All large-scale organisational change carries its own change management risk. Organisational change risk is associated with mergers, downsizing, rightsizing, outsourcing, major IT projects and Lean implementations are now well known and usually attempts are made to mitigate the change management risks. Yet large-scale changes and projects have a very disappointing record of not living up to expectations and delivering on their anticipated benefits! (http://calleam.com/WTPF/?page_id=1445 )

What causes large-scale projects to consistently fall short of their expectations? There are probably only two major reasons: technology or people. Let’s take technology first. Enough is known about IT design, structuring reorganisations, project management, and process re-engineering for us to assume that technology is not to be the problem that creates change management risk.

What do we typically do to encourage change take-up?

That leaves the role of people in change take-up. So let’s start by looking at what we typically do to assist people to engage with change:

  1. Communicate like crazy. Following Kotter’s message that we usually under communicate by a factor of ten (http://www.kotterinternational.com/our-principles/changesteps/step-4), we produce a blizzard of emails, slogans and posters.
  2. Restate the business case. It really excites the Financial Director, and so we summarise it and send it out, hoping it will also excite the people on the receiving end of the change.
  3. Offer debriefing workshops and individual counselling when things get really tough.

Are these typical change management activities effective?

The simple answer is that these change management activities are not all that effective. Busy team members tend to ignore updates about the latest developments on the project, often just waiting to see how it will impact them and their job security. Restating the business case and the benefits for the organisation, does little to excite team members in the face of potential job losses. Debriefing workshops and counselling are usually only made available at the end of the change process and their reactive nature does little to ensure the success of the change.

Cynics say that we are not effective in change management risk reduction or change management support. They say our actions seldom engage team members, and our actions could even leave them cynical and change weary.

Effective change management activities

The secret to the success of large-scale project take up is mitigating the people risks. Here are our top 5 steps to consider when implementing large scale and disruptive change:

  1. Train the leaders to be personally resilient, and in particular how to exercise resilient leadership with their team.
  2. Train the team members on resilience tools and techniques to enable them to engage with the change, rather than resisting it or being overwhelmed by it.
  3. Leaders incorporate resilience strengthening activities into their usual team meetings.
  4. Leaders manage their team members’ resilience in one-on-one meetings using resilience tools appropriate to the team member’s resilience.
  5. Write change communications using the resilience tools, for example reframing, encouraging optimism and telling positive stories.

The good news is change management risk can be substantially reduced. This can be done by enhancing leaders’ and team members’ personal resilience, and ensuring leaders use resilience tools to monitor and manage their team members’ resilience.

What are you doing to manage and reduce the change management risk of your organisation’s important projects?