Summary. If there’s one thing that’s certain about the future, it’s that change is here to stay. The ability to constantly transform has become a top priority for organizations. Therefore, change management is now an essential business priority that can’t be overlooked or set aside. Leaders need to urgently develop change and project management competencies across all levels of an organization, from employees and managers to senior executives. This article covers the two most important things leaders should focus on in any change project: purpose and benefits. Every successful change project needs at least one clearly articulated purpose. And the benefits to stakeholders must be clear. By using the approach outlined in this article, you’ll see that the level of engagement and buy-in on your change initiative will increase significantly.
If there’s one thing that’s certain about the future, it’s that change is here to stay. The ability to constantly transform has become a top priority for organizations. Therefore, change management is now an essential business priority that can’t be overlooked or set aside. Leaders need to urgently develop change and project management competencies across all levels of an organization, from employees and managers to senior executives. This article covers the two most important things leaders should focus on in any change project: purpose and benefits. Every successful change project needs at least one clearly articulated purpose. And the benefits to stakeholders must be clear. By using the approach outlined in this article, you’ll see that the level of engagement and buy-in on your change initiative will increase significantly.
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A dramatic shift is taking place in industries everywhere: We have left behind a century dominated by increasing efficiency and are now living in an always-changing environment. Operating a business in this environment means having a massive proliferation of change projects.
In a survey of 1,284 executives and project management professionals, the majority of senior executive respondents indicated that the number of change projects in their organizations had exploded over the last five years. Some 85% of the respondents had seen an increase in the number of projects, and out of these respondents, 56% had seen a rise of more than 25%. A full 25% of respondents said that the number of projects had increased by more than 50%. This meteoric growth of projects is affecting not only organizations, but also our professional lives and the very nature of work.
Change management can no longer be ignored, relegated, or misunderstood. These fundamental changes have createdhuge anxiety in the workplaceand a natural dislike to change projects. Yet, nowadays, continuous transformation is at the center of the strategy of any organization, small, midsize, or large. Everyone at all levels of organizations — employees, managers, project managers, senior leaders, and CEOs — must understand and adapt to this shift.
Welcome to the Project Economy and a World Driven by Change
While the number of change projects keeps rising, the failure rates continue to be staggering: According to the Standish Group, only 31% of projects are considered successful. The idea that 69% of change projects result in wasted resources and budgets and unrealized benefits is mind-blowing. It requires that we approach change management in a radically different way, not only from a methodological perspective, but also from an organizational, cultural, and pure human perspective.
In fact, most of the current change management methods were developed for a stable world, where change projects were temporary and in addition to day-to-day operations, which were always the priority.
New concepts and tools to address change are emerging. I introduce two of them in the HBR Project Management Handbook: the importance of the purpose behind any change project, and the focus on the benefits.
Purpose: An Easy-to-Apply Tool to Fire Up Engagement
All change and project management methodologies demand that projects have a well-defined business case with often lengthy, technical, and deliverable-focused goals: for example, a new software rollout, a new platform, an expansion program, a new set of company values, a reorganization, or a digital transformation project. Most change projects use financial goals, such as a 10% return on investment (ROI). Yet these goals don’t inspire people to commit passionately to the change initiative.
Besides having a business case, a project should be linked to a higher purpose. People have enormous strengths, and the best leaders know that it’s possible to tap into those strengths through hearts and minds. When a project people work on connects to their inner purpose and passions, they can achieve extraordinary things.
According to the EY Beacon Institute, purpose-driven companies are 2.5 times better at driving innovation and transformation than other companies. At the same time, Deloitte says that, on average, purpose-driven companies report 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher levels of workforce retention than their competitors. These statistics are borne out in my own experience: Change initiatives with a higher purpose have significantly higher chances of success than those that don’t inspire people. Understanding the purpose and its connection to the overall strategy is not just crucial for deciding whether to invest or whether the transformation makes sense strategically; it is also a key driver for engaging team members and the organization as a whole, motivating them to support the change initiative.
Remember that people don’t have to be great at something to be passionate about it. Steve Jobs was not the world’s greatest engineer, salesperson, designer, or businessman. But he was uniquely good enough at all these things, and was driven by his purpose and passion for doing something far greater. Conversely, a lack of purpose or conviction about a change project can quickly spread from one team member to the rest of the team.
A remarkable example of setting a compelling purpose for an organizational transformation comes from Sony’s co-founder Akio Morita. At a time when Japan was seen as a cheap-product-copycat country, Morita established that Sony’s purpose was to make Japan known for the quality of its products. Japan —not Sony. Sony’s purpose was aimed at a higher dimension than its own company — which was bold, yet inspiring to its employees.
An easy method of finding a change project’s purpose is to continuously ask, “Why are we doing the project?” Usually, you need to ask this question three to four times to get to the core purpose. For example, consider the introduction of a new Client Relationship Management (CRM) software system. Most change managers will say that the project is about implementing a new CRM system, but that’s not why we do the project. Instead, ask, “Why do we want the CRM system?” The answer may be “to manage our data more effectively, providing a single source of truth for our customer information.” See — you’ve just gone to a higher-level purpose. Next, ask yourself again why you want this outcome, and you may come up with “to provide a more personalized and responsive service.” You just went to a higher level again, and a higher priority of thinking based on what’s more essential for your company. Then ask again: “Why do we want to provide a more personalized service?” “Because we want our customers to be delighted with our services and retain them over the long term, which will lead to higher revenues.”
We’ve now moved the purpose of our project from installing a new CRM system to a project that will increase customer satisfaction and improve sales performance. What a difference. Now, we have a project whose purpose connects with the organization’s strategy and will motivate project team members.
Once you’ve gotten to the real reason behind your change project, ask “By when?” and “How much?”. Here’s an example: “We’ll increase customer satisfaction by 50% for our next customer survey, which will take place in five months.” Now, you have a specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-based goal, what I call a SMART purpose.
Every successful change project needs at least one clearly-articulated SMART purpose.
Benefits: The Key to Obtaining Buy-In From Stakeholders
Traditional change management practices have focused on the inputs and outputs — things like plans, schedules, budgets, deliverables, teams, etc. A change initiative is considered successful if it is delivered on time, on budget, and within scope. Yet, what matters most are the outcomes and benefits delivered, such as happier employees, returning customers, more sustainable practices, etc.
A great example of putting the focus on benefits is a sustainability transformation. Sustainability has become one of the most profound challenges of our time and a priority topic on most CEO’s agendas. Consider this example from Procter & Gamble (P&G): Marc Pritchard, a top marketer at P&G, has recently described how the world’s biggest consumer goods company is embracing sustainability to transform its brands. Or, as he puts it, to make P&G “a force for good and a force for growth.” As part of its new Ambition 2030 plan, P&G has pledged to make all its packaging fully recyclable or reusable by 2030. The company also plans to use 100% renewable energy and have zero net waste by that point.
While benefits might be easy to claim, they’re far more challenging to validate and measure, mainly when they’re accruing over time. Since a change project’s success should be measured by the benefits achieved, the process you use for identifying and mapping the benefits must be inclusive and transparent.
Each project will bring different benefits to different stakeholders. Change managers and project leaders should identify the main benefit expectations for each key stakeholder early in the transformation. Here is a simple approach to identifying the main benefits of your change projects:
- Develop a benefits card, which is a checklist of the potential benefits of change projects. Here is an example of the potential benefits of a digital transformation project:
- Instead of you defining the expected benefits of your project, meet your key stakeholders and with the help of the benefit card, ask them which benefits they would like to obtain from your change project. For instance, in a digital transformation project, the sales manager would like to see an increase in revenues from top customers.
- Ask the key stakeholders to tell you how to measure the benefits, and when they would like to see the benefits delivered. For example, you could have a benefit of enhancing customer experience by increasing the net promoter score from 50 to 80 in five months.
- Show the link between your change initiative, its benefits, and the organizations’ strategy to help reassure your stakeholders of the project’s credibility — for example, how your digital transformation will help your organization increase its competitive advantage.
- Plot the benefits into a benefit plan, which you should use to show progress when communicating with key stakeholders.
By using this approach, you’ll see that the level of engagement and buy-in on your initiative will significantly increase.
Today, organizations need to change regardless of whether they are successful or not. They can not wait years to start obtaining benefits; leaders need to create value faster than ever. Constant transformation has become a top priority. Therefore, change management is now an essential business priority that can’t be overlooked or set aside; leaders must start adopting new concepts like purpose and benefits. And they need to urgently develop change and project management competencies across all levels of an organization, from employees and managers to senior executives. Some visionary leaders have already embarked on this transformation, and if you hesitate or wait too long, you might be putting the future of your organization seriously at stake. If there’s one thing that’s certain about the future, it’s that change is here to stay.