If I could only choose one thing to focus on…

Posted by Audra Proctor

By Audra Proctor, Director & Head of Learning, Changefirst


Surely, we just need to be doing the people bits better in our projects – do we really need all this? This was the killer question posed after circa 50 minutes of discussion about the virtues and processes for closer integration between project and change management processes. It came in like a late home run, reminding me that in the complexity and busy-ness of our projects and programmes, change management needs to be as accessible and scalable for the “Accidental Change Agent”, as it is stimulating and practical for the “Evangelist”.

2 years ago we conducted a piece of research at Changefirst with over 4,000 change practitioners in our global community, which highlighted some interesting differences between those who stated that 75% of their projects were successful versus 50% success or less. Notably, for the more successful projects the change manager role was mostly full-time, highly skilled and evangelical about keeping change management front and centre as a key enabler to success.

However, the person posing the question was no evangelist. Rather this was an already stretched project manager; wearing multiple hats, and looking to understand how to scale, apply and integrate new change management requirements into daily project practices, say more than 50% of the time.

On reflection, the question was more about: simple things to do to get started; tricks and tips to be impactful and credible; the critical and practical few that really make a difference. So I started thinking about what I would choose (if I could only choose one thing) from a rather extensive change management repertoire to focus on?

My short answer is ENGAGEMENT. The people bits I would choose to do much better are all to do with Engagement (and I don’t just mean Communication). Our Legacy of Average is the powerful imperative, since our average engagement has only ever produced 25% commitment to major change. In addition, research dating back to the 1970's tells us that the best engagement is driven by intrinsic motivation, which has an important part to play in an individual’s behaviour, because of the superior value that people attach to exploratory, playful and curiosity driven activity to extend and exercise their capabilities.

So what are these people bits that we should be doing more of?

1. Communication - the primary purpose of Communication is to create clarity. However it is often overused because of a mind-set that if you deliver messages in a logical format, then people, being rational, will buy into it and take appropriate action to deliver change. Instead, plan communication events that give people access to, and opportunity for dialogue with change leaders. Their opinions need to be heard and given careful respect and consideration.

2. Involvement - control generally matters during change and Involvement is the most powerful way to give people a sense of control. Plan involvement opportunities at different project phases (assessment, strategic planning and solution-design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation) that provide people with opportunities to challenge, control and cooperate, which in turn promote intrinsic motivation. Two things to be mindful of are that we manage people’s expectations about what happens to their input, and people are given the time and capacity to participate.

3. Learning - most change requires new skills and attitudes that people need to learn, but effective learning during change should be about enhancing self-esteem and autonomy. So, plan your learning interventions to provide:
a. real support for competence (not just classroom training, but optimal challenge, feedback and coaching that help people internalise new skills)
b. space for people to explore, practice, take risks and make mistakes
c. people with sufficient time to improve before their performance is judged.

4. Recognition – trying to coordinate big/extrinsic rewards is a real challenge for project managers. However, giving small rewards that are more intrinsic in nature and aligned to specific accomplishments can be very effective. Build your reward plans to include clear points of recognition for specific behaviour change, milestone achievement, active involvement in change and the willingness to pilot new approaches to work. Intrinsic recognition sends a strong message that old ways of working and resisting change will not be rewarded. It is also are far more motivational because it can be personalised and given at a time that is close to the event that warrants it.

To read more about engagement download our free whitepaper 'How to Actively Engage People in Organisational Change'.

Download Free Whitepaper

Tags: Change Management Training, Employee Engagement, Organisational Change

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