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Change Champions rule OK!

Implementing organisational change is one of the biggest challenges businesses face. And the biggest obstacle of all? Getting people to change their behaviour. Why? Because we're creatures of habit and even when we can see the benefits of changing our behaviour (for example, to become healthier by giving up smoking or losing weight) we find it difficult to do.

So when the change you're implementing means people have to change their behaviour without perceiving any direct personal benefit, like for instance, implementing a new suite of software, it's a real uphill struggle.

I completed a project with a large European organisation a while ago which had been rolling out some new software over the previous couple of years. They had invested a large amount of money in the implementation to improve their information management and strengthen their risk management. Everyone in the organisation uses the new software - or almost.

This forward-looking organisation decided to review the lessons learned from the project with a cross section of stakeholders and I planned and ran the events and collated all the information after them into a report.

What stood out for me from these events was how critical the change champions were for the project.

Most behave like sheep - they follow those who speak loudest. If it's your heroes - the change champions - you're lucky. Otherwise they might follow the villains, the moaners and in the worst cases, those who want to sabotage a project.

So how do you recogise a change champion when you see one? And how do you keep them talking positively about the changes you're implementing?

Here are a few pointers:

  • make clear up front what attitudes and attributes you are looking for and choose the right people. They are enthusiastic, 'glass half full' people, those who put their hand up when there's an opportunity to get involved in something new. They are the willing volunteers.
  • forget about seniority. And acknowledge that this can be a problem because in a very hierarchical organisation, younger and more junior staff can have problems influencing others - in which case provide them with support and training.
  • make them feel important - seek their views, give them the opportunity to influence the change at an early stage, keep them in the loop and act on their feedback or explain why you can't or won't.
  • formally acknowledge the key role they have in a project and the time that will be taken up by it. Build objectives for their change responsibilities into your appraisal or performance management process to recognise the importance of the role they have.
  • build them up into a community - they will support, learn from and encourage one another and help promote the change on a organisational scale. Provide them with lunch once in a while after your meetings and get togethers and acknowledge the important role they have in their own business or service areas. They are your ambassadors for the change implementing and warrant the investment.

Research in 2008 by the Ken Blanchard Companies (Leadership strategies for making change stick) indicated that 70% of change initiatives are doomed to failure from the start. Select the right change champions, support and develop them and your project will stand a good chance of success. 

Makes sense, doesn't it?


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