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Defining success in change management

Defining success in change management

How effective are you at measuring change?

Rachel André | June 26, 2015

If you’re in the business of change management, you may have heard the statistic that 60 to 70 percent of change initiatives fail. We’ve all been told that change management is the answer, but this statistic first surfaced back in the 1970s and we’re still referencing it today.

Just “doing” change management is not enough to guarantee the success of a project. We need to focus on the elements of change that really matter and will make a difference. Leaders are quite rightly demanding ROI for all project investments, including change management, so we need to know that our efforts are truly effective, delivering real benefits and outcomes.

How do we prove our change management efforts are making a real difference? We measure it.

Hard and soft change management: one size fits no-one

We often think that the “hard” metrics are no-brainers, and so we focus on measuring speed of adoption and utilisation. But hard metrics aren’t enough. They don’t show the contributions of change to overall ROI and they don’t link directly to business outcomes. Just because someone is using the new system doesn’t mean it is delivering the benefits that it is meant to, which in turn means the change management effort hasn’t delivered the intended outcome.

To measure the softer metrics such as engagement and sponsorship, you must define them at the start of your project. In fact, we suggest that you don’t split them into “soft” and “hard.” Instead, take a big step back and look at what you are really trying to achieve both at a strategic and project level.

Follow these key steps:

  1. As you clarify your project goals and confirm their strategic alignment, create clear objectives that support your target business outcomes.
  2. Then, as you break down your timelines and change management activities into a change plan, assign a change management outcome-focussed metric to each activity.
  3. Define what success looks like for each metric at various stages of the project and assign an owner to ensure accountability.

The theory is one thing, but what does it mean in practice?

A large mobile app company wanted to leverage its employees’ knowledge and expertise to increase its product portfolio. A competitor had just released a very successful new gaming app, and in response, the company needed to get new gaming apps out to market—and fast. The company launched a new internal conversation tool, comparable to Yammer, to share ideas and drive innovation.

Despite an expensive poster campaign, employees didn’t use the tool because no-one really understood its purpose, and so it flopped. A project team was tasked with re-launching the tool with a focus on driving engagement to ensure it delivered the benefits it was supposed to.

A strong sponsor was assigned who clearly defined the purpose of the tool to encourage and enable innovation. The aim was to develop new ideas to support one of the areas of the sales strategy, which was to launch three new gaming apps in the next 12 months.

They looked at the change activities that were needed and realised that a successful outcome depended not only on the number of people using the tool, but also the quality of the usage.

To measure the number of people using the tool for its intended purpose, the team monitored activity and used key-word tagging to see how much traffic was linked to the intended activities.

To measure the quality of the activity, they designed a simple engagement spot check after a set number of user posts. A brief survey would pop up, asking the user whether the tool was useful and soliciting feedback on what they liked and what they’d change. This enabled the company to make rapid changes and maintain high usage.

The innovation forum reported ideas back on a fortnightly basis, and managers were all asked to record every time they saw a task had been performed quickly because there was already information held within the organisation that would be reused.

The re-launch was very successful and credited in the first year with being the origin of two new products.

Start measuring today

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to change management. The key is to define the unique purpose of each project; link all your change efforts to what you are trying to achieve; and break these down into measurable chunks which will be delivered by your planned change activities.

Remember these key takeaways:

  • Always focus on business outcomes
  • Ensure your change activities align with those outcomes
  • Create a metric against each activity in the change plan and assign a business owner
  • Align the metrics to the sponsor’s larger project metrics and the executive KPIs

Once you start measuring your change management efforts, you’ll have more evidence to help with those tough stakeholder conversations at the beginning of your next project.

Rachel André is a principal consultant in Slalom UK's Business Advisory Services practice. Rachel specializes in change enablement, change effectiveness, and project delivery.

Rachel André is no longer with Slalom.

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