Sean Worth, Executive Director
I recently had the privilege of discussing the relationship between benefits realisation and change with attendees of the Convergence 2017 Organisational Change Conference (www.convergenceaustralia.com.au).
My presentation had a simple, key message:
For change managers to flourish rather than simply survive, they need to start focusing on the benefits of change rather than just undertaking the activities of change.
The basis of my position is the observation that, in many organisations, the scope of change management has narrowed and become synonymous with stakeholder engagement and communications.
In these organisations, change management plans focus largely on stakeholder identification and the development and delivery of messaging to take those stakeholders along the classic commitment spectrum from ‘not aware’ to ‘buy-in’. An element of training may also feature in these plans, but rarely do change plans focus adequately on the actions required with the business to embed new capabilities and realise the value intended – the whole objective of a change program or project.
The result? Most change programs fail to deliver the value expected as insufficient change occurs within the organisation to fully realise benefits.
Change plans need to become benefit-focused
To prevent this loss of value, change managers need to refocus their activity plans on building or fostering the organisational environment required to realise the benefits required. Change managers must combine the historically separate benefit realisation plan and change plan into a single, integrated plan that focuses on delivering the change activities required to enable benefit realisation and sustainment.
Plans that have previously focused on achieving defined stakeholder commitment levels to the change program or project need to be refocused to deliver the stakeholder capability required to realise and sustain the benefits required.
Change plans need to more actively identify the degree of capability and extent of adoption required to realise benefits and then to implement the change activities that deliver those required levels of capability and adoption. The plans must also consider what sustainment activity, such as ongoing benefit reporting, training and continuous improvement processes, must be established to enable benefit realisation.
This change of focus is likely to result in greater change management effort in business areas where benefits are to be realised and less change effort directed towards general communications that increase awareness but do not directly impact benefits.
Another outcome will be the ability for the change manager to effectively articulate the benefit of change activities being undertaken and assess the impact on the benefit if certain activities are ceased or deferred.
The role of change manager will be elevated from one of engagement and communications practitioner to a key value provider within the organisation.
Diagram: Changing the focus of change activity from stakeholder commitment to delivery of stakeholder capability to realise benefit.
Change plans must set KPIs that demonstrate their effectiveness
Another key element in benefit-focused change delivery is the ability to measure the effectiveness of change activities.
Typically, benefit expectations are based on assumed levels of change adoption (e.g. projected payroll processing savings assume that 90% of employees will use on-line leave applications). To be benefits-focussed, it therefore makes sense that these assumptions become integral to change design and delivery, being used to measure the effectiveness of the change while its being delivered to provide feedback on change progress.
This approach shifts emphasis from the performance of change activities to the measurable impact of change activities, providing the change manager with greater confidence that change activities will enable realisation of the benefits required.
By undertaking these two simple, but significant, changes in change design and delivery, change managers will be able to demonstrate greater linkage between change activities and the overall value (benefit) provided by change programs and projects.
This is not only an important step forward in recognising the importance of successful change management, but a critical factor in improving the likelihood that change programs and projects will deliver the value expected.