Piia Puska: Five factors that may hinder the progress of your change

Once, there was a project celebrating their last milestone and final installation of a new tool. After a while they noticed that many employees did double-work; they used old tools and the new tool in parallel. 

You may recognize this type of a change case. Unfortunately, it is not unique. Let us figure out what might have gone wrong during the change journey. While assessing the five factors, the change implementation steps will help us to identify the issues. As a rule of thumb, it is not worthwhile taking the next step in the implementation of the change, if the previous one does not yet have a solid ground. The change implementation steps are awareness, understanding, adoption and sustaining.  

1. People are the most interesting and the most challenging part of changes

In one of my change cases, adoption of new tools did not happen even though we had had interactive training sessions. Once we realized that we must organize a workshop where we let the employees take the driver’s seat, we started seeing results. When the employees were given a chance to develop and have a real impact, they felt appreciated, and they decided to step on board. There is no point in organizing training sessions if individuals do not have a personal desire and the right mindset. In other words, before going to the adoption phase, we must ensure that the previous change implementation steps (awareness and understanding) are properly conducted.  

Going back to the change case presented in the beginning; with good listening and genuine interest you can avoid these kinds of issues. You need to understand what value the old systems bring to the employees. The old process required social collaboration that people not just needed in their daily work but also appreciated on a personal level. Hence, it is critical to make a thorough change impact assessment when you start a new change project. 

2. Our capacity has its limits

Even without change, our days are filled with tasks to be accomplished, and our calendars are packed with activities and meetings. Hence, changes always come on top of these daily activities and there is only limited time for them. If top management fails to plan and prioritize changes on the organizational level, many change management efforts are lost.  

In the overload of messages, you may not reach awareness and understanding. The people manager may have too many topics on the agenda in the 1-2-1 meetings to discuss how the change impacts on their team. Some employees simply cannot fit any training or clinic sessions in their calendars and as a result, the change journey stops already at the adoption step. 

3. Leadership matters

Even if your project team and change leads are top professionals, they cannot succeed without leadership support and commitment. To build awareness and understanding you need to have a trustworthy source, namely the senior leader and team manager. They must be present, show example and encourage dialogue. Leadership cannot be delegated.  

4. It is a marathon, not a sprint

As a change manager, I have been frustrated at not seeing the results. It is a human feeling, I suppose. You need to give it time. Small steps are hard to see, and sometimes a step back is needed to be able to take two steps forward. One mistake is to think that the change process ends at the same time with the technical project. Each change needs a long-term owner who ensures the sustaining of the change. Also, the organizational level change portfolio cannot be based on the schedules of technical projects alone. 

5. The finishing touch  

It is of utmost importance to focus on human needs, desire to change and building an understanding of the change. The actions that support the sustaining of a change may include fun games, showing appreciation etc. However, the finishing touch is to ensure that returning to the old is made impossible: close the old tools.  

If you are interested in the change implementation steps, please read the blog post by my colleague Minna Kivimäki.