Essential Elements of a change management strategy

“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” – Niccolo Machiavelli.

The constant struggle to stay ahead of the competition means that all businesses must constantly change with the times in order to keep up with the competition, adapt to evolving customer demand and keep up with digital trends.

Often, new technology is seen as a solution to these issues, for instance the rise of contactless payment cards on the London Underground. This is an example of a company adapting to changing times by improving process and technology.

This is all well and good and in this case has been heralded as a great success, with usage growing month on month, but what about other companies who roll out a major change without focusing on the most important aspect of change – the people? Read more

4 things to consider during project planning

During projects, a whole host of things can go wrong: scope creep, lack of commitment from your sponsors, resistance to change from stakeholders… the list goes on.

But we know that not all business change outcomes are under the control of the project team; some organisations are just not set up for successful projects. To make sure your project doesn’t become another failure statistic, it’s worth carrying out a ‘health check’ as part of project planning, looking at some of the key aspects affecting change.

You can’t immediately change a company’s leadership or culture but you can uncover potential issues, areas that will need your focus and ways you may be able to use your influence for a better outcome.

Business Alignment

Of course, projects should only go ahead if clear business benefits and drivers have been identified. Do they stand up to scrutiny? Can they be clearly articulated? And who are they actually benefiting?

An Afiniti colleague was telling me only the other day about an organisation he worked for where the IT team routinely advised the business of their next project, but usually didn’t get a response – and didn’t expect one. They ploughed on with each project regardless because, after all, they were the experts; they knew why they were doing it, even if the end-users didn’t!

project planning



How true are the following statements in your organisation?

  • Leaders talk to us; we have good visibility of company performance and plans.
  • Senior executives are skilled and experienced in the leadership of change and change programmes.

It’s beyond the remit of a project team to tackle leadership culture head-on, but it can support leaders to fulfil their role in change. Make sure that your project communications explicitly align the benefits to wider plans and performance but keep them relevant to your audience.

Name-check leaders (with permission!), suggest to them the enormous benefit of leadership visibility on roadshows, town-halls, even videos. This brings us neatly to…


Is there a culture and widespread practice of encouraging honest two way feedback?  If there isn’t, introduce a mechanism for your project to garner employee views throughout the life of your project, not just at the end. Most importantly – act on it and be seen to do so.


Are people provided with the learning they need to deal with business change and new technology? Don’t make assumptions, even based on previous projects – know your users!

For example, we were rolling out new laptops and a Windows upgrade for an organisation a few years ago and their IT department was pretty insistent training wasn’t required. They were wrong, which resulted in an upsurge of calls to the help desk at ‘go live’. They’d made an assumption based on how they thought technology was used, not on the reality.

Carry out your own analysis of user needs, to make a compelling case for your choice of learning approach.

These are just some of the aspects of change that can pose a real threat to the likely success of a project or programme. They’re the reason our industry has the change readiness assessment: to see how prepared an organisation is for the impact of projects and programmes of change.

It’s a rare organisation where change is always implemented smoothly but a project planning team does have it in their power to affect the outcome and maybe even influence how change is dealt with in the future – as long as you’ve done your homework.


Further resources

Online change readiness assessment

Uncovering the secret change network

There’s no denying the power of the change network in accelerating and embedding change. But are you sure you know how to map and measure influencers? Here are some quick pointers.

Communications professionals and change managers have long known the power of using a network of change agents. Champions or advocates can help to facilitate and embed change, especially in large, complex organisations.

However, many change programmes may still be missing opportunities to uncover sources of real insight and influence – the well-connected ‘go-to people’ in an organisation – just because they may not sit in the expected place in the company’s hierarchy.

Recent research say informal and personal networks can be as critical as formal ones, and that someone’s influence does not necessarily correspond to their seniority. The authors of a 2013 paper for Harvard Business Review, studying 68 change initiatives in the NHS, discovered these ‘two types of workplace’. The first is the traditional formal hierarchy:

formal change network

If we were in the process of setting up a formal change agent network, or simply analysing stakeholders for our project, it may be tempting to focus on the top two levels as the most influential. However, if as the study does, we look at the same people in their Informal Network, the picture’s different:

informal change network

Because Josh is well-connected and sought out for advice he becomes much more influential than his seniors in the organisation. In fact, HBR’s study found that people at any level who wished to exert influence as change agents should be key to the organisation’s informal network. [1]

We found this when we helped a firm in the rail industry introduce iPhone technology to over 10,000 front-line maintenance workers.

One of the keys to the project’s success was in securing the support at local level of a network of systems support managers and team administrators, stretching from Inverness to Plymouth. They had the right know-how to help us logistically, the relationships with line managers to encourage great attendance at training sessions and, crucially, the credibility amongst the local workforce to explain why the change was happening and what it meant.

Once we’d tapped into and grown this network we could work with them effectively over three deployment waves in two years, saving everyone involved time and effort – their input was invaluable.

Of course, leaders drive change, and employees want to hear from them during uncertain times, but equally we shouldn’t resist the logic that tells us people trust and talk to the colleagues they work most closely with.

From a business change perspective we need our stakeholder analysis, mapping and ongoing employee engagement activities to uncover and nurture such potentially rich advocates, rather than risk ignoring them because they are less ‘influential’ in the traditional hierarchy.

The networks I’ve referred to here aren’t ‘secret’ but they may not be obvious or formal, especially during the initial planning stage of the project when stakeholder analysis is traditionally done.

We need to harness or build networks that look beyond job roles and functions as well as beyond the centre of an organisation, (where, incidentally, we in our project teams often find ourselves sitting). And we need to be unafraid to keep looking during the life of the project; as new ‘influencers’ are uncovered we need to be able to respond and change tactics accordingly.

Further reading

Free online change readiness assessment

The best offline communication channels for your change programme

[1] Harvard Business Review, July 2013 – The Network Secrets of Great Change Agents ]

Five ideas for increased wellbeing at work

What links Christmas, penguins and wellbeing?

According to HR Grapevine, John Lewis’s Monty the Penguin advert is a good example of the benefits of considering another’s wellbeing.

Ok, so we’re talking here about addressing the loneliness of a CGI penguin, and it is a feel-good Christmas ad, but it’s interesting to think about this concept of ‘wellbeing’ in the work-place, and whether it’s yet being taken seriously by employers.

It’s easy to think of wellbeing at work as employee engagement but there’s growing evidence (e.g. from the NEF) of the need for a broader approach that addresses an individual’s sense of purpose, value and motivation, as well as their emotional and physical health, self-confidence and sense of security. All of these factors will determine how someone feels about their working lives and, it’s argued, how they’ll perform. Only by taking this holistic view can a company get that improved performance – and bottom line – traditionally promised by ‘engagement’.

You might think that large organisations have the advantage over SMEs in meeting people’s wellbeing needs; they’re probably more likely to have a formalised strategy, more HR resource and more staff benefits (gym memberships, bike to work schemes etc). Wellbeing is probably addressed in a more ad-hoc way in many SMEs, maybe not even that consciously, so simply increasingly awareness can bring greater benefit. Interestingly it appears that large corporates can learn from smaller companies, who tend to do better in well-being surveys. It can pay to ‘think small’.

How could you break such a broad topic down into something realistic and achievable? Thinking about smaller companies in particular, and using the NEF’s ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’, here are some simple examples:

  1. Connect: Smaller companies in particular may feel that their staff can speak out as and when they need, but it’s important to give them the mechanism, the opportunity, encouragement and, crucially, a response. Nothing beats face to face communication, so in Afiniti we all meet up quarterly on a ‘Company Comes First Day’, but in the meantime we’re spread far and wide and use other ways, such as our Yammer feed, to stay connected.
  2. Be active: This can be by encouraging daily activity or adding a fun, competitive element. Afiniti entered a team in this year’s JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge – a 5.6km run around Battersea Park – and we all felt very pleased with ourselves for completing it! As a further incentive, Afiniti doubled the amount we raised for our charity of the year, Dreamflight.
  3. Take notice: Individually, we benefit from taking the time to reflect on experiences and outcomes, to appreciate what’s important to us, how to use our strengths and avoid stress or negative feelings in future. When communicating, we need to take notice of our audience’s make-up and needs, and tailor our style and message accordingly. Managers and, more broadly, organisations also need to give staff the attention they need and take note of any warning signs.
  4. Keep learning: Continual development improves confidence and reassures people that they are progressing and developing. Informal learning like knowledge sharing between colleagues and formal training in leadership, management and other new skills, all helps people feel motivated and valued.
  5. Give: It could be that you’re giving your time by volunteering or fundraising, or shaping improvements to a project or the company. Or this could be about giving praise to someone for doing a great job; most of us thrive on recognition after all. All of these actions lead to involvement in a company or community and a sense of purpose.

I’m sure we could all do more in our work lives to encourage, and benefit from, greater wellbeing. It would be great to hear from you about what’s worked for your organisation.


Well-Being at Work (New Economics Foundation):