Can Innovation be successful without Change Management?

By Claire Guyot

By Claire Guyot

I am a strong believer in the power of Change Management to achieve the benefits of any change.

If you want to maximize chances of success, it is critical to understand your change vision — what is it you expect to see when you say ‘done’. Typically, we hear about the importance of managing the people side of change in large corporations running strategic transformation programs but, what about Startups? Or, Innovative Intrapreneurial projects within large enterprises? How critical is Change Management in managing the acceptance of disruptions brought about by these innovations?

What does Change Management mean?

Let’s come back first to the basics of Change Management. It’s been seven years now, that I have been driving change management for transformation programs in a large corporation. With a team of passionate change practitioners, we agreed on the following definition for Change Management:

“an activity that aims at ensuring that people efficiently and effectively accept, adopt, apply andembed a change that is required and planned in their environment (can be related to a process, system, organization, behaviors…).”

Change Management is first and foremost about the people side of the change. To ensure impacted people adopt the change, they need to understand what’s in it for them — how does it add value to their day.

Go from a transformation project to implementation success

Change Management Best Practices from Prosci® suggests that the greatest contributor to change management success is an active and visible executive sponsorship, followed by a structured Change Management approach.

Those critical elements are the first reasons for success… or failure for change to happen.

In uncertain times and moving organizations, people need to be reassured and, engaged. This is exactly what I experienced in one of the largest transformation programs I was part of. The sponsorship was extremely well managed and sustained for over 3 years. Project transformation teams were consistently supported by the sponsor, who was visible, committed and, communicated clearly and regularly towards the impacted employees about the importance of embracing the change.

It made a real difference!

There was a climate of trust built amongst the teams, who felt supported and accompanied, and embraced the change with less resistance. On the contrary, programs where the sponsor was not defined, or inactive, change adoption took longer and was not sustained.

Why Change Management is even more critical when it comes to innovation

Managing a transformation project in a large corporation can be compared to managing an innovation in a startup or an innovation project in a big company. In both cases, it brings changes and uncertainty, it challenges the status quo, and is about people adapting to a new situation by embarking on a journey. We can say that innovation always means change, but not all change is innovative.

Whether you are a startup leader or a manager of an intrapreneurial innovation project within a big company, you need Change Management to identify your key stakeholders, the first ones being your sponsors. You need to persuade them about the importance of the innovation you bring to get their commitment so they will become ambassadors of your innovation. They will be key in accelerating the speed at which people understand, accept and are willing to apply your innovation, and move successfully through the change process and achieve anticipated benefits faster.

I strongly encourage you to follow these critical steps:

  • Take the time to engage your sponsors in the beginning of your innovation journey to minimize potential resistance immediately. If you want their support, they need to understand the Change Vision.
  • Perform a stakeholder analysis which provides you with both a list of stakeholders and, a systematic way to analyze stakeholders by their power and interest and to create a coalition of sponsors. This will help you to adapt your communication strategy, onboard allies and convince others to embark on your innovation journey.
  • Complete an impact analysis to identify the impacts and of the change(s) and identify the benefits of your innovation.
  • Manage both — the stakeholders and the impacts — carefully. You need to constantly access where your sponsors are in their own journey and, you need to stay on top of the impacts. You cannot wait until the final phase to find out you have lost people on the journey, you need them to stay onboard throughout the journey to realize the benefits of innovation.

By now, you should understand that successful innovation requires a solid change management foundation. The active and visible support of your sponsors will help convince impacted people to accept changes brought about by innovation. You win by implementing innovative changes and, everyone wins when innovation is successfully implemented — a win-win!