When large organizations in the public and private sectors are faced with big decisions just as governments are now as they try to reduce national debts it’s absolutely essential that once decisions are made implementation is driven through as quickly as possible. Failure to do so allows organizations to recover from the initial shock of an announcement and become very busy making changes but in doing so maintaining the status quo wherever they can.
The failure to see through necessary cuts, changes and re-organizations that occur after major announcements from the tops of large organizations is very real. Whether it’s a merger or a takeover or a major policy shift after a change of government there is a real danger that everyone believes that the production of well articulated and communicated strategies, policies and plans amounts to success. It does not. Success is only achieved when those strategies, policies and plans have been implemented with the rigour and thoroughness that they require. Any experienced Programme or Project Manager knows that the best set of documentation isn’t worth the paper it is written on if it isn’t acted upon and organizational change of the magnitude businesses and governments are likely to see in the coming years is no different at all.
Why Changes Aren’t Realized
There are so many reasons why the changes that get such rapturous support when they are announced do not deliver their expected benefits (see Why Change Initiatives Fail). Really large-scale change, however, fails for two very specific reasons:
Take Too Long It is not unreasonable to plan for the bigger changes such as cuts and closures to implemented over an elongated period of time so as to ease the stress on those concerned and to do it properly. This is a grave mistake because it allows those who are against it the time to lobby and frustrate and at the very least cause a sub-optimal solution to be delivered.
Solution – Stop what can be stopped immediately (and be brave about this) and bring in a Programme Manager with the authority to force through changes to tight timescales, no matter how unpopular.
Lack of Capability Unless the organization concerned is used to working in such a ruthless and rigourous fashion it is likely that the responsibility for seeing through such changes will be given to a senior manager with next to no relevant experience or the ability to do the job. Public sector bodies in particular fail in this respect given that their competences and progression criteria emphasize compromise and conformity to the norm.
Solution - If you do not have the right person for the job in house bring someone in who will manage the Programme of Change professionally and with vigour but make sure they have the authority to do so and the senior level sponsorship from the very top of the organization.
Re-Organization Is Not The Same As Real Change
It is very tempting when change is needed in the largest businesses and government departments for board members to look at organization charts and start cutting and pasting where each unit should be, logically and geographically. Yes, there may be logic in what is re-drawn but each and every changed line or merged department on the chart will result in significant change in its own right which masks the over-arching change set out at the highest level. The focus for everyone within the organization has to be on delivering the benefits from whatever their individual roles are but overlaying unnecessary organizational boundary changes does nothing more than obscure the real issues and distract people’s attention.
This isn’t to say that such re-aligning of departments within an organization should not take place at all. They should, but only after other interventions have taken place first such as process re-engineering and the cutting of waste for example. A thorough Cost-Benefit-Analysis must be undertaken to incontrovertibly prove it is worth undertaking. If needed, governments may have to legislate to make changes take place at the pace that is required rather than at the pace that their employees might prefer.
Widespread change across massive organizations and smaller ones too must be managed at the highest level to ensure those who run the business are bought into it at all times. The change itself is not the purpose of the organization even though it might feel like it at times. The organization is there to survive long-term and make profits for shareholders or run an entire country. It is to this level that the Programme of Change must report.
Much can be learnt from the world of Portfolio, Programme and Project Management in this respect. Far reaching and widespread change will by its very definition involve individual Projects at the lowest levels building up to Programmes and a Portfolio. There needs to be an appropriate level of infrastructure put in place to make this happen. Appropriate means just enough to make things happen, not whole new organizational structures that serve no one but themselves.
Making significant changes in any large organization whether it is a merger between two banks from different countries or it is the result of a major government announcement requires zeal and commitment to make it happen. Making sure the right people are in place with authority to make it happen is fundamental.
There is much that can be learnt and applied from the book Taming Change with Portfolio Management by Pat Durbin and Terry Doerscher. It provides a thorough walk-through of what is needed to put in place a Portfolio Management system specifically with managing change in mind. The advice and guidelines it covers are equally applicable to public sector organizations as well as private and it is written in a style that allows the reader to work their way through from beginning to end or just concentrate on the area they are particularly interested in. There are many books on Portfolio, Programme and Project Management out there and many more on Change Management but this one does bring the two subjects together really well.