Successful change delivery is not simply about going live on time, but also embedding new practices and behaviour deep within people’s everyday thinking and actions. If the transformation process has been effective, embracing the new normal should be second nature – giving rise to lasting, long-term benefits. Claire Laing sets out some practical ways to ensure this.

If change doesn’t feel right and fails to ‘stick’, all of an organisation’s efforts and investment in designing, planning and delivering the transition will have been for nothing. So it is important to plan for sustainable, long-term results from the outset, including giving due consideration to what will happen once the change programme has been executed.

Clearly, this is easier said than done. It is not uncommon for transformations to unravel after the event. Eighteen months down the line, organisations might find that the solution has only been partly implemented, processes are not being followed consistently, and many of the old ways of working have crept back in – despite all best intentions. This is not only disheartening for everyone involved; it can also undermine confidence in future change initiatives.

The good news is that there are steps organisations can take to minimise the risk of programmes failing or under-delivering, and to substantially increase the likelihood of lasting success.

One of the most common causes of poor results is that the change programme’s plans and delivery efforts end or diminish considerably around or just after the go-live milestone. By this time, leaders and programme teams may have already moved on to the next big thing, so that the focus on implementation and the bedding in of new practice starts to waver.

Based on our considerable experience of working with organisations to deliver effective and lasting change, we have identified five steps that help ensure that results and improvements continue to be delivered far beyond the programme’s finish line.

1. Planning for behaviour change – early

Maximising lasting success begins with considering right at the start what the ultimate behaviour change needs to be, creating a compelling vision and shaping the change approach accordingly. Co-designing the change approach with leaders and key change advocates from across the business is key to this, giving them a fuller sense of involvement, ownership and buy-in.

In the case of a major system implementation, consider what behaviours will need to change once the new system is in place.

What mindset and cultural changes should underpin the system implementation? If these requirements are articulated up front, teams can start to address them during the programme. If a desired behaviour change is to break down silos across the organisation, a logical approach might involve bringing different teams together to co-design the solution, and inviting leaders from multiple functions to communicate the vision, in a joined-up approach. The final design could go as far as to have different teams change office location to sit together.

Considering these new behaviours early on means they are much more likely to become accepted and embedded.

2. Innovating and adapting

This is about using agile and iterative approaches to promote continuous learning as organisations design, deliver and embed change – rather than pre-deciding everything up front and remaining rigidly wedded to it, even if something clearly isn’t working.

It involves thinking about how the solution might evolve beyond the programme’s go-live date, building the supporting roadmap, and assigning clear accountability for leading the continuous improvement effort.

Ongoing engagement to educate and train users, and evolving the solution, should be part of the plan – ie change leaders should not accept that the pinnacle has been reached at go live.

3. Realising the benefits

Key performance indicators (KPIs) should be determined early in the programme, ensuring that these feel real and tangible for the business and key stakeholders. This goes beyond standard KPIs for programme delivery, to include ongoing business-as-usual measures that will endure once the immediate programme has closed.

As well as identifying what these should be and how they will be measured, it’s important to set out who will own them in the everyday business environment and how they will be integrated into existing management information and reporting processes.

We recommend starting to track and communicate the benefits as soon as possible.

4. Equipping leaders for continuous improvement

The leadership skills of individuals in key change delivery roles can have a significant bearing on whether change sticks or not.

C-suite directors, functional leaders, change champions and ‘super users’ should be coached in how to foster trust, transparency, accountability and authenticity, and proactively model the change and desired behaviours from day one.

We recommend you think about how to best equip key individuals to lead teams through the change, including inevitable times of uncertainty. Capability uplift activities, including training, mentoring and coaching, may need to be identified on a case-by-case basis, depending on the individual’s current skills (and confidence) and their specific change role.

As the changed system/process/way of working enters the business-as-usual environment, maintaining visible leadership becomes critical to driving and embedding new behaviour into everyday practice.

5. Taking success forward

After a successful delivery effort, as part of shifting accountability for the change from the programme into everyday operations, it can be very useful to have a targeted checklist to ensure that nothing is overlooked. Are ongoing training plans in place?  Have new objectives been set? Are the new reporting lines clear?

Handing over to accountable business leaders, who will run the new practices, is important to ensure continuity and direction – and making sure any new roadblocks that arise are removed.

Tracking the benefits and celebrating successes will be important too, to maintain momentum and buy-in.

Complex transformations can be challenging to pull off, so it is in everyone’s interests that they deliver as expected. With the right attention and planning – up front, throughout and beyond the change programme – organisations can ensure this delivery continues long after the initial hard work has been done.

CLAIRE LAING | PRINCIPAL

Claire is a Principal at Gate One, working across a broad range of sectors. She is passionate about delivering end-to-end business transformations from strategy through to implementation.

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