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Ten top tips to get change programmes off to a flying start

Hannah Cordle, Change Communications Consultant - 106 Communications

In 2020, a nation of 67 million people changed their work pattern to working from home overnight. Although this change was exceptional, change is not new. Most organisations undergo major change about once every three years.

Change programmes are high profile, costly and time consuming so need to bet set up to succeed. But many HR directors feel underprepared to manage change and a skills gap has been recognised in the people profession. In 2020, so change management has been added as a key knowledge area in the CIPD’s new HR Profession Map which sets the benchmark for HR skills.

Here are ten tips will get your change programme off to a flying start.

1. Agree sponsor engagement up front

Your sponsor is a crucial advocate for the change and will be interfacing with senior stakeholders. Coaching them to tell the change story in a convincing way, and respond to stakeholder concerns, is critical. They also need to know exactly what you want them to do and when. Make sure you get this straight up front because you may find it difficult to get contact time with your sponsor once the change programme is fully underway.

2. A good narrative is like gold dust

Deep technical subject matter experts work on complex change programmes. The change needs to be contextualised and linked to the bigger picture and the company strategy through a compelling change narrative. Think about neurodiversity too – different brains perceive things differently. A simple visual will be much more effective in telling a change story than a list of statistics.

3. Coach mangers and the programme team to tell the change story

A good change story creates deep engagement and motivation at an individual level, as managers guide and motivate their teams. Keeping the change vision in mind will enable the team to stay focused through ambiguity. Be prepared to adjust your narrative as it evolves.

4. Don’t try and eat the elephant all at once

You can’t do everything you want to all at once, so prioritisation is important. Know which change interventions are going to move the needle and focus on them. You will have to convince stakeholders of your choice so they need to add real value to the change programme. Choose your top three priorities for the month, get your sponsor to sign them off and stick to them. Identifying your audiences and articulating what the change means to them through your change narrative should be your starting point. Be ready to pivot these changes as necessary.

5. Become best friends with the change programme Project Manager

The Project Manager’s job is to keep the change programme moving and if they are any good at it, they will have an understanding of all the moving parts. Staying close to them will enable to you to respond with agility with changes on the horizon. They will be accountable for reporting progress against deliverables too, so ensure change communicated is well represented.

6. Be your own best advocate

The project team needs to understand the value that change brings, so it’s your job to coach people on what you do, how and why you do it. A simple change value proposition agreed upfront will help.

7. Your sanity depends on being part of a strong, aligned team

According to the Harvard Business Review, 70% of change programmes fail. You will need to build an effective support network – either in your immediate team or in a community of practise to see you through the tough times. Potentially you may be the only HR professional on the project so it’s important you have a safe space to test new ideas or just let off steam. Ensuring you are working to the same priorities so you don’t become siloed as you support specific areas of a complex change. Meeting daily for 30 minutes, where you can check the team’s mood and objectives for the day, will help you respond with agility.

8. Agree the content sign-off process up front to avoid bottlenecks further down the line

All sponsors and managers will have different processes for signing off content, so clarify yours early on. Be clear on which individuals are being consulted on iterations of content, or whether they actually have final say. A RAPID or RACI is a great way to agree decision rights, but you’ll need to get your stakeholders signed up to it.

9. Meeting discipline is key

Running an efficient meeting will speed up decision making and save time and energy. Elon Musk’s three rules for meetings could be a place to start. Prepare an IPO (inputs, processes, outputs) or agenda before every change planning meeting, clarify who the right people are to be on the call and be ruthless with your time management.

10. Factor in continuous improvement at every stage

Ask yourselves what worked, what went less well and what you could have done differently and review throughout the project.

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