Bracing for Change

 By Saira Karim, PMP

A colleague recently started leading a department responsible for maintenance projects for a manufacturing organization. The project manager wanted to implement changes such as rolling out new project software, increasing administrative transparency, and revising team and stakeholder communication methods.
Naturally, he was concerned about how these changes would be received. My advice:
Communicate with everyone affected as a result of the disruption. Host meetings to explain the factors behind the need for change, such as out-dated processes, unsatisfactory performance, expansion plans or executive directives. The reasons should be transparent, easy to understand and supported by relevant facts. Follow up with details on employee and organizational benefits to the changes. Above all, the vision for change should be realistic and believable.
Plan for time to collect and acknowledge reactions to the proposed changes. Expect both positive and negative reactions, and be prepared to hear and answer questions. In this specific case, concerns included: fear of increased work hours or workload, uncertainty over the size and management of the disruption, nervousness toward new systems and job security.

Create avenues where people can freely voice these concerns — publicly via workshops and meetings, and anonymously via surveys. This helps the project manager understand the sources of any resistance and support.

Recognize adjustments. In the case of my colleague, the majority of individuals in his department had been with the organization for over 15 years. That means they probably formed the present systems and culture, and therefore it was expected that this group would be more skeptical toward change. In this sort of situation, describe how and what type of training and support can or will be provided. Identify who will be responsible for managing the change and how the process will take shape (i.e., the immediate first steps).

Manage emotional and psychological stress by being supportive of and empathetic to team members as they adapt. Plan for active team and stakeholder involvement — for example, brainstorming meetings. It may be necessary to plan for some of the team to visit another organization or department that has recently undergone similar changes. Visibly involve executives and other departments, such as human resources, for rewards and incentives to encourage the adoption of change.

Plan for and implement changes using project management techniques, such as risk assessments, stakeholder analysis and progress measurements. Prepare for frequent reporting of successes and setbacks so everyone knows how the change is progressing and what achievements or adjustments have been made.
Enforce the change. Look for quick wins and be prepared for some to slip into the old way of doing things — and perhaps sabotage or reverse the change. Check that everyone is adhering to the new plan. In the event of strong resistance, it may be necessary to respond decisively with disciplinary action. While it is important to be open and inclusive, there should also be a clear understanding that change is not optional.

Wrap up like a project. Once the changes are complete, close, celebrate and reward the team. Don’t forget to list lessons learned.

What advice would you add? How have you helped a project team adopt change?

The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.

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