When training in organisations I often come across line managers who are running quite small change projects. They typically involve only 2-4 staff (mostly part-time) and some IT resource. A typical scope might be:
- Change a process or data collection to meet a new statutory requirement
- Introduce a new form to collect data, or move a form online (which always invites changes)
- move a team from one location to another without disrupting services
Discussions reveal that these small change projects are running, without control, in most organisations. The worrying thing for me is that the project managers don’t see themselves doing change.
The managers of these projects are usually competent business managers. I admit that they are often under-resourced in that they still have a day job they are expected to do; as do most of the people working on the project. The project usually follows a simple path:
- The manager digests the description of what is expected from their manager and conceives a solution. This is often noted down — the solution, not the problem or any requirements.
- An outline plan is created, activities identified and resources (especially IT) rounded up.
- Work starts and the process, or form, or move is handed over to the staff for them to get on with.
- The project is declared finished.
The problems then begin. The staff start to resist, performance is poor and doesn’t seem to improve. The manager wrings their hands and blames the staff for not cooperating. At face value the manager is right, the staff are not cooperating; but no one asks why, or even could it be the manager’s fault for the way the change was introduced.
It is impossible to ask the question:
“did this project fail because the manager failed to introduce the change properly to the staff?”
because the manager didn’t see the project as something involving people change; but a change to a process, or form, or location.
What can we do?
We can start by realising very few projects don’t involve some change in behaviour in people. Completing a new form, or processing data from a new form is a new behaviour. Working at a different location involves a different commute to work. More importantly, special behaviour is required during the move if the teams service commitment is to be maintained.
Line managers leading change projects need to be brought into the organisation’s change project methodology and practices. They need to learn new skills and knowledge as change managers. These managers attending change project management introduction courses report the people change aspects as their biggest light-bulb moment during the course. The next biggest light-bulb is the difference between a line manager view and change leader view. This was nicely captured by Warren Bennis who compared management and leadership in his book “On Becoming a Leader“.