A better way to manage change: how to get more from your transformation investment

Co-authored with Victoria MarriottStrategic Change and Transformation Consultant at Eighty20 Solutions

With new techniques at their fingertips, organisational change management (OCM) teams have a greater chance of success these days. But keeping up with best practice and applying it to multiple projects and programs can be a lot to ask of any OCM function. So how can organisations ensure they’re getting the most value from every change?

Change management as a discipline was already being disrupted well before the pandemic, with a 2019 article in Forbes drawing attention to the death of traditional change management. This article highlights three critical trends forcing organisations to rethink their approach to change. Two of these – the increasingly flexible nature of work and the dominance of digital – have both accelerated beyond expectations over recent years.

With the pace of change having increased in the workplace, the practice of change management has evolved embracing new ideas and insights. Despite this, the rate of failure for transformation projects remains high. For years, a figure of 70% from 2015 McKinsey research was widely touted as the failure rate for organisational change projects. Fast forward and new data from Boston Consulting Group suggests change can’t be done well the majority of the time. They landed on the same number of 70% for transformation failures and report that the pandemic has clawed back any progress made.

Transformations are critical to building competitive advantage and delivering shareholder value, especially in fast-changing industries. Yet Boston Consulting Group’s analysis of data from more than 3,000 transformations indicates that over 70% of transformations fail. Although the failure rate has worsened during the pandemic, it has been at an alarmingly high level for years.

How the Best Set Up Their Program Journey, Boston Consulting Group, November 2021

Treating change as a constant

Perhaps the greatest challenge many change programs still don’t take into account is the state of flux that’s now a constant in our working lives. Change efforts are no longer discrete and contained, with a start and end point and the distinction between OCM and business as usual (BAU) is fast becoming a myth. Many organisations haven’t embraced this yet and OCM teams – if they do exist in an organisation – are often working with limited resources and status.

This is something we often see when working on digital transformation projects. When we partner with our client’s internal change management function, they’ll expect to take responsibility for delivering training and an engagement program based on leadership communications and change champions. We can certainly support them with tips and tools to help with better outcomes from these activities, but our change value add goes beyond this. We incorporate change advocacy and employee experience design throughout our engagement, finding ways to integrate change considerations and activities from project kick-off.

Elevating change to the C-suite

So how can organisations embed change into their everyday operations instead of treating it as a stage in a project plan? One approach is to elevate change to priority status at the C-suite level. Accenture has reported on the rise of the Chief Transformation Officer in 2022 with many organisations adding the role to their senior leadership team. This executive level support for transformation is a critical success factor. Establishing a permanent Chief Transformation Office role is expected to have a positive impact on change – both for aligning change with strategic priorities and driving adoption and a return on investment.

An articulate and trusted voice for change at the C-suite level can do wonders for getting buy-in for change management across the layers and business functions of an organisation. In the ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Adoption and Reinforcement) model for enabling change, this leadership role can have a positive influence on each of these elements for successful change outcomes. But a leader can only do so much, and it takes a more holistic, people-focussed solution to foster all five elements of change success.

Fresh perspectives on the change experience

In recent years, new schools of thought on change are coming from disciplines focusing on experience rather than project management and its familiar frameworks and processes. Mapping and understanding the customer experience journey has led to new approaches used for design-thinking and user/customer experience design. By using insights and best-practice from these disciplines, many change teams are able to use behavioural science to inform change programs. With a better understanding of conditions that support the ADKAR states, programs can include activities, communication and training better designed for making change successful and sustainable.

For these measures to succeed, a more collaborative and responsive change program is required. Having IT own and manage change – with or without help from an external team – is setting them up to fail. When there is co-creation of a change effort with other business units and services from the outset, a change program is far more likely to connect in the right way and at the right time with the people it is designed to engage. Data is the other factor that is critical in driving success. With so many ways of harvesting data on workforce behaviour, particularly from the platforms and digital tools that many transformations are centred on, change programs can be calibrated and targeted for the teams and individuals who may be getting left behind on the ADKAR continuum. 

Supporting your change journey

At Eighty20, our ethos is always to put people at the heart of our digital transformation projects. As a leading technology consulting business, this seems natural to us because we know that technology has little value to an organisation if people are not making the best use of it. And this is why our approach to realising value from transformation will always come back to how we can make a transition stick while minimising disruption and discomfort for the people involved.

To be successful in this, we build OCM into an engagement before we even get started on the discovery phase. Planning for these early workshops includes developing a stakeholder matrix to capture everyone who will be impacted and what their roles are. Even when they don’t have input into scope or requirements, having some exposure to the project at this early stage creates a strong relationship foundation that will contribute to success.

Experience and data have shown that this thorough approach does wonders for the Awareness and Desire stages of the change journey. Knowledge and Ability is likely to be the requirement most organisations have practiced time and again by rolling out training. But this investment can also be a wasted effort if Adoption and Reinforcement are an after thought or left out altogether.

At Eighty20 we’ll generally dedicate around a third of our change team’s time allocation on a project to supporting clients with the Adoption and Reinforcement elements of an OCM program. This can include tracking and measuring productivity and collaboration scores to assess how comfortable and fluent the business is with their new technology, as a whole and team by team. There is significant ROI that can come from these assessments and activities that target consistent uplift in adoption and proficiencies.

Bringing best practice to all technologies and functions

It’s in committing time and resources to all ADKAR elements that organisations can reach a higher level of maturity in their organisational change management. But carving out an effective methodology to define and deliver the desired ADKAR goals takes expertise and a decent amount of technology specific end-user experience understanding. This is why we’ll make a strong case for engaging our change and adoption team to consult with clients to drive successful outcomes from any and all transformation projects, whether they’re based on Microsoft apps and platforms or other technologies.

Our Change as a Service offering is highly customisable to the particular needs of an organisation. As a boutique consultancy we can select experts from our own organisational change management team aligned to the right industry background, we can also match our scope and engagement to how an organisation is structured and their level of digital adoption maturity. By supplementing their own OCM function and providing tools, frameworks and education we improve internal capability and help teams become proficient in best-practice for change canvases, communications, senior sponsorship programs and more.

As with our technology engagements, we’ll align and consult according to our clients’ needs. And we’ll always work towards empowering their own leaders and teams to manage change with confidence and rigor so that all future projects can deliver expected benefits and value.

Looking for support with your change management frameworks and practice?

Get in touch to find out how we can support you.