By Jane Sunley, business author and Chairman of Purple Cubed
Who knows how many change projects actually fail? There are statistics from influential sources such as McKinsey, HBR, Towers Watson and Forbes indicating that the figure is as high as 70 per cent. Of course, others dispute that the figure isn’t quite so high. But one thing is clear; if you want to avoid failure entirely, do not neglect the board.
It is more than likely that only a minority of all those good ideas, intentions and initiatives actually come to fruition. The rest fall by the wayside; swept under the proverbial carpet never to be mentioned again.
I’ve personally witnessed organisations putting time, money and effort into projects that nose-dive. And it’s crazy! One company I know spent over £300,000 with a large firm of consultants only to do absolutely nothing with the outcomes.
If we look at the falling productivity levels of Team UK, this approach is clearly not working and, if we’re being direct about it, leaders quite often find themselves in a position where they’re driving projects that might never bring about a return on investment. What a waste.
So what’s the missing link? I’m convinced that the failure of change (and all those well meaning initiatives) is, at least in a large part, due to insufficient buy-in from senior leaders others across the organisation.
Getting the board on, er, board
Change can only be delivered effectively if whoever holds the power is 100 per cent bought into the idea of achieving it. The CEO and the rest of the board must be willing to help drive it, especially by making available the required investment. Leaders at all levels will need to put their energy and determination into making the agreed project a success. And then keeping it that way.
Maybe you are “the top” of your organisation, in which case this step is an easy one. If not, and you’re in a position where those in the boardroom don’t yet quite “get it” then you have work to do BEFORE you dive in to any sort of change project. You might only have one shot at engaging your colleagues in your journey.
According to Isabel Naidoo, a senior vice president at FIS Global: “If you’re lucky enough to work with a CEO who gets it like I do, there is little to be done to get folks on board.
“But if you don’t, then go back to basics – cite the facts, commit to measurement, shout about your achievements and impacts and find other influencers who can speak to their experiences.”
Alan Mellor, head of employee engagement at Pentland Brands concurs: “The CEO and the board must have the appetite for people-centric ideas – without that, you are unlikely to succeed.
“Once you have a supportive senior leadership team, the HR function should outline a clear strategy and plan to deliver – linked to the business agenda throughout. Get buy-in and non-HR sponsorship for projects, then involve as many people as you can to ensure that you stress-test the execution of your initiatives.
Think like a CEO
Money talks… and so do numbers; you have to be able to prove your business case as you would any other discipline within an organisation. You’ll also need to be sure people know what’s going to be involved; what their and the organisation’s commitment is likely to be.
So, do your homework, be business-savvy in your approach; know your stuff. When presenting your business case, keep it simple. Show likely outcomes – with metrics, evidence, case studies – whatever it takes.
When presenting this type of stuff, think about what the influencers will need to know to support this decision. It’s important to stick with the facts (while resisting the urge to become carried away in your own excitement). If that sounds patronising, it’s not meant to be. I see this sort of stuff happening every day and it is holding “Team UK” back.
Always start with the “why”
Too many people dive into the “what” (strategy) and the “how” (tactics) first. So colleagues may well become excited in the short term. However, without the “why” (context), the enthusiasm soon peters out and everyone moves onto the next big thing. This is why so many change “initiatives” fail.
If you only do three things:
(1) Do your homework; know your stuff – present a short, sharp, compelling business case.
(2) Work on the context (why), the overview (what), and the outcomes (what if) – you can fill in the details (how) later.
(3) Start simple; prove this stuff works – change is generally a marathon not a sprint.