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14 December 2021

Key Factors That Drive Sustainable Change Management

Implementing change can be challenging, but sustaining changes can be even harder. Humans are infinitely complex and, while we seek novelty in the short term, long term and particularly during times of uncertainly, we often regress to what is comfortable and familiar in our personal, social or work lives.

In a project environment, sustainable change rarely happens automatically. Even resoundingly positive changes typically require significant effort from the individual, the team, and the organisation before, during and after the change has officially been implemented. When faced with a<span class=”color-green “>n ever-increasing number of change initiatives</span> and limited resources, project focus can quickly shift from one change initiative to the next, before new attitudes and behaviours have been consolidated.

Currently, we find ourselves living in a time where change saturation and change fatigue are at an all-time high. That is why more than ever before, organisations require the right <span class=”color-green “>mindset and</span><span class=”color-green “> tools</span> to drive sustainable change management.

Key factors that drive sustainable change management include: executive alignment and support for change management, a collaborative approach to stakeholder engagement, monitoring, and a culture of accountability. <h2>Executive alignment for sustainable change management</h2> Sustained transformation requires an aligned executive team that genuinely believes change management is a critical factor in delivering successful project outcomes. <span class=”color-green “>Where leadership is united in this belief</span>, change management efforts are more likely to be funded appropriately. This also means that, as a project progresses, ongoing communication, monitoring, training, support and reinforcement activities can continue being championed appropriately from the top and cascaded through all levels of the project or organisation. <h2>A collaborative approach to stakeholder engagement</h2> A collaborative approach to stakeholder engagement can foster a sense of shared ownership in the change and sustain positive change behaviours. Impacted stakeholders should be engaged at every stage of the transformation via a comprehensive communication strategy, and through a range of flexible support mechanisms to promote, reinforce and sustain the required changes.

An effective communication plan provides plenty of opportunities to inform impacted stakeholders of critical project details and help them understand the purpose, value, and impacts of the change. To promote sustained engagement, a plan should also include formal and informal occasions for users to raise concerns, ask questions and provide feedback, not just at the beginning of the project, but throughout the transition and beyond. Special consideration should be made for those most impacted by the change. These users are likely to have the most concerns that need to be acknowledged and addressed promptly, but may also have valuable contributions regarding potential unforeseen risks or additional opportunities that could contribute to continuous improvements, yielding better outcomes and <span class=”color-green “>more sustained adoption</span>.

The communication plan should be responsive to the evolving informational needs of stakeholders to sustain momentum as the transformation progresses. Events that celebrate early successes or significant milestones and recognise individual or team contributions should be scheduled, as well as opportunities for reflection and growth. To demonstrate their ongoing commitment to the transformation, executive leaders should also continue sharing status updates and reinforcing the change as part of formal communication activities. <h2> Support mechanisms for sustainable change management</h2> Stakeholders learn best when a flexible, yet collaborative approach is used to support them as they gain knowledge and learn new behaviours required for the change. Consider conducting a training needs analysis to identify key impacted stakeholders and the best way to support their journey to achieve proficiency.

You’ll also want to provide <span class=”color-green “>a range of different learning experiences,</span> including knowledge articles, videos, instructor led training, job aides, and eLearning courses. By providing flexible options available throughout the transition period and beyond, learners are free to continue developing new capabilities in the way that best meets their needs. Consider also scheduling post implementation sessions to provide teams with opportunities to collaborate, improve collective efforts, and share successes or voice opinions in a more informal environment.

Managers and an aligned executive team can support the adoption of new skills and behaviours by coaching or mentoring other users. This also provides opportunities to address concerns or resistance in the context of a trusted, established relationship.

Support can also come from super users, subject matter experts, change champions, organisational influencers, or early adopters. By cultivating a team of change advocates and spreading the championing efforts, individual contributions are more manageable and are therefore more likely to be sustained. <h2> Monitoring progress and compliance</h2> Monitoring progress and compliance ensures that pre-determined measures are tracked against business outcomes. This facilitates reinforcement and recognition for those already showing positive adoption and highlights areas of resistance or concern where corrective actions or resistance management may be needed.

To monitor progress, measurable goals should be determined during the initial planning phase of the transition, and then tracked throughout the transformation. Common examples include complying with new processes, achieving specific tasks, or cost/time savings as a direct result of new behaviours related to the change. Formal feedback mechanisms like a dedicated email address, or internal forums can also be used to gauge user experience. Regular feedback with direct reports at all levels is also important to assist in detecting potential issues or sources of resistance quickly, so that any barriers to adoption can be addressed rapidly. <h2>A changing management culture of accountability and recognition</h2> Measures can be developed and tracked, feedback sessions and monitoring tools employed, issues and sources of resistance flagged, and even corrective actions recommended. However, this may not be enough to sustain new behaviours that require additional time or effort. If users are not held accountable, they may revert to previous established, easy or routine behaviours.

Lack of accountability can also impact those who are appropriately complying with any changes. They may feel discouraged if they perceive there are no consequences (positive or negative) for making the effort to change their behaviour and may therefore also revert to the previous behaviours.

Embedding a culture of accountability can be a challenge, but entirely possible if driven by an aligned leadership team and cascaded through all levels of the organisation supported by monitoring, consistent reinforcement, corrective actions and resistance management.

For project teams and organisations, sustaining change management throughout the transformation is key to achieving better business outcomes. By adopting a collaborative mindset and a culture of accountability and recognition, impacted stakeholders can be engaged and change management efforts sustained throughout the transformation process.

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