Most business changes involve a strategic intent, implemented by a project or program that defines the new processes and procedures needed to achieve the change and then develops and implements the processes.
Smart organisations realise this is not enough and include training to make the organisations staff familiar with the new processes and the really smart organisations link achieving the intended benefits to a key executives KPIs. And the changes still fail!
Two areas of notable failure are IT projects where the focus is on the technology rather than the business and PMO start-ups where the focus in on processes and reporting rather than improved project outcomes.
However, even where a smart business has aligned the project with a sensible/necessary strategic intent, and then properly leads and resources the effort, failure is still likely if the power of culture is ignored. Culture can be loosely defined as ‘the way we do business here’ and incorporates attitudes, expectations and the way both internal and external relationships work. The people in the organisation are there because they can operate in the culture as it currently is and embody the culture; they are predisposed to resist change.
There is an old joke that asks ‘how many consultants do you need to change a light bulb?’ The answer is ‘one, provided the light bulb wants to change!’ This adage applies to changing culture in any organisation – it wont change unless the people in the organisation want it to change, and overall most people in the organisation are quite happy with the culture as it exists (if they were not, they would move on to another job).
The challenge with implementing changes falls into two areas:
- The first is doing the ‘right project right’ by implementing effective Portfolio, Program and Project management. Whilst it is true that $billions of projects fail due to poor management practices, these failures are a deliberate choice of executive management. We know how to do projects, programs and portfolio management properly, not implementing effective systems is a cultural decision that prefers the status quo and failure over change.
- The second challenge is cultural; the need to move the organisations culture to allow the change to be implemented effectively. This is a much more difficult process that needs leadership and drive. You need to create the willingness to allow the change to happen, before the change can be implemented effectively, before the benefits of the change can be realised. This requires the people in the organisation to buy into the concept of the proposed change long before the benefits can be tangibly appreciated.
Meeting the challenge of ‘culture’ requires effective leadership; the people in the organisation need to be prepared to follow their leader into the new, unproven future. These traditional aspects of leadership are outlined in our White Paper: Leadership.
Another important facet of leadership is ‘Tribal Leadership’, everyone belongs to one or more tribes of associates (defined as people they know well enough to greet socially) and effective leadership at this social group level can also be a powerful influence for change, firstly to build engagement within the group (see diagram below), then to generate support to allow the change to happen.
Whilst project managers can only ever have a small role to pay in the overall leadership of the organisation (this is the province of CEOs and executive managers), they can be effective tribal leaders.
Most tribes are quite small, less then 120 people. In their book, Tribal Leadership, Logan, King and Fischer-Wright describe an organisation as a tribe of tribes and if the project manager’s tribe expands to include key members of the wider organisational community affected by the planned change, their influence can be significant.
Creating the ‘space’ within a culture to allow change, both from the executive leadership perspective and tribal leadership perspective are elements of effective stakeholder management. What most organisations forget is this part of the change effort has to precede the role out of the new processes and procedures.
Creating the space to allow for the possibility of success is not the end of the change effort. For the change to be fully successful you still need to role out strategically effective processes and procedures, provide effective training and transition support, and then maintain visible support for the change over an extended period until the ‘new’ processes and procedures are fully absorbed in to the culture of the organisation and simply become part of the way the organisation does business.
Unfortunately very few organisations start soon enough or continue long enough with the overall change effort to be successful. But without this sustained effort, culture eats strategy for breakfast.