embedding change

Have you experienced this scenario? You have rolled out your change to all affected users. Training has been completed, with attendance rates of over 90%. Floorwalkers supported users for the first few days after go live. Hypercare has been monitoring all systems for a couple of weeks and they seem to be working. No major incidents have been reported. Key project staff are beginning to work on other urgent projects. The project sponsor and board are focusing on the next big change in the pipeline.

Have you implemented a successful project? Probably

Have you completed a successful change? Possibly not

John Kotter, famous for his 8 Steps to Change has a useful phrase to bear in mind if you find yourself in this situation:

Don’t declare victory too early

He basically means that implementation of the project may have been successful. But victory only comes through embedding change – when users adopt new ways of working in a sustainable way, with no danger of reverting to old practices and behaviours.

When is a project complete?

There is an inherent tension between the traditional aims of a project manager, and those of a change manager. A project manager is successful if they plan, build and implement something new for an organisation. A change manager is successful if all users adopt the change, and their use of it results in benefits for the organisation.

We may need to focus on embedding change and benefits realisation for a significant amount of time after implementation has been completed in order for this to happen.

If we engage well up to implementation, people will give most new ways of working a go. However, inertia soon pulls us back to old ways of thinking and behaving after the novelty and initial effort of doing something different wears off.

This is most commonly seen with New Year resolutions. I am a regular gym goer, but I have a break between January and mid-February every year. The gym is full of new people carrying out their New Year resolution to be healthier and get fit and it is too busy for me to enjoy. However they generally all stop by February half-term, and attendance drops back to the usual levels until the next New Year.

Let’s think about this behaviour in terms of our change scenario. By the time six weeks has passed the project is closed, and everyone has moved onto new pieces of work. But if inertia causes users to move back to working in old ways, there is a very real danger that the change will not embed and the benefits will not be realised. Victory will have been declared before it had truly been obtained.

What can I do to overcome inertia?

There are many tools and techniques to ensure focus is kept on the change until the danger of inertia has passed. I have listed a few ideas I have used successfully myself below, but the list is by no means comprehensive. You will need to shape your solution for the particular circumstances of your change.

The most important issue is that you convince your project sponsor and board that work needs to continue after implementation before go live. They will then be able to plan, budget and maintain focus on the change until it is embedded. You will then have achieved real victory!

Ideas to help with embedding change

  • Make it impossible to go back to old ways of working. For example, turn off old computer systems or take old access passes away from those relocating office
  • Measure new behaviours. Get a report on how many times new IT is used or ask Champions to note use of new behaviours compared to old. You can then intervene quickly if inertia occurs.
  • Amend personal objectives, operational targets and core competencies. Ensure they reflect and reward new ways of working. This will encourage people to focus on the new rather than the old.
  • Work with users to improve products introduced during the change. Familiarity will enable users to suggest improvements to increase usability. This will encourage effort to stick with the new.
  • Encourage leaders to lead by example. Make sure they and their teams visibly adopt the change. Users will be more likely to adopt changes if the leaders are being seen to do so.
  • Keep the profile of the change high. Make sure key stakeholders and users are aware of quick wins, good feedback and benefits realised. This will raise enthusiasm, increase buy-in and minimise inertia.