One of the hardest parts of successful change is sustaining it beyond delivery. Investing in change should of course mean the whole process of change, through to benefit realisation and beyond. Change initiatives should give people what they need to be able to continue to build on the change after the initiative has finished.
So what can we do throughout a change initiative to give it its best chance of being sustained following delivery?
Listen. It’s tempting to get going and start delivering. We’re all used to working at pace. But every change in every organisation is of course different. Start listening at the beginning. Ask questions. Understand the organisational context. What might work in this particular organisation to make change stick? What’s worked here before, and what hasn’t? Understand the people involved and their experience. Apply lessons from previous initiatives. Adapt and flex as you go. Go beneath the surface.
Build internal capability. Organisations often bring external partners on board to have additional short-term resource to deliver change quickly. But working with external partners is an opportunity to grasp as much of their experience and knowledge as you can to prepare for future change. (Partners not willing to transfer knowledge may not be people you want to work with.) Build in regular opportunities for formal and informal knowledge transfer during delivery. Offer specific internal capability deliverables such as learning sessions and coaching if appropriate. Sit together. Share more. Use collaborative tooling.
Co-create and collaborate. Sustainable change isn’t a ‘done to’ process; it must be ‘done with’. People make change stick. Work together to develop and deliver the change. Expect external partners and senior stakeholders to model the change you desire. Bring in BAU colleagues who understand the culture and ways of working to develop the change. Try and test as you go. Build a toolkit and library of artefacts together for the future. Think ahead, what else might be needed once the change initiative has ended? Identify and deliver creative solutions. Make practical, relevant recommendations. Build trust and deliver with integrity.
Put people first. Organisations are their people. Enabling those people to understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it will improve your chances of successful change. Change and communication strategies and plans must be developed with employees at the forefront. What’s the art of the possible? How can we do things differently? How can we incentivise people to contribute as we go? How can we have fun and break the routine? How can we help people to work through the change themselves and establish ways of working that are sustainable and achievable long-term? Put in place a proactive plan to reach anyone who hasn’t been reached as part of the main change initiative.
Prepare for handover. Transitioning from change initiative to BAU is more than a library of artefacts, a handover meeting, and a lessons-learned log. It’s a process. Allow time. Plan a transition. Future-proof. Avoid people being isolated once the change initiative has ended. Bigger change initiatives might have a sustainability plan with people tasked with managing the transition. Empower continuing champions networks. Find out what they need. Once the change initiative has ended, keep looking at the lessons learned. Keep identifying case studies to demonstrate success. Celebrate, reward, and celebrate again.
As we all know, it takes a concerted effort to sustain change, change isn’t easy. Plus it’s important to look back to see if the change is being sustained. Fundamentally, why change if it’s not intended to be for the long-haul?