Organizational change is part art, part science. Understanding the myriad of factors is critical: corporate culture, industry and business factors, management and staff personalities, commitment to change, availability of resources, etc. Change management is a specialty in and of itself.
Experience proves that transformations are rarely successful across all dimensions. Research has found that projects that add value, are completed on-time, and fully meet business objectives occur less than 25% of the time. While attention to the objectives and form of the new design is common, much less consideration is given to designing and executing the plan. Based on our research and client work, we have identified a number of guiding principles to assist in planning and executing a successful transformation initiative. There are specific approaches that are tightly correlated with successful transformations; as well, these approaches complement and reinforce one another.
Exercise strong leadership.
Strong leadership and maintaining energy for change are two principles of success that reinforce each other when executed well. Leadership occurs at all levels of the project. Senior management must clearly endorse and reinforce the vision of the project; consistent communication and visibility that reinforces the project is critical. Projects that clearly articulate and communicate a business rationale, and proactive seek organizational buy-in, are significantly more successful. Leadership extends throughout the project hierarchy, and staff should be given appropriate leadership roles. This will instill a sense of ownership in staff both directly and by a view of their peers that management is taking their needs into consideration.
Be aspirational, yet pragmatic in setting goals and objectives.
Defining specific goals and objectives at the outset informs a number of aspects of the project. Desired outcomes should be precise but not limited to small tasks. Aspirational goals are important to broaden the vision of possibilities. Yet pragmatism is a counterbalance to ensure that the transformation project does not find itself stymied by disappointment from unrealized success. Importantly, revisit the goals and objectives as knowledge and understanding of the change program improve.
Set clear targets that are readily measured.
Define metrics that complement the goals and objectives. Use both quantitative and qualitative measures that will provide management insight to strengths or weaknesses, and provide indications of where to focus improvement efforts. To the extent possible, metrics should be qualitative and lend themselves to comparative and trend analysis. Ensure that stakeholders agree to the validity of the goals and objectives, as well as the defined measures. The lack of buy-in to the fundamentals leads to future conflict once results are returned and analyzed. Identify and understand the root cause of personal sensitivities that certain metrics may cause. While not always communicated, staff (particularly support staff) may develop strong concerns about threatening management oversight caused by metrics.
Create a clear project structure that includes accountability.
Successful transformation projects share a structured approach that breaks the process into specific, clearly defined initiatives. While the transformation as a whole may be revolutionary, an organization adapts and assimilates change more readily in an evolutionary approach. Perhaps counter intuitively; research shows that a robust risk management process or a project management office is not strongly correlated to successful transformations. We do not advocate eliminating these functions, but recognize that these are supporting roles. Stakeholders must have a clear understanding of their role, where they fit into the process and responsibilities in contributing to the project.
Engage and motivate the entire organization, including the full range of stakeholders.
Resist the tendency to drive change by edict. While management must take a leadership role, participation by attorneys and legal professional staff, as well as administrative staff, is critical. Interestingly, we find that many change programs have strong administrative and support staff involvement, but lack active participation by attorneys. This is a critical mistake as the process misses a key perspective and contributor. Business clients—an important benefactor—should also have clear visibility into the process, with direct involvement at appropriate stages. Likewise, outside service providers, such as law firms, should be included in areas where they have a role. The broader involvement of stakeholders outside of the core organization serves as an excellent source of alternative perspective and ideas; not to mention brining external experiences that may be enlightening.