by Michele Frankovich and Elizabeth Lenz
The ancient philosopher Heraclitus stated that change is the only constant in life. But that isn’t quite right. Another constant is that people generally are reticent to change and will do almost anything to avoid it. That’s because change represents the unknown, which is scary.
Nevertheless, change presents opportunities. Change is how people and organizations evolve. And evolution is necessary—if people and organizations do not adapt to changing conditions, they sooner or later will encounter difficulties. For instance, people need to learn new skillsets if they want to remain competitive in the job market. Similarly, organizations need to react to changing market conditions if they want to continue serving their customers, whose needs and wants continually evolve—or in the case of government entities, their constituents.
Program management involves the strategies and tactics that are necessary to execute change. Operational change management is the human side of program management. At the heart of operational change management is the ability to get people to buy into change, which is essential if the program goals are to be met.
Avoiding Pockets of Resistance
Whenever something new is introduced, pockets of resistance inevitably emerge. Overcoming resistance requires internal and external stakeholder education, with the amount and type depending on how disruptive the change will be to the organization as a whole, as well as to the individuals who comprise the organization, or its customers/constituents. A big part of the educational process is getting stakeholders to understand how the change benefits them. Another is dispelling rumors that can derail the change effort.
Organizational culture is a critical component of operational change management. It is imperative to get staff members to buy into the change, but just as important to get buy-in from leadership. That’s because setbacks will occur along the journey—the more disruptive the change, the more setbacks will occur. When they do, it is incredibly useful to have the support of leadership. Change might still happen without leadership’s buy-in, but probably not to the degree it needs to happen, and it certainly will be a more difficult process.
Culture—the Invisible Infrastructure of an Organization
Culture is the invisible infrastructure of an organization. An organizational culture that embraces change makes operational change management, and ultimately program management, much easier and more effective. Such a culture starts at the top and then wends its way down through the rest of the organization.
Here's an example: When Mission Critical Partners was launched a dozen years ago, its founders wanted to establish a specific organizational culture. So, they established five core values—persistence, integrity, trust, accountability and prudence—that all staff members are expected to embrace; they instilled the “Rockefeller Habits,” which help to keep everyone on the same page; and they embraced the philosophies of business-management guru and author Patrick Lencioni to further refine the culture. (Lencioni’s books “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and “The Ideal Team Player” speak directly to organizational culture.) All of these elements have contributed to MCP’s success and still inform everything that we do.
Avoid the 'Failing to Communicate' Fallout
One of the biggest mistakes that organizations make regarding operational change management is failing to communicate effectively with internal and external stakeholders. They roll out new strategies tactics, procedures and policies without considering the fallout—worse, they fail to bring stakeholders into the loop. In business, no one likes surprises. When this happens, relationships with stakeholders often become strained or are broken, sometimes irreparably. Both are bad outcomes, largely because they make change execution more difficult going forward. Things tend to go better when buy-in is achieved, and effective communication is the key to getting buy-in.
Another common mistake that organizations make is that they are too inflexible regarding how they plan to execute the change, i.e., they are reluctant to change the plan—which is ironic when one thinks about it. This is a natural instinct though—it took considerable time, thought and effort to develop the plan; thus, the tendency is to stick to it. However, a willingness to change the plan—regardless of how well-conceived it is—is just as important as a willingness to communicate it. Invariably, new information will emerge as the plan is executed, and it is vitally important that this information is used to adapt the plan as necessary. There has to be some wiggle room to deal with unforeseen bumps in the road that are bound to emerge.
We would love the opportunity to help you develop an operational change-management plan that aligns with your strategic goals and objectives. We’d also love to chat with you about developing or refining your overall strategic plan. Please reach out.