The change resource problem

What is the change resource problem?

People resources for Change

Two items came across my consciousness recently which are not difficult to link. The first is a set of lessons learned from projects in an organisation. An outstanding item of the lessons is the complaint that not enough people resources were available, or the people allocated already had a day job. The second item was an article about allocating resources across a business for strategic performance improvement. This article simply points that that the best resource allocation is based on getting the best return on investment.

Allocating resources for change

If the change (or project) is worth doing then it is worth doing well and that means it needs to be properly resourced by people with the time and skills to make a good contribution. That much seems patently obvious, the hard part is to establish systems in an organisation that builds this concept into the way managers sponsor and run projects. So lets deconstruct the statement and work on it.

Is the change worth doing?

It’s the purpose of the business case for a change to establish if the change is worthwhile. So a good business case has to be the basis of a successful change. The business case then ebables the sponsor or manager to free resources to deliver the change because if the resources are not provided then the change will not be successful and the benefits will be lost — leading to a waste of any resources that are used. This means the business case needs to identify the true and full costs of providing the necessary resources so that the argument is irrefutable. If the organisation does not have the resources to change then it must face up to this fact; and top level decisions made about priorities — there is no ducking this tough decision.

So we can establish that the change is worth doing. But establishing it is not enough. The worth of the change needs to be communicated to all the stakeholders: the resources, the resource owners and the rest of the organisation. If there is no belief in the worth of the change there will be no motivation to resource the change.

Properly resourced

So lets assume that the organisation has made decisions about priorities and the necessary business case made to provide resources for a change. The next step is to have capable resources. These resources need to work within a system that makes the best of individual contributions. The capability of an organisation to organise resources can be modelled (in a capability model). We have a change capability model on our website which demonstrates a number of levels of increasing organisation capability to use resources effectively. An organisation needs to be aware (conscious incompetence) of its capability to do change and with that it needs to work on building its capability (leading to conscious competence). That is itself a change project which has its own challenges.

The resources working on a change are not working on business as usual; and this difference needs to be understood. Working on a change is different from working on business as usual; there is much more problem solving and people engagement for instance. Working on a change needs different organisation structures that cut across the typical hierarchy of business as usual. This is recognised in the two systems proposed by Kotter in his book xlr8. Kotter proposes that the resources for change are organised in a different system — with different structures, processes and incentives — from those used in business as usual.

Time and skills

The individual resources need to have the skills and competencies to make a good contribution. Skills are acquired through a combination of training and on the job use. Typically the challenge is not how to deploy a skill, but which skills to deploy to solve a problem. The ability to choose and deploy skills appropriately becomes a competence — which is the future potential of a person. Training has a contribution (about 10%) to make to competence development; the rest has to done within the organisation. Developing individual competence for change is one of the processes within the system for change proposed by Kotter. Our qualifications for managing change reflect the need for a significant component of on the job development by using assessments based on workplace (rather than classroom) activity.

Every person asked to work on a change must ask about the time allocated to this work. If not 100% of their time they must ask what they will not be doing from their day job that gives them the time to do their change tasks. Managers must have viable answers to these questions before asking people to work on a change. Being realistic about expectations and commitment is essential if the change is to be successful. Otherwise everyone is wasting their time and potentially putting business as usual performance at risk as well — the worst outcome possible.


Getting useful resources for change to be successful is a combination of convincing the resource owners that the change is a good investment of the resource and having the organisational structures that will enable the resources to be effective in doing change. Its not easy, but then change has never been easy.

What do you think? Send us a comment on twitter or respond to this blog.


2 thoughts on “The change resource problem

  1. Eduardo Muniz

    Hi Robert Cole: Just to get a better understanding May I know why the question?

    How did you reach the conclusion that Change resource is an issue? e.g.”that the resources are not provided then the change will not be successful and the benefits will be lost..” I am interested

    Thanks in advance

  2. Douglas loxton

    So the key messages am getting are DON’T start a change programme until the planning and assessment has been fully resourced, quantify all the cost against the benefits but above all sell the programme to ALL stakeholders and ensure full buy in .


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