How to avoid the pitfalls when managing change in your business and ensure it actually delivers!

By Kathryn Stott

Over the years, I’ve seen many projects reach crisis point. Usually, signals have been ignored – escalating costs and missed deadlines are typical – and it’s hard to get your head around why, with so many bells ringing in your ears, people appear transfixed and helpless, and almost in slow motion, they let the very worst happen.

Take what happened just pre-COVID, a Supply Chain business had invested heavily in a new SAP system. The leadership team bought into the system to help them ‘modernise’ and make the business run more efficiently.

You couldn’t argue with the benefits that were predicted, but when it came to implementing the change plan, the company went ahead with the roll-out phase – even with flashing red lights and alarm bells blaring and not surprisingly, it was a disaster… even the purchase order system failed and their internal supply chain system ground to a halt.

But what went wrong with this costly change project which was 18 months in the making?

As with many change projects I’ve experienced over the years, organisations continue to make mistakes with their change projects and fail to make them stick… and by the way, this isn’t just an Small Medium Enterprise (SME) problem, even big organisations with huge investments can fail to avoid the pitfalls.

As a consultant, I realise I’m in the unique position of being independent and able to look from the outside-in. Whilst the reasons for a failing change project are usually plain for all to see, often the shutters come down and more time is spent looking for a scapegoat, rather than using this as opportunity to learn and improve.

And let’s not forget, most of us at some point in our lives have experienced change that’s been painful and disruptive. So, it’s no wonder that some people ‘fear’ change and put up barriers to fight against it.

None of this is rocket science but change projects across organisations continue to fail and I believe most are avoidable.

So, what are my 3 top tips for landing a successful change in your business?

1) Give some thought to your culture and communication channels. Do your people have belief? Are they engaged and motivated? Are communication channels working and are they 2-way?

2) Involve your people from the outset and at every stage along your change journey. Your people need to understand what change is being considered and why it’s needed. You need to know what they think and provide them with the opportunity to share their ideas. If they’re engaged and feel involved, they’re more likely to get behind the change, and with their buy-in, they’ll help you drive the change that’s needed and embed it, so it’ll deliver sustainable improvement.

3) Plan, plan, plan. It’s important to be thorough and cross the T’s and dot the I’s, so you understand all the variables, and can plan for the worst-case scenarios. By following best practice change management techniques and combining these with a strategic change communications and employee engagement plan, you’ll be 80% there.

Seema Sharma, Director and Head of Strategy at Stratevista commented, “Having led many complex change projects over the years at GSK, I absolutely agree that whilst none of us has a crystal ball to cover off every eventuality, managing and engaging with your stakeholders and gaining buy-in are the key success factors.”

She added, “I’d also recommend that your change plan include realistic timescales for user acceptance testing and user training – the importance of which is often underestimated. In my experience, it’s an opportunity for the front-line users to become immersed in the new system/process and being part of the change, rather than feel as if it’s being done to them!” If you’d like some help with planning an expansion, bringing a project back on track or a chat to bounce off some ideas, please do contact us.