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null Sweat the small stuff: Overseeing successful change management projects


Change management

The new year brings with it a form of ‘clean slate’ for many businesses. Leaders return from the festive break re-energised and brimming with ideas to streamline, improve or overhaul organisations.

But with data indicating that nearly 70% of change management projects fail, how can you ensure that your bright idea doesn’t fall flat?

Our latest blog sees Alex Fraser, Group Head of Organisational Change here at Hays, explore the importance of “sweating the small stuff” when striving for success.

Organisational changes occur every day. Technologies evolve, new products are launched and objectives change in response to market changes.

Change management runs deeper, examining not only the processes behind organisational change but the people it will impact. Change management projects work to ensure that the desired business benefits of organisational changes are firstly realised, and then sustained.

Effective change management is complex, dependant on winning over the hearts and minds of hundreds, or even thousands, of individuals and encouraging them to permanently alter both their mindset and the way they work.

To some, it might sound like an impossible feat.

For many companies and their well-intended projects, it is.

However, implementing and managing change is essential. Customer needs evolve at a rapid pace and your business must adapt accordingly, or risk being left behind.

So how can you instigate effective and meaningful change to the key projects you are undertaking?

Lead from the front

Team leaders, managers and senior executives all play a crucial role in the delivery of successful change management projects. In fact, without strong, visible leadership, the project is destined to fail.

Leaders must not only set the agenda for change but remain actively and visibly involved throughout.

However, overseeing a change management project likely forms part of a demanding portfolio of work. With time a precious commodity, I’ve outlined the elements of a change management project that should prompt a little extra ‘sweat’ from your top team.

Find your fault lines

In previous webinars and reports, I’ve spoken about the importance of identifying the necessary stakeholder groups for your project. However, successful change management delivery lies not only in identifying these individuals and engaging them, but monitoring continuously for moments of ‘disconnection’.

A stakeholder disconnect can surface at any point during a change management programme, but, more often than not, they can be traced back to ‘fault lines’ present when the project was still in its infancy.

Fault lines are unaddressed issues, rumours or myths about the project that could ‘strike’ at any moment, threatening the solid foundation needed to deliver an effective change management project.

Simply avoiding or ignoring fault lines will derail your project. If concerns are not properly addressed, resistance to the project grows, leading to delays in implementation or poor adoption of the change.

A common fault line that our consultants must address when delivering Managed Service Programmes (MSP) is the misconception that a non-permanent workforce represents an astronomical expense, as opposed to being a valuable asset to any agile organisation. While a simple return-on-investment calculation can dispel this belief following implementation, these doubts must be resolved much earlier.

As a leader or manager, be proactive in your approach. Take time at the beginning of the project to consider the possible challenges or forms of resistance you’ll face and develop strategies that mitigate or alleviate these concerns. Then, commit to monitoring these throughout the project lifecycle to avoid ‘seismic waves’ of discontent.

Avoid powering through the phases

The Hays Methodology for change is fundamental in executing change management projects here at Hays Talent Solutions. The methodology is split into five key phases, from initiation and planning to delivery and benefits realisation.

When overseeing a change management project, you should dedicate time to consider and plan each phase appropriately, but there are three phases crucial to success but oft- overlooked: Shape, Plan and Sustain.

The purpose of the ‘Shape’ phase is to set the right tone for the project, crafting the direction of change, building senior alignment and laying solid foundations for implementation. During the ‘Plan’ phase, time is devoted to understanding what exactly change means across all levels of the organisation, from people and processes to the technology involved, as well as the resources required to instigate not just meaningful, but long-lasting changes in behaviour.

Leaders often overlook these phases, eager to jump to the more exciting stages of ‘Prepare’ and ‘Deliver’.

However, without thorough consideration of the direction and reason for change, as well as an assessment of the extent to which it will impact employees across your organisation, you risk sourcing a solution that misses the mark, because you have not fully understood the problem or underestimated the demands that the change will place upon your teams.

At the other end of the Change Methodology is the ‘Sustain’ phase, which ensures there is capability and understanding in the organisation to maintain the benefits of change. After months, or even years, of sustained commitment to push the project over the line, it may be tempting to sit back once the ‘Deliver’ stage is considered complete.

However, to stop so suddenly robs the project of achieving ‘Ultimate Success’. As a team leader or project manager, it falls to you to remain focused on the bigger picture.

Rather than striving simply for an overhaul in operations, you must use the ‘Sustain’ phase to ensure change becomes a fundamental part of ‘business-as-usual'.

You’ll need to reframe your thinking, moving away from seeing the ‘go live’ date as the end goal and instead viewing project success in the formation of sustained habits. Introducing a new payment portal, for example, is just the start of the journey. Ensuring every single transaction is processed using this system is the real victory.

It may seem as though time spent in these phases causes the project to slow down or even grind to a halt, as much of the work is conducted behind-the-scenes.

But rest assured, time invested in the Shape, Plan and Sustain phases of the project will pay dividends in the long-term. You’ll develop a rigorous understanding of the stakeholders you’ll need to win-over, the problems they face, and the support needed to implement and uphold change.

Fail to do so on the first attempt and you’ll likely find yourself devoting additional time and resource in retracing your steps.

Pay attention to your people

You can source a transformative solution, assemble a top project management team and bring military precision to your plan, but if your employees do not buy into the vision, your change management project will probably fail to realise the desired benefits .

Why? Because the solution you implement will only ever be as good as the people using it.

Below are some key areas in which to channel your focus as you look to win over your most vital asset: your people.

Keep your eyes (and ears) open

Although time-consuming, I firmly believe that collecting and analysing feedback from employees both prior to, and throughout the change management process is a prerequisite for success. Pulse surveys, focus groups and one-to-one reflections can offer a wealth of insights.

Not only does data collection show your people that you care about their needs and value their opinions, it also offers invaluable insights into objections that could derail the project, if left unchecked .

For example, by monitoring survey responses, you see an emerging trend of fear amongst staff that the suggested change will require skills that a portion of your workforce do not currently possess. Armed with this knowledge, you can deploy a series of targeted communications, detailing the training programmes in the pipeline that are designed to equip your teams with the skills to navigate new processes, systems or technologies.

Monitoring and actioning employee insights can also create a sense of ownership across all levels of the organisation.

By remaining open to feedback, you can illustrate the ways in which you’ve adapted the project to address or accommodate the valuable comments made by your teams. If employees can see the impact of their insights, they are more likely to feel connected to the project – and its success.

Dedicate adequate time and resource to collating and monitoring employee feedback. Time invested here will far outweigh any resources needed to tackle concerns missed later down the line.

Put time into your purpose

Human beings favour the status quo because change can be unsettling or stressful. However, if employees believe in the purpose behind the change, research shows that they are more likely to modify their individual behaviour.

Before you begin moving through the phases of your Change Methodology, take time to review the fundamentals of your project. Consider why the change is a positive step forward not only for the organisation, but also your teams.

Once complete, share this vision and illustrate how the difficulties faced during the change management journey will result in something that is ‘genuinely better’.

At this stage, empathy is key. You must put yourself in the shoes of the people who will be impacted and talk to them about the things that matter most. For example, if the project will automate a process that has previously been labelled monotonous or time-consuming, highlight how the suggested change will alleviate this responsibility, enabling them to reallocate time to the more creative or rewarding aspects of their role.

Although a painstaking part of the process, reframing change as part of a wider purpose helps to shift mind-sets from resistance to acceptance. Research shows that executives who took the time to address mind-sets were four times more likely to rate their change management programmes as successful.

Say it loud and clear

When overseeing a change management project, it matters what you say - and when you say it.

Good communication sets the tone for instigating change, so you need to think beyond PowerPoint slides and reams of data. I’ve listed below just a few parts of your communication strategy that should cause you to break a sweat.

A killer kick-off meeting

Your internal kick-off meeting is the change management equivalent to the half-time show at the Superbowl. Action-packed and planned to a tee, this is your chance to showcase to the world (otherwise known as your stakeholders) the blueprints of your transformation strategy.

Consider carefully not only who will be present but also the direction of the meeting. This should not become a forum for debating the resources, goals or purpose of the project. Rather, view this meeting as an opportunity to reinforce your vision, provide an overview of how the plan will be implemented and share best practices for monitoring key milestones.

Dedicate time to the planning and execution of this meeting to ensure that employees walk away feeling energised and eager to be a part of your ‘Change Army’.

Get personal with technology

As well as thinking about what you say to people, you need to dedicate time to considering how you deliver key messages.

Change is hard. It brings with it uncertainty, fear and resentment. But studies have shown that when individuals are shown how their unique efforts contribute to the wider project, they are more likely to be ‘energised’ by the prospect of change than fearful of it.

Take advantage of technology to make change a personal experience – at scale. Use interactive videos, the company intranet and mobile apps to deliver a tailored digital learning experience to compliment the rollout of your transformation strategy.

A global manufacturer, for example, delivered a mix of daily content, including videos and short quizzes to staff via a mobile app to ‘make the most of employees’ existing preferences and habits.’ Engagement levels across content and format were monitored closely and blended with digital technology, analytics and behavioural science.

The result? A customised development plan for 500 employees that supported a range of personalised interventions, including managing the review process and sharing best practice.

Striving for success

Change is difficult. Managing change can feel impossible.

But the world of work is changing at a rapid pace. Organisations that embrace the opportunity to reshape their workforce strategy will boost employee engagement, future-proof their business and gain a competitive advantage.

With the right support, organisations and their people can thrive. Find out more about how Hays Talent Solutions can help you.


Alex Fraser
Group Head of Change, Hays

Alex is responsible for managing the successful implementation of global strategic change initiatives across our business and building the change management capability of our people globally. Alex and her team developed and implemented the Hays Change Management Methodology which is now used with customers globally as well as internally across Hays. Alex has over 20 years of experience working as a change management consultant for both KPMG and PwC in the UK, where she was responsible for driving major change initiatives for a diverse range of clients and industries to ensure that they were able to realise and sustain real business benefits. Alex’s change experience covers a broad spectrum, including complex multi-territory systems implementations, large scale organisation transformations, and cultural and behavioural change.

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