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Plan for Sustainable Change Management from the Start

I was watching the new Creed II movie, and in the film, an aged Rocky Balboa slowly climbs the same museum steps that he famously ran up and cheered at the top of in the iconic Rocky movie scene years ago. After he struggles to make the final steps, he celebrates that he’s still able to make the trip again. While watching this I immediately began to wonder. Did he think about still having to make the trek back down those stairs? How long might that take?

We know that Organizational Change Management (OCM) successfully connects both the technical side and the people side of an initiative throughout the entire change effort. But what exactly is the entire change effort and how do you know if it was truly a success?

While some may believe that their work is complete once a new product or technology finally launches and they begin to see desired results, human behavior isn’t as clear cut. According to Prosci (1), leaders should only know if a change was successful if they can take a step back and be sure that employees are still motivated to work differently afterwards.

When organizations have the mentality of implementation = change success, it causes them to underestimate their own capacity for sustaining people’s adoption of new behaviors. Key members will either move on or be reassigned somewhere else leaving the project team with hope that changes will uphold, and that performance results will continue to improve without their help. As David Chapman, General Manager of Perficient’s Organizational Change Management practice puts it, (2) “ultimately, we shoot ourselves in the foot so close to the end line and we don’t realize the benefits we intended to drive by implementing the new system to start with”.

John Kotter clearly cautions leaders of change to avoid the mistake of “declaring victory too soon” in his Harvard Business Review article on leading change (3). Instead, they should continue support well after go-live to “make the change stick” and help people avoid from falling back to old habits once the excitement has died down.

Now, rather than thinking of sustainment as an added effort to be started once the change has been made, the most successful projects start planning for sustainable change at the beginning.  A benchmark study on sustainment by Prosci (4) showed that, “61% of participants reported planning for sustaining adoption early on.  Also, 60% of participants who allocated adequate resources for reinforcement activities either met or exceeded project objectives.”

Below are some examples of the benefits planning for sustainment from the start:

  • Know what to evaluate and measure post-adoption
    • If long-term goals of sustainment are developed and success metrics are defined at the beginning, leaders and colleagues will have less difficulty knowing what to assess and how to measure progress.
  • Engage with your established Change Network to refocus on post-implementation support
    • Work with stakeholders that you have built a relationship with during the project to continue giving knowledge to support end-users, providing lessons learned, and advocating the change when things tend to slow down.
  • Create a long-term rather than interim training plan
    • Develop long-term training plans that designate someone as the owner of making any training adjustments needed after evaluation or updating future onboarding materials.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate
    • Leverage key messages developed during the project to support ongoing communications on any updates made after the change. Show end users the progress that’s been measured and tie it back to the goals they heard so much about before the change. Answer FAQs so end users are aware of any issues or concerns. Most of all, share the successes to gain more credibility and maintain the momentum.

Successful change management goes beyond implementation to ensure that individuals are ready, willing, able, and stable to make a change. Creating a plan for sustainment from the beginning also ensures that project leaders aren’t left shorthanded when allocating the right resources for reinforcement and that employees have the right OCM support to reach business objectives and achieve lasting success.

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