Even if you put politics to one side – and I promise I will – we’re living in changing times. It can all get exhausting, and it’s easy to see why people don’t engage in change management programmes. What’s the point when you don’t believe the change is necessary and/or suspect things will probably change again before long?

One of the keys to a successful change management programme is to recognise that change can be unsettling and frustrating. The other is to work with that and to provide clarity amid the confusion. In this post, I’ll walk you through five steps for getting people on board with your change programme – whether that’s a cultural, organisational development or a systems change.

1. Work out what the change is being done for

What do we want to achieve? This is the kick-off question for any change management programme but it is often answered in vague rather than precise terms. As a result, the programme that results is vague as well, without measurable goals or checkpoints.
Introduce clarity by making sure vagueness is not an option. Ask for realistic and measurable goals: good old SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) objectives are your friend here.

2. Work out who is involved and why

When change is needed, it’s likely to be because people with a strategic-level view have spotted a problem. Make sure you understand not just what that problem is but why it is important to the people who want the change. Desk research will help (LinkedIn will reveal which projects they have been involved in and their professional background) but there is no substitute for intelligent open questions.

3. Engage people from the start

Change initiatives often fail because people feel the changes have been thrust upon them. They also go wrong because unknown unknowns are not factored in. Your colleagues can offer insight into these from their specialist viewpoints and experience; in fact, colleagues are as much your stakeholders – as are the project owners – so get them involved from the project’s outset.

4. Maintain goodwill

With engagement comes responsibility. Of course you need people’s opinions, but you also need to be respectful of their time. Losing goodwill at this stage will make it harder to embed change in the long term, so be honest with your colleagues about the level of influence they will have on the outcome, and choose research tools that make the most of people’s time. For example, focus groups are a great way to gather detailed opinions from people from wide-ranging background, but they are time-consuming. An online survey could be a better option. They’re also a ‘safe space’ for people to share negative opinions they may not feel comfortable sharing in person. Naysayers’ views and act as a valuable reality check that will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

5. Find the gaps

Once you have a clear vision of what is needed, and your stakeholders are on board, all the hard work you’ve done on research will start to work hard for you. Now it is time to look for the gaps between what you want and what you currently have – in other words, do a gap analysis.

Next steps

As you can see, planning is key to success when it comes to change management. It is particularly important when there are big personalities involved. Knowing if they are likely to drive or derail the programme will enable you to make a realistic plan that meets everyone’s needs.

So, what strategies have helped you manage the big personalities on change management projects? Let us know in the comments below.