Change Management - Why ‘change’ isn’t soft

Change management is often described as the ‘soft’ side of transformation that deals with the ‘people’ element. We use the language of “hard skills versus soft skills”, yet change has come to be placed into the latter category, because it’s assumed that project/programme management addresses bottom-line impacting tangibles, such as budgets, system changes and new operational processes. AKA “the hard stuff”.

Change however is about bringing people along and getting them on board. Those who see change as impacting only “the soft stuff”, misunderstand the crucial role change plays in getting those so-called ‘hard’ tangibles to be delivered, effectively.

The change management process is almost inextricably bound together with all of the other project/programme facets that a transformation touches on.

It can be argued that this should indeed be the case when change is done right and positioned appropriately within project and programme management portfolios. For example, if you are rolling out a new system change, you not only need to get on board the teams required to develop and deliver that change against your time-frame; (the ones who are usually facing competing priorities), but you also need to ensure the teams that will use the new-look system desire and understand the need for its implementation and the change it creates.

Not getting these things right from the outset and implementing a well-thought-out change management plan all the way through delivering a project can have high-impacting consequences.

What do those consequences look like?

They can manifest in not getting the project off the ground, or, post-launch, failing to operate as planned, if the new system changes are not fully adopted.

In cases where there’s been significant investment made to make the change or there are regulatory pressures that make the change mandatory, there’s little room for organisations to squander potential value in this way. That’s why getting the people-side right is not a ‘nice-to-have’ but ‘as equally important’ as the rest.

Organisational research shows that the people-side of change impacts much more than just the soft aspects of business. For example, a McKinsey study of 40 large-scale projects found return on investment to be 143% when supported by an excellent change management programme, compared to just 35% with poor or no change management programme support.

We think you’ll agree this statistic demonstrates the importance of embedding change management within your project to increase the chances of project success.

And finally, let’s not forget that the focus of change management activities are, in practice, not limited to the internally impacted teams, but they also look outwards to include those who will be impacted externally i.e. the customer or service user.

If you’re launching a new product or digitising your customer journey, you’d do your market and customer research to understand how best to meet customer needs and how to out-smart your competition. Ultimately it’s worth applying this approach to your thinking when considering the people impacted by the change in hand. Failure to consider the importance of the people side of change is to regard it as ‘soft’.

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