In today’s business environment it difficult for most corporations to remain competitive absent a focus on continuous improvement, a commitment to digital transformation, and the ability to react to market stimuli with agility. In other words, successful businesses need to be prepared and equipped to make constant changes fluidly with minimal loss of productivity. As such, we are seeing increased standardization of change management into project management practices. That said, one mistake frequently committed is waiting too long to integrate change management into the project plan.
As a change management practitioner, one of the most frequently asked questions I receive is: “What is the best time to begin working on the change management strategy?” Every time I receive this question, my answer remains the same: “Day 1.”
Often, I am met with shock and resistance. It is easy to delay change management when the change remains undefined. That said, this is a mistake. It is never too early to begin preparing end users and stakeholders for change. There are many benefits to beginning change management as early as possible.
BENEFITS OF EARLY CHANGE MANAGEMENT
Improved Scoping and Analysis
The sooner we begin to think about the change and its impact on the organization and stakeholders, the more likely we are to develop an effective strategy that will result in adoption, thus accelerating time to value. I recommend starting off by conducting the below types of analysis.
- Risk Analysis – completing assessments designed to quantify the amount of risk a project will introduce in relation to the scope of the change and current organization characteristics. When considering the scope we need to get a clear sense of what % of the organization is being impacted, and how much variation from the way things are done today the change will introduce. From an organizational characteristic perspective we need to be concerned with end user capacity to process the change, leadership and middle managements bandwidth to lead the change, and what the general culture and climate towards change is like at this time. Quantifying these criteria will allow us to effectively determine the appropriate scale of change management needed to ensure success.
- Stakeholder Impact Analysis – the purpose of the stakeholder impact assessment is to gain an understanding about the different ways stakeholders will experience changes and determine which groups will be impacted most severely. This will equip the change team with an understanding about which components of the change strategy can be delivered to broad audiences, and where targeted engagement will be required. This process should start by first creating a list of all internal and external stakeholders, and then identifying the different types of impacts each group will experience. Impacts that should be considered include changes to policy and process, new technology or tools, required attitude and behavior changes, etc.
Of course, both these types of analysis will require tools to properly quantify and assess. If your organization does not have its own change management resources, I recommend hiring a firm to provide change management for projects impacting more than a handful of employees. The consequences of not completing this type of discovery analysis up front include miscalculating the necessary scale of change management, and underestimating the impact or overlooking a particular group all together. The outcomes in any of these situations will be a serious lack of adoption.
Integration into the Project Plan
Developing the primary elements of the change management strategy early allows for integration into the master project plan. This is important because it provides immediate visibility into the change management requirements and makes it clear to everyone on the project team what their role will be in supporting the change workstream. Furthermore, early planning ensures change management has a seat at the table from the start. Often when change management is brought into the fold later in project implementations the requirements are viewed as secondary, thus fostering a lack of cooperation.
More Effective Engagement and Reinforcement
There is no such thing as communicating the news about change too early. Impacted employees should know change is coming as soon as possible. Even if the specific details of the final solution are unknown, there is other important information to be shared and your employees will appreciate being considered and informed in advance. Outside of just knowing what the solution is, end users and stakeholders need to understand:
- Why is this change being made – what internal or external factors are creating this need for our organization to change, and why is now the right time?
- How is the solution in the works intended to solve our current pain points?
- What aspects of how end users do their job today are expected to change? For example, process or technology?
- What is the timeline of the change and what will be expected of impacted stakeholders during the process?
- What type of training and additional support will be provided to end users to help them make the transition successfully?
The earlier we begin to communicate and share this information; the more comfortable end users will be, and this will neutralize resistance down the line. Also, communicating before final ideation gives us a chance to have two-way conversations and collect feedback or input from end users. This will create a sense of ownership in the outcomes and cause end users to embrace the changes more willingly.
CONSEQUENCES OF DELAYED CHANGE MANAGEMENT
As discussed, waiting to begin executing change management until full details about the solution are known can be tempting. This might seem like the smart approach to remain efficient, avoid rework, and keep stakeholders accurately informed. However, holding off on change introduces problems that will result in project delays and ineffective change management results. Some of the more notable issues include:
- Ineffective change management positioning – the change management strategy will not be integrated into the master project plan. As a result, change management will operate in a silo, and the other workstreams participating in the project will ignore their responsibilities.
- End user resistance and lack of engagement – waiting until final decisions are made and providing a short timeline will result in end users feeling as though they were not considered in the decision-making process. This is a sure-fire way to increase employee resistance, resulting in lagging adoption and project delays.
- Inadequate time for planning – holding off to engage change management limits the time practitioners have to complete required analysis. This results in uninformed strategy development and poor execution which will create a very dissatisfying experience for end users.
I hope the insights shared in this blog have provided clarity about how to begin planning and delivering change management when operating with incomplete information. The key take away is that when it comes to organizational changes, there is no such thing as communicating and engaging impacted stakeholders too early. For more information about the about how change management can help your organization effectively manage change, please see our change management homepage.