencies. Every fool can make a plan but it takes great leadership and visionary skills for an effective strategic planning. The lack of visionary strategic planning is the number 1 cause of failure in change projects.
7. Lead By example
I find this Leo Tolstoy quote to have a lot of meaning:
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
When you open yourself to change, you automatically shut down your defenses, your ego and open yourself to possibilities. In the land of possibilities, your vision enlarge, your self-knowledge is improved, your empathy developed, preparing you to lead others by example. Leading by example is the most reliable, trustworthy and lasting leadership and is applicable at all level and in every field.
8. Bring on the cake!
Not just at the end of the project but I suggest to do it for each big milestone. Celebrate the lessons learned, the achievements and the people making the transformation. Cake is a powerful symbol and even for people who don’t like cake. You can’t go wrong with the message.