Expert Insights

6 ways to make your change programme a success

When it comes to change programmes, companies often make the same mistakes. So what are they and how do you avoid them? Author, coach and successful change management expert Brigitte Cobb offers her tips to staying on track.

1. Change is about people…

…not systems and processes. “Too many times,” Brigitte says, “I go into an organisation and they’re focused on installing a new system. I was recently invited to a roundtable discussion on setting up a change function and behavioural change was at the bottom of their list. You need to explain why you’re making a change, what behaviours you want to see as a result and get buy-in.”

Once clear priorities are set (see point 2) messages need to be carefully coordinated and communicated. She adds that “20% of your employees will be really supportive, 60% won’t have strong feelings and another 20% will be against it. The trick is to make supporters out of the 60% and remove the resistance of the last 20%. You have to train all your managers in what’s going to happen and why so they can communicate to their teams. This is particularly important in large change efforts. If there are problems with individuals you have to sit down with them one on one. The best sponsors treat change programmes with the same enthusiasm as great sales people selling a great product.”

You need to explain why you’re making a change, what behaviours you want to see as a result and get buy-in.

2. Set your priorities and execute well

“Don’t try and have 180 priorities. If you have that many, they’re not priorities. Have three. You need to spend time thinking through your priorities and about how what you want to do is going to give you the outcome the business needs. And don’t sponsor pet projects. You then need to spend as much time on execution as you do on strategy.” This is where good delegating comes in; people are rarely good at doing both.

3. Invest in people

While organisations are happy to spend millions on a new system, they’re often less inclined to invest in implementation, whether that’s communications or training, or on the right person to make change happen. Why? “The problem is that tools are tangible and behavioural change isn’t,” she says. “You have to invest in the people side of things. When I’m brought in I always try to second people from functions to the change programme. You need your best people from the business involved to drive the change – they will end up owning it.”

4. Make change stick

Change isn’t a short-term fad, and so you have to keep the momentum going. That means investing in what Brigitte calls ‘enabling structures’. “That could be a performance management system or a proper support function for the new technology you’ve bought. You might want your workforce to be agile, so invest in the IT, or you might your people to sell more, so remunerate them accordingly. Change has to be embedded and you have to back it up, but this may take some time.”

5. Don’t think functionally

“Change is rarely functional; it might be run by IT or finance but it’s pervasive throughout the organisation. That means the governance has to be right. It’s no good if the person running the programme has the power to change something only in HR. If you want to see change across functions, the person leading the change has to drive it at board-level with board-level support, unless they have authority across all these functions.”

6. Get the right professional help, early

Brigitte says you need people with the skills and experience to manage change. You can’t afford to make mistakes because making mistakes gives ready-made excuses to your resisters. You need a strong internal sponsor supported by an interim or an in-house change expert. “Large consultancies are good at coming in with a method for designing the change programme and the system and process elements, but not so good with the people side of things. Also, they should never lead the change, you need a senior person internally to own the change. “I also find that you need to manage large consultancies closely. Senior directors rarely have time to do that on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps – and I would say this – but I’ve found the best method is to have an interim managing the consultants (or obviously your own in-house change expert). Also it’s best to get your change expert or experts in early before the business case is signed off. The earlier they’re on board the better prepared you’ll be and the more chance you have of getting all of the above right.”

Brigitte Cobb

Brigitte Cobb has managed the successful delivery of multimillion-pound change programmes for a variety of clients over the past 15 years. She was a lecturer in change management at Birbeck College and Kingston University and is the author of Make it Fly!, the step-by-step guide to make ANY idea or project take off.

Williams Bain

Williams Bain is an exclusive hybrid interim and change management provider. We’re trusted by some of the UK’s largest organisations to support the implementation of complex strategies that accelerate results and lead to definitive, positive and measurable change.