Successful Change Management is all down to People

It’s a harsh fact, but some 70% of change efforts fail to achieve all of their predicted goals. So how can organisations ensure that they don’t throw their money away chasing some great opportunity but falling at the various hurdles that change inevitably presents? We outline the path to change management success.

With current economic pressure on cutting back, maintaining profit margins and ensuring competitiveness, it is of the utmost importance that organisations ensure that any change being implemented is embedded successfully in order to maximise planned benefits. And whether the change management is driven by new technology, new products, mergers or acquisitions, the key to success really comes down to one thing, people.

The ability to manage change effectively is the single most important skill needed to establish and sustain strategic success, however, some 70% of change efforts fail to achieve their potential and research shows that the three top reasons are:

  1. Lack of effective leadership
  2. Ineffective project team skills
  3. Failure to actively and effectively engage employees and stakeholders concerning the change and how it will impact on them.

When one or a combination of the above failings occurs, change doesn’t last, costs escalate, time is wasted and employees develop a negative view of future change.

So how do we ensure that we start out with a reasonable chance of success? Well, we’ve compiled some key pointers for you to follow. Try them out – they really do make a difference!

Leading Change – Know Yourself

Know Yourself: Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But remember, self-understanding is the key to so much; it can mean the difference between a successful and disastrous business relationship.

Whoever is appointed to lead the programme or project will more than likely lead it in their own preferred style. Some leaders will be driven to achieve goals as quickly as possible, others will excel in painting a compelling vision of the future, whilst others will want to ensure that all the I’s are dotted and t’s crossed and others that there is a consensus within the team before moving things forward. (Recognise some of these behavioural traits? They represent, of course, our different colour energy preferences.)

There’s nothing wrong with this as each of these different styles brings with it great raft of strengths and, of course, these strengths combined will by and large cover the tick list of effective change management strategy. However, the reality is that we simply cannot be all of the above and we will have a natural preference, just like we have a preference for writing with either our left or right hand, for one or two particular styles. Some styles will come more naturally whilst others we will struggle with.

The key, therefore, is to fully understand what your preferred leadership style is and who you need around you to complement your style and bring in the vital skills that you may not have. Get this wrong and you have a strong chance of not obtaining the buy-in and commitment to your project that is required. You run the risk of not engaging with a significant proportion of your target audience i.e. the people who need to embrace and adopt the change to make it happen.

TIP: consider, (no really consider), how you come across at team meetings to get a feel for your leadership style.

Resourcing The Project – Know Your Team

Sometimes you may inherit a team to assist you to bring about the changes required. Alternatively, you may be able to resource key players to bring onto the project. Whether it is the former or the latter, the key is how to harness the skills of the team effectively.

When building a project team, it’s vitally important to make sure that you have a mix of personalities and core skills that will see a project through to completion with positive results. An unbalanced team may have too little of one personality, and associated skills, and not enough of another.

For example, if the majority have sociable, enthusiastic temperaments and the team lacks those with a more formal and analytical approach, a project which starts out with lively and innovative ideas may not have the methodical staying power to see it through. Additionally, will they have the communication skills and approach that will gain the buy-in of their opposite types?

Remember, use your team effectively; that is to say, know and understand their strengths and weaknesses and bring them into play according to the tasks in hand.

TIP: you wouldn’t use a screwdriver to knock in a nail would you? So why that particular individual for that particular task? Ask yourself!

Stakeholder Management – Know Your Audience

“There’s nowt as queer as folk.” An old adage but how true. We’re all different and hence will be affected by change in different ways. The key to success, therefore, is to recognise these differences and manage the needs and expectations of those affected by change accordingly. This can be difficult because, as previously stated, attitudes and reaction to proposed change will vary according to the target audience.

Key Rules for Successful Change Management

Below is a list of 5 key areas to focus on to ensure you’ve covered all points and have set in place a framework to support change.

1. Clarify The Change – Manage Expectations
Early on in the project lifecycle, identify who your stakeholders are. A stakeholder is an individual or group of individuals who exert an influence over the outcome of the project. Write down what the impact will be on them, their relative importance and potential hotspots. Once this data is gathered, the interaction with the stakeholders then needs to be continually managed. Take pains to ensure that the case for change is stated clearly and positively. Why is change necessary? Who will it affect? What will the precise nature of the change be? How will this happen? When will this happen? What will the end result be?

2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
A communication plan needs to be developed to support the stakeholder groups identified. Communication helps to educate people as to what is happening, how it will affect them and the support that will be provided. It is a key part in developing the appropriate levels of commitment and helps reduce the fear of the unknown, loss and incompatibility.Once initial communications have been established, go on communicating – even if there is little or nothing to report. Saying nothing at all might give rise to rumours or a sense that it’s gone away.

3. Involve Staff
People don’t resist change, they change all the time. People resist having changed thrust upon them and like to feel part of change rather than having it done to them.Involve them at every possible opportunity and value their skills, experience and feedback. Wherever possible, use face-to-face meetings e.g. workshops, forums and presentations that enable two-way communication. Get feedback and ideas from the people involved in and affected by the change.

4. Manage Resistance
Resistance to change will occur. This needs to be recognised and managed effectively to ensure that issues are kept in the open and addressed. As soon as things go underground, the job gets much more difficult. Involve staff as above to identify and deal with resistance as it occurs. Minimise resistance with continuous reinforcement of the need for change, regular communications and involvement.

5. Track Progress

Develop measurements that enable progress of the project to be tracked against the main project plan. Is communication effective? What is the level of business commitment? Is resistance to the change being managed? Celebrate successes along the way and communicate and refresh the next set of objectives as the project continues. Provide clear and meaningful thresholds and stages that can be easily digested and recognised as being completed to help demonstrate progress.

Consider Personality Types

Remember that, based on the fact that we all have different needs and expectations, an understanding of the different behavioural drivers is required to effectively manage the change to the satisfaction of all concerned.

As an example, effective communication will mean different things to different people – some prefer to access information in a written format or from a website and have lots of detail, others prefer the spoken word in a group environment. Others prefer small focus groups, whilst others just want to know top-level information like what are we trying to achieve, what are the timescales and who is my main point of contact for issues?

As such, it is important that any communication strategy hits the buttons of all the different people affected by the change. The same also holds true for the other four elements that need to be managed.


In conclusion, it is the combination of both technical project management disciplines and an understanding of human behaviour and dynamics that differentiates organisations that implement change successfully from those who continue to literally pour millions down the drain. Undoubtedly, knowledge of project methods and frameworks such as PRINCE2 are important. However, it is when this knowledge is combined with an understanding of human dynamics that you give yourself and your project a real chance of ensuring that your organisation is not one of the 70% that fail.

Read up on leading with influence, behavioural type and change, soft skills, metaphor in the workplace, a basics guide and effective leadership

The Colour Works specialises in providing learning and development solutions across public, private and charitable sectors throughout the UK.

Why not view our solutions on people and change today?

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