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Edition #24 | November 2022

Change management: Why it matters, and how to make it stick

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1. Intro: The case for change management

 

As organizations ramp up their digital transformation investments, change management is coming into focus as a critical factor in seeing those investments pay off. Yet companies tackling change frequently face gaps between strategy and execution, and the challenge of gathering the resources and commitment to see it through. In this edition of Perspectives, Thoughtworks experts take apart some of the common misconceptions about change management, providing advice on how to see it through and best practices to achieve the often elusive goal of making change last.

 

The real secrets to transformation success

 

“How important were each of the following in driving your organization’s success in modernization/digital transformation?”

Bar chart showing that communication, continuous improvement, and skilled practitioners drive transformation success Bar chart showing that communication, continuous improvement, and skilled practitioners drive transformation success

Source: Forrester / Thoughtworks

 

 

“A change management program is not just about managing change as a series of activities in a plan. It’s not a project to manage, it’s a mission to drive." 

 

Dee Wauchope
Organization Transformation Principal, Thoughtworks


 

2. Identifying the need for change management – and managing expectations

Change management shouldn’t be limited to projects of a certain size or cost. Any behavioral or structural challenges that hold employees back from full participation in an organizational shift can be indicators that a formal program is required to facilitate a new mindset, and dispel the misconceptions that jeopardize meaningful results. In tandem with organizational structures and employee expectations, change management practices have evolved in the last 20 years from top-down to agile approaches fit for more nimble ways of working. 

 

Common misconceptions about change management

 

1.   The problem can be fixed just by implementing new technology 

2.  The project team is solely responsible for managing the change process

3.   There is a defined end date

4.   Change can be implemented quickly 

5.   Change management is nothing more than a communications plan

6.   The experience for people going through change is linear

7.    ROI doesn’t have to be a primary consideration 

 


“Instead of trying to get from point A to B and stopping there, organizations need to take it one step further and prepare people within the organization for what will, for most organizations, be continuing change going forward.” 

 

Peter Barnes
Domain Specialist, Thoughtworks


 

3. Rallying change management champions

Positioning the change management program at the right level so it receives the necessary sponsorship and attention, even before formal plans are fully laid out, is a major step towards achieving end-goals. The right sponsors not only help to ensure adequate funding for a program, but effectively motivate employees, and serve as a role model and source of inspiration on what can be a difficult journey. Firm support is needed to guide people impacted through the three key phases of change: preparation, execution and reinforcement. 

 

Sponsor effectiveness directly impacts the success of change management initiatives

 

Correlation of Sponsor effectiveness with meeting objectives

Projects with extremely effective sponsors were more than twice as likely to meet their objectives than those with very ineffective sponsors. Projects with extremely effective sponsors were more than twice as likely to meet their objectives than those with very ineffective sponsors.
Source: Prosci

 


“Sponsorship is the number one point of failure or success for change management efforts.”

 

Kiran Rouzie
Head of Technology Strategy, North America, Thoughtworks


4. Preparation: Laying the groundwork through open dialogue 

Embarking on the change journey ill-prepared will almost inevitably lead to adoption issues down the road. Organizations can avoid this by taking steps to secure the support of the people impacted even before a program kicks off in earnest. In the lead up to implementation and throughout the change journey, employee feedback is a vital resource. The onus is on organizations to create a psychologically safe space and the communication channels to enable open and genuine communication between those leading the change, and those who need to embrace it. 

 

Compelling communication of change from leaders increases employee engagement and confidence, and reduces feelings of burnout and stress

 

Compelling communication of change from leaders increases employee engagement and confidence, and reduces feelings of burnout and stress Compelling communication of change from leaders increases employee engagement and confidence, and reduces feelings of burnout and stress
Source: Gallup

 


“Organizations that have been successful in effecting change are those with a culture of genuinely wanting to do the right thing by their employees, customers, and the company.” 

 

Dee Wauchope
Organization Transformation Principal, Thoughtworks


5. Execution: Sustaining, and measuring success

Without ownership and engagement, a change management program is at risk of faltering as soon as the technical elements of a transformation are completed. And the best way to encourage this kind of buy-in is by clearly demonstrating the program’s value. By targeting ‘quick wins,’ organizations can build momentum for further change, while identifying and evaluating a mix of success metrics that tie into business goals and can make the case for ongoing transformation clear at all levels of the enterprise. 

 


“Large scale ‘waterfall’ change frequently fails as people get lost on the way and don’t make it to the end of the journey. Agile or iterative methodologies on the other hand allow organizations to take the temperature at multiple levels frequently and adjust accordingly.”  

 

Peter Barnes
Domain Specialist, Thoughtworks


 

6. Reinforcement: From change management to change-embedded

After the relief of locking new technologies and processes into place, it’s easy to neglect the necessary mechanisms to reinforce them. But this leaves teams susceptible to reverting to old ways of working when the change management program is perceived as over. A few targeted steps, from training the right people to continue as change agents, to reviving the success metrics established at the beginning of the program to continuously measure progress, can ensure change becomes business as usual, and make long-term contributions to the enterprise’s adaptive capacity. 

 

Embedding new changes into day-to-day processes paves the way for transformation success

 

Increased likelihood for successful transformations

Organizations who embed change into their day to day processes, including  weekly exec briefings, monthly or quarterly performance reviews, performance dialogues, objective setting, annual planning and budgeting, and capital, IT resource and talent allocation, are more likely to have a successful transformation. Organizations who embed change into their day to day processes, including  weekly exec briefings, monthly or quarterly performance reviews, performance dialogues, objective setting, annual planning and budgeting, and capital, IT resource and talent allocation, are more likely to have a successful transformation.
Source: McKinsey

 


“Reinforcement is the main step where companies lose the momentum and energy to continue to carry change forward.”

 

Kiran Rouzie
Head of Technology Strategy, North America, Thoughtworks


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