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Thursday 29 January 2009

Making change happen in the New Year

by Glen Feechan

When the hangovers clear and the New Year gets properly under way, we tend to face similar issues on the work front to those we face personally - lots of good intentions about what is going to change. I am afraid this article isn’t going to help you lose those pounds or give up smoking, but hopefully it should you make the changes required at work stick.

I have broken the process of making change happen down into five elements; defining the change, communicating the change, delivering the change, driving the change and monitoring the change.

Defining the change

The first key to a successful change is understanding what that change is. At this stage, a detailed definition is not the objective, as this can often limit the opportunities later. What is important is that the objectives of the change are understood at a strategic level, leaving scope for how this is to be achieved to be defined later. Focus on what change is needed, not how it is done. To facilitate the next stage and to make it easier to keep focussed, the definition should be as succinct and memorable as possible.

Communicating the change

A well-defined change makes this stage considerably easier, but everyone also needs to understand why the change needs to happen. Preferably this understanding is arrived at by the individuals involved, rather than by being hit over the head repeatedly with the company line. This can often be achieved by involving the employees in discussions about the underlying objectives of the organisation and how they might apply to the area requiring change.

Delivering the change

Delivery of the change needs to truly involve those affected by it. Anyone who has read some of my previous articles will know my thoughts on the importance of this. This is also where the details of how the change is to be achieved become important. Those carrying out the processes that need to change need to first distil their knowledge of the existing processes and how they work in practice before establishing what needs to change to achieve the objectives. The PISO method provides a very effective way of carrying out this process, giving those who carry out the minutiae of the process the tools to capture this information, understand the logic behind it and apply the new objectives to it in a way that no-one from outside the process could do. The benefits of doing it this way include; utilisation of the unique knowledge held by those carrying out the work, essential “buy-in” and commitment from those that will need to implement the change and a clear and detailed understanding of the changes required.
The change can then be implemented by those same people, with appropriate support from those with the power to authorise some of the larger changes.

Driving the change

Although the implementation of the change is usually considerably easier if those affected by it have been involved in this way, it is still useful to look at a few tips to ensure that the change is driven through.

Deadlines are vital to implementing a larger change. A deadline (which everyone accepts) for the complete implementation of the change should be agreed and communicated. This needs to be given the importance that external deadlines are given, such as those set by clients, government agencies, etc. Too often these internal deadlines are seen as “soft” and are the first things to suffer when the pressure is on.

When the ultimate deadline has been set, smaller “milestones” should be identified and given deadlines. These should be identifiable chunks of the project that can be treated almost as standalone projects. These serve to mark out a path to the complete implementation of the change. The psychological impact of knowing that if these smaller, manageable projects are each completed on time, the whole change will be implemented on time serves to drive the project forward.

Monitoring the change

Finally, the change needs to be monitored. This applies during the implementation phases described above and to the resulting business processes once the change is in place.
During implementation, progress should be monitored against milestones, with more resource being allocated if milestones look like they may not be met. Also, there should be common sense monitoring to ensure that the changes are still valid. Sometimes external circumstances can negate all or part of the project. It is important to be able to see the project in context so that this can be identified and corrective action taken.

Once there is a new process in place, this should be monitored closely to ensure that it does as predicted. Inevitably there will be teething problems, requiring tweaks to the new process.
Hopefully the above has given you some food for thought, and hopefully some motivation, to ensure that the changes planned for 2010 aren’t the same ones that you are currently planning for 2009!

Happy New Year!

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