How to lead your people through change management

Working relationships can be a source of stress and frustration, but they can also be a source of satisfaction and strength. As-one relationships are especially important in projects because of the limited time and resources and the importance of delivery.

Change Unity Model

Harmonious working relationships are the responsibility of every project stakeholder, but especially the change leaders. Several concepts team up to provide a pathway to change unity in this article that supports change agents to become leaders and achieve unity among all the individuals and teams involved in bringing about change.

A retired and formerly highly successful executive reported that his secret for managing change was that he clarified the goals, kept everyone focused on them and kept the momentum going. While he successfully led a major organisation for many years with this simple approach, he added that it always amazed him how quickly the ‘weeds’ would grow and try to choke the plan; the weeds being distractions, interruptions, diversions and the commotions that threaten progress.

The Change Unity model is a practical approach to setting goals and working together to achieve them.

To achieve clarity of goals there need to be clearly defined benefits, the vision of the future and the hope of tomorrow. Without clarity on these elements, change efforts languish. People need to be able to see themselves in the future, enjoying the benefits of the efforts to change and to feel that their future is sound. These are primary human needs and projects that do not provide these fundamentals usually fail.

Goals require a daily refocusing effort. Goals drift away without such focus and fade in direct proportion to the amount of attention the ‘weeds’ receive. Couples that won’t focus on the agreed budget, families that won’t focus on agreed healthy eating, and managers that won’t focus on the agreed direction of the business – will sooner or later become the victims of Distraction and wander off to other easier things to do. While “can’t” is a genuine limitation, “won’t” is a choice and the astute manager will ensure that daily refocusing on goals occurs.

The reason for refocusing is simple. Without focus, there is no commitment and without commitment, there can be no momentum. Lack of commitment and follow-through is the leading reason why projects of any sort fail. Gym owners report that most new registrations occur in January following the Number One “lose weight and get fit” New Year’s Eve resolution. The initial flurry of the first month’s activity is replaced with reasons why attendance is impossible at the moment – meanwhile, the credit card keeps deducting monthly fees.

Scorecard: Distractions 1: KPI’s 0.

Commitment is the pathway to momentum and momentum will transform a group of people just coming to work every day, into a team dedicated to achieving common goals. It’s a manager’s delight to see team momentum in action; and distressing to see self-interested individuals playing power and politics, and tearing it apart. A united team generates the energy to produce great results that often exceed expectations. Seemingly impossible challenges are overcome by people who, with agreed clarity and focus, put their individual barrows aside, and make the team’s goals the priority.

The Change Unity Model defines the basic stakeholders in an organisational change environment and applies the clarity-focus-momentum principles. It provides guidance on how each plays a part in the change unity required to achieve project goals.

The Strategic Team

In the Change Unity Model, the Sponsor has primary leadership accountability for the project. As such, the Sponsor’s role is to ensure that the Steering Committee and the program/project team have clarity of the project’s strategic intent, are focused on the goals and building sustainable momentum throughout the project.

The Strategic Team achieve success by focusing on effective communications building collaborative relationships as a priority and carefully weeding out disharmony and disunity. While organisational reporting structures are the supporting framework to ensure project compliance, effective working relationships are more desirable since the reporting frameworks are often not robust enough to drive change. A Sponsor who can influence through relationships is an essential asset to any project and Sponsors should be carefully selected to ensure such capability.

Facilitating stakeholders at this level to recognise that they are far stronger together than separated by inconsistent agendas, is where healthy change begins. If change unity doesn’t happen at the project leadership level, it’s irrational to expect it to be so in the rank and file.

The Facilitator Team

The Program Director, Project Manager and Change Manager have the next line of accountability and similarly, following the Sponsor’s lead, focus on effective communications and building collaborative relationships with one another. The Facilitator Team achieves success by providing clarity to and among their teams, maintaining focus on the goals, and building sustainable momentum throughout the project.

Here too, careful weeding is required. Project teams can be a hotbed for disharmony and therefore disunity. Team building within and across teams is a gratifying effort that punches above its weight when its time for project deliverables. This is the secret balancing act that gives the greatest result in the shortest span of time, and adds the zing to Friday afternoon cheer.

There is a tendency in projects to slide the ‘touchy-feely’ stuff over to the Change Manager but project relationships are not the sole responsibility of the Change Manager: harmonious relationships are everyone’s responsibility.

The Implementing Team

Senior Management Team members are the main leadership link between the project and the business and are accountable for advancing the project into the business environment. Steering Committees are usually comprised of the organisation’s Senior Management Team and it is implicit in their appointment to ensure that the project is aligned with other business activities, promoted with their people and that project benefits are achieved.

In addition to fitting the project for the organisation’s needs, they can provide clarity about the project, focus on the objectives and build sustainable momentum to achieve the goals. The project benefits from their support for the Sponsor as leader of the project, their executive alignment with peers and their positive promotion of the project. In an operational context, the project benefits from management team support, inclusion in the business schedules, and impacted stakeholders suitably prepared.

Staff are the last in the line of stakeholder groups responsible for working together toward a common goal. If the previous stakeholder groups have achieved unity, the staff group will follow suit more easily.

Cultures are formed primarily based on their leadership and management styles, the organisational structures and systems, their power and politics, as well as human resource management practices. Organisations can influence the desirable culture by manipulating these levers. Many organisations have achieved amazing business turnarounds by doing so.

Communication, Capability and Collaboration

The success of working together hinges on these three critical elements. There needs to be effective communication between parties to clearly understand each other’s perspectives and needs. Effective communication is a prerequisite to collaboration. Collaboration hinges on a willingness to share the space with others to hear and genuinely consider their input and ideas. Innovation is the result of effective communication and collaboration. Where there is one-way communication there is no collaboration; just compliance and compliance is barren ground indeed for developing innovative solutions.

Wise managers ensure that their people are suitably capable of effectively communicating and collaborating and these capabilities apply to all in the Change Unity Model.

In summary, all project stakeholders have a responsibility to build change unity. All need to adequately communicate with others to build and maintain their common focus, collaborate with each other to build the future, and help each other to become capable of delivering their piece of the puzzle. This takes some sacrificing of looking beyond individualism to achieve common goals, but the rewards are greater and more sustainable.

Commitment means persevering with the plan and not letting distractions obscure the pathway to successful achievement.

A fun way for teams to stay focused is to have a wall chart to keep score of the number of times Distraction is overcome, against the goals the team scores as a result. Also keep a second scorecard on how often the team actively focussed on team unity to achieve a goal, against how often they let ‘individualism’ lead to a loss.