Change professionals: are you taken seriously?
Your professional success partially relies on your team. What can you do about it?
Who are the players on your team? What are the power dynamics?
When starting on a project, how do you fit into the team hierarchy? And how does your team perceive change professionals?
The answer to these questions can vary significantly.
Change reports directly to the sponsor, or to senior project leadership in others. Change teams or individuals often report to the project manager. In larger projects or programs, there might be a sizable change team, with team members reporting to a Change Director. Operational tempo also has an influence over a change professional’s role demands. In hands-on delivery-focused projects, ample time for lengthy planning is a luxury. Thus change professionals have to hit the ground running immediately. They juggle producing deliverables with iterative planning as they go.
In contrast, more extensive programs may have a slower, deliberate tempo usually due to the sheer number of people involved. So planning by itself is significantly resourced. In rare cases, projects may budget a few months or even longer for this phase.
As a broad, arguable view, political acumen is of greater importance in projects with these longer planning cycles. In contrast, faster-paced projects with an entrepreneurial, task-focused mentality retains a like-minded professional team. Some change professionals will adapt to either environment. One’s professional values and work ethic play a strong role in determining environmental fit. Ask yourself: Is it OK to be late with a deliverable, as long as you haven’t gotten anyone off-side? Or is it the opposite? The answer may help clarify prevailing project team culture.
Different projects result in varying team compositions — and skillsets. There may be a large proportion of operational embedded team members in a project , regardless of the project team size. For example, subject matter experts (SMEs) may be seconded to your project. SMEs may provide unfettered access to stakeholder sentiment and language. In other projects, contractors may represent the largest proportion of ‘project resources’. Sometimes, operational employees drive projects and need a ‘pair of hands’ to provide specialist expertise and focussed energy on delivery. This environment is where a seasoned change professional with a strong work ethic may thrive. Their experience and professional self-confidence provide the right blend of leadership skills, tactical planning and hands-on delivery in this instance.
These are some of the variables that will influence where you, as a change professional, will fit into a given project. Your success is somewhat dependent on these factors. Yet, can you also take proactive approaches to sell the value of change to your team? How can you adapt your offering to your project team’s circumstances and dynamics?
Here is a one-minute video covering the influences of team structure and dynamics on your effectiveness as a change professional:
What do they expect from you? How does your team perceive change professionals?
It could be that your team have not had the best experience with change professionals in the past. This experience has stemmed from individual, group and project-wide sources. The individual may have lacked vital skills required to facilitate change or the energy or adaptability which project environments often need. Project teams may have mismanaged expectations of what a change professional should deliver. This expectation misalignment may be one reason for real or perceived underperformance.
Change professionals, like any project professional, need adequate onboarding and ongoing support to raise the likelihood of success. Sometimes underwhelming support from previous change professionals might stem from perceptions. For example, project leaders may not always see volumes of work being produced by the change professional, in a neat and linear way. Communications and other people-focused efforts may not attract the same attention and visibility as technical build updates, for example. In the early stages of many projects, planning and initial awareness communications are essential for establishing the foundations of the ultimate change activities that will take place. Therefore it doesn’t look like much activity is taking place. Still, it is — like a building site, the foundations take a long time to materialise.
Most project teams recognise the importance of a human-centric view of change. Change management and user experience design complement communications specialists and instructional designers as professions with this view. Each of these professions is among the more human-centric professional skill sets recruited for projects.
However, some of this recruitment may stem from ‘have to’ instead of ‘want to’. For example, certain mandates may influence project leaders to recruit human-centric professional skill sets. Recommendations from post-implementation reviews (PIRs) from previous projects may represent one type of mandate. Incentives drive behaviours, and if project decision-makers are mandated to bring specific skill sets on board, this will happen. The problem is, do these project leaders know how to get the best out of skillsets they feel mandated to recruit? Do they pay lip service to the idea of working with stakeholders? This may feel like an attack on project leaders who have a predominant delivery focus. It’s not intended to be. However, it acknowledges the reality that project leader with finite resources will prioritise recruiting relatively technical skillsets as a direct link to their delivery outcomes.
The technical part of change is hard enough to deliver, let alone the compounding variables of leading hundreds or thousands of impacted employees to adjust to the resulting change. This adjustment often takes place when the project leader starts to roll off the project, in many instances. So why would they be overly concerned with a sustainable change? Are they incentivised accordingly?
It could be that project leadership has a varied point of view on delivery from merely delivering a solution, without being overly concerned about the people impacts. And this still does exist in practice.
A project leader or sponsor’s “deliver at all costs” mentality has implications for change professionals. To counter this mentality, change professionals lead on the front foot to show their effectiveness, especially early in a project. Early on, project teams may have particular expectations of what change professionals provide. Also, power dynamics and the way project teams are structured makes a difference in how change professionals engage with their team and stakeholders.
Adapt your offering to the project team’s dynamics. Offer a change menu, comprising both hearts and minds deliverables.
A conversation with your project team about what you can offer is a viable first step in proactively reinforcing your value and expertise. But what would be handy as a backdrop or point of reference for this meeting?
This menu may illustrate the deliverables and planning-style artefacts which you can provide through the project lifecycle. Many deliverables may involve training, workshops, or communications activities — each of these may help your team’ win hearts’ of stakeholders. Other deliverables and approaches include quantitative research, a focus on identifying and shaping particular target behaviours, and considering what ‘success’ looks like to various stakeholders in measurable terms. These deliverables and approaches focus on ‘winning minds’ of project boards.
Your change menu should comprise both hearts and minds deliverables. For example, the hearts-related deliverables may include the changing themes of your communications throughout the project lifecycle. You might break down your disposable and durable communications artefacts. Your disposable messages include emails, messages for newsletters and internal mediums (like enterprise social media). Your durable communication artefacts may include a dedicated intranet site, as a single point of truth for your project.
The minds-related deliverables may include:
· Change readiness checklists;
· Translating qualitative research, such as workshop conversations, into themes linked to project objectives;
· Suggested approaches to capturing benefits realisation data;
· Hypercare meeting facilitation, and;
· Any other supporting analysis to show the effectiveness of your change approaches.
Also, what deliverables or services can you offer (within boundaries you are comfortable with) that will remove any hassles or obstacles from your team?
Cast a light on the ‘whole system’ with your change menu to inspire your team to understand the breadth of your services.
Your finalised “change menu” may be a one-page overview of your change deliverables across the project life cycle. Once you have a change menu in place you can use this menu as a backdrop for your team meeting. Showing your team the entire breadth of what you can provide can make a startling difference to how they perceive what a change professional can do. And the open discussion that may ensue means that you can negotiate how you are going to add value — both to your project team and to the people side of change.
There’s one principle in change to be mindful of. When you cast a light on an entire system, it serves to clarify. So ‘shining the light’ can be a catalyst for change in and of itself. Your menu ‘shines the light’ on how you’re going to win stakeholder’s hearts and decision-maker’s minds. The ensuing conversation may be a step towards enhancing your credibility with your project team straightaway.
Are you starting in a new team? Start well. Shape your team’s idea of what you can do.
Change professionals: your call to action
What does your change menu look like and what do your change plans on a page convey?