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A program director from a global industry leader made this somewhat startling admission in a recent call with IMA President Don Harrison: at least 80% of their change projects fail to fully achieve value realization. This really got us thinking about the challenge for Change Agents, and not just at this organization. Where do you start to make a difference when you may not be in a position of organizational power?
The reality is too many Change Agents rationalize they are simply victims of the status quo. They tell themselves there is nothing they can do at their level that will make a difference. However, we believe Change Agents are not powerless when it comes to changing the organizational approach to change management. Actually, the most effective way to “change change management” is not at the enterprise, cultural level. Instead, we tell clients what works best is to “change change management” one project at a time. It’s a much narrower approach that means selecting 3 or 4 actions that will have a significant impact on value realization for that project. Leaders will start to notice when projects go differently, and you can then build from there.
With that in mind, here are 4 starting points for your projects:
4 High Impact Actions for Change Agents
- Spend your time on high impact interventions that are in the moment. Stop focusing the majority of your limited time on completing actions for a pre-developed, rigid plan that is activity-based and not impact based. If you are always thinking about the principles of AIM (the Accelerating Implementation Methodology,) you will have directional guidance on what will make a difference right now. For example, this may be helping a Sponsor identify the source of resistance or providing tactics to manage the resistance in the moment. Or it might be helping a Sponsor develop a menu of Reinforcements for his/her direct reports. Why? Because you know the most important action a Sponsor can take is to apply Reinforcements (positive or negative consequences) immediately following observed behaviors.
- Be clear on who your Sponsors are, and what you need from them. If all you are doing is a generic type of “Stakeholder Analysis” you are missing so much important information, including really knowing who all your Sponsors even are! You need to know the names and organizational location of both Authorizing Sponsors and Reinforcing Sponsors in your area of responsibility. Don’t assume a Steering Committee is a substitute for Sponsors who are Expressing, Modeling, and Reinforcing their personal and public commitment to the change. Sponsorship is not a volunteer position; if someone has a direct report impacted by a change, he or she is a Sponsor! If you aren’t already using key role mapping, we highly recommend you start. It is really the battle plan for the people side of project implementation.
- Focus on middle and upper-level Sponsors, rather than on lower level Targets. It is so tempting for Change Agents to spend significant time trying to convince Targets to change, largely through communication efforts. When you keep in mind the AIM Principle that actions around Expression (i.e., communication) are only worth about 10-15% of the success of your project, it becomes abundantly clear devoting so much time to formal communication ends up taking up valuable time and resources from other actions. What’s more, the communication that does have the most impact is between the Sponsor and his/her direct reports. Therefore, don’t spend the lion’s share of your limited budget on developing beautiful slide decks that don’t move the needle on value realization.
- Use Sponsor Contracting and plan for Sponsor conversations. When you are planning a discussion with a Sponsor, be sure you are operating from the Sponsor’s motivations, which include personal motivations and organizational motivations. As Don Harrison reminds our AIM Accreditation participants, “Every Sponsor wants to pay the least price possible to get the best results possible.” If you are talking to your Sponsor about how important change management is, stop it right now! Instead, talk about what you can do to bring a project in faster, at high level quality, and at the most efficient cost possible. We firmly believe Sponsor Contracting is the most important skill a Change Agent must have!
One of our favorite Don Harrison quotes is, “Change Management is an exercise in power and politics. If you are not comfortable in that arena, you are in the wrong profession.” It is very true there is much you cannot control in your organization. But it is also true as a Next Generation Change Agent, you can begin to change project results when you change what you spend your time on.