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Agree or Disagree: Don't Change Culture

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Agree or Disagree is a new series on Voices on Project Management in which two bloggers debate both sides of one point of view. Here, we take a closer look at a quote from Peter Drucker, U.S. management consultant and author: "Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you've got."


A country's culture consists of its people's history, thoughts, system and rules. Companies are structures that originate and operate within that country's culture, and they exist to fulfill the needs of that country's people. A country's culture will impose and manifest itself within the company through its local workforce and interactions.

"Company cultures are like country cultures" because of what people perceive to be acceptable and unacceptable; what they are sensitive to; and what their priorities are. For example, one very famous Western multinational coffee chain that operates in Saudi Arabia synced with the country's culture to design its shops and services, which feature separate women, family and men sections. Like many other international companies, this one has successfully used the "work with what you've got" approach.

I have to agree with Drucker that we should "never try to change one" because that can be perceived as antagonistic and lead to alienation. In my experience, successful individuals and company cultures are the ones that expend their energy to find commonalities and adapt to complement local culture without compromising their core business values.


I disagree: Dave Wakeman, PMP

Peter Drucker said a great deal that still rings true in our daily and professional lives. Yet, this statement isn't one of them. 

In reflecting on his quote, I find myself imagining what he would say if he looked at any number of businesses or sports teams that make changes to their administration and turn their culture into something entirely different.

An example that illustrates why Mr. Drucker is wrong is when Nick Saban became head football coach at the University of Alabama in 2007. He undertook a plan he calls "The Process" that changed everything about the football program's culture. He emphasized taking everything one step at a time -- which differed tremendously from other coaches, but led to unbelievable change and success. Alabama won three national championships in five years. 

In changing an organization's culture, look at three key points. First, the buy-in must start at the top of the organization. You can't have a legitimate change in culture without full commitment. Second, you need to change your reward and feedback system to reflect your new culture and the new results desired. If you are still rewarding old behaviors or you don't reinforce the kind of behavior that you are hoping for, your new culture won't take hold. Finally, the lines of communication have to be wide open. This means you have to communicate the goals, objectives and other measures of success to your team. This is important because it allows your team to act in a manner consistent with the new culture.

Do you agree or disagree with Mr. Drucker's quote? 

10 Tips for Sustainable Change Management

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In my experience, project managers must accept change management disciplines as part of their project management plans in order to reduce the risk of an initiative failing. And in recent posts, I've discussed how:

In this post, I'll discuss how project managers have an opportunity to make a long-lasting impact on an organization by indicating where change disciplines integrate with project management. That's because the keys to successful change management lie in the project management process groups. By leveraging the project management processes and activities across the project life cycle, we can build in and ultimately sustain change. Here are 10 ways to address change in your project management plan: 

  1. Gather requirements during the initiating phase to articulate a change management plan as part of the project charter.
  2. Design a plan that integrates the work activities and drives performance by using a specific approach, such as John Kotter's 8-Step model.
  3. Engage stakeholders early to gather their expectations and gain their commitment.
  4. Integrate change needs into risk, scope, budget, communication and human resources plans during the planning phase.
  5. Identify change leaders as part of the project team, or hire subject matter experts to engage and coach staff and leaders to drive change. 
  6. Execute an integrated communication and change management plan that assesses the culture for change readiness, and communicate new expectations and ways of working in the future to become accustomed to new behaviors.
  7. Generate quick wins to display the new ways of working as examples of change outcomes. I create a quick list of wins by gathering insights from stakeholder interviews and a review of performance measures. This allows the team to build momentum and credibility for the new work approaches.
  8. Gather feedback during your monitoring phase to modify approaches and thus continue to drive desired change outcomes. This allows you to evaluate what techniques work well and which ones need to be stopped or tweaked to support the adoption of new behaviors.
  9. Sustain the change by developing a transition plan to operations that includes trained teams. Make sure a sustainability assessment is conducted at predefined periods, beginning with quarterly reviews, to continue governance.
  10. Celebrate the team's accomplishment on the internal change that will drive the future of the organization. These celebrations should acknowledge individuals and teams who have adopted the new behaviors--and thus help create successful role models for others to learn from and emulate during adoption.
As a management consultant, I used this checklist of tips to help me move from strategic planning to tactical implementation to sustainable operations. For example, I once had a client organization that deployed a new service management provider to improve its delivery and cost of IT operations. As the client introduced the new provider, the service delivery measures were not improving and were starting to miss the ROI expectations of the business case.  

I was hired to review the business processes that underpinned IT service delivery, and develop an improvement plan to restore the service delivery organization and meet the business case expectations. I started by conducting a prime value chain analysis and conducted stakeholder reviews to gather requirements. Based on my evaluation of best practices and the activities that hurt service delivery, I developed an initial management improvement plan. This plan was based on process reengineering, redeploying resources and reorganizing governance. 

During the implementation planning, I used every one of the steps above to ensure I was leading through the change, engaging stakeholders and staff while ensuring the organization would be able to sustain the new ways of working after my assignment ended.

Which of the above steps do you find most valuable in ensuring sustained change? 

For more on change management, purchase PMI's Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide

Communicating Change

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To implement a successful change initiative, you must first create the desire for change within the affected stakeholder community. If stakeholders believe the message being communicated, the way they react and feel changes in response.

Research in Australia, New Zealand and the United States has consistently demonstrated physical changes in people based on what they've been told. Studies report people Down Under and in Canada who are told wind turbines cause health problems actually experience health problems. Similarly, in a 2007 study, Harvard researchers told some female hotel employees that their usual duties met the U.S. Surgeon General's recommendations for an exercise regimen. Four weeks later, the researchers found improvements in blood pressure, body mass index and other health indices among the informed group compared to a control group of attendants who hadn't been so informed.

What this suggests is the conversations around your change initiative will have a direct effect on how people experience the change. Gossip and scaremongering will cause bad reactions; positive news creates positive experiences.

To drive success, you need to make the right conversations. Some strategies to help include:

  • If you can't see and articulate how the change is actually going to work, it probably won't work. Explain "how" and keep explaining to everyone affected by the project's outcomes.
  • While it's painful to integrate change management planning into your project planning, it's even more painful to watch your project fail. Make sure all aspects of the change are covered in your project plan or the associated change management plan -- and that the two plans are coordinated.
  • Keep explaining the "whys" behind the change. Once is never enough! You need a well-thought-out and implemented communication plan.
  • The only antidote to scaremongering is information. And that information needs to be accurate and believed. What's actually going to happen is never as bad as the things people imagine "might happen" in the absence of easy-to-understand, well-communicated facts. 
Expectations tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. You need to communicate the expected change your project is creating will be beneficial and good for the majority of the stakeholders. If this message is both true and believed (the two elements are not automatically connected), the experience of the stakeholders is more likely to be positive. 

Communication often can mean the difference between project success and failure. A 2013 PMI Pulse of the Profession™ in-depth report shows that executives and project managers around the world agree that poor communication contributes to project failure. Of the two in five projects that fail to meet original goals, one of the two do so because of ineffective communications. The study also reveals that effective communication is a critical factor in creating success.

Given the stakes, it's time to ask: How much positive communication do you do each day?

Taking Competitive Advantage of External Change

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In recent posts, I've discussed how project managers can become agents of change, and how managing change can drive their organization's business goals. In this post, I'll focus on the external events that can affect business -- and how project practitioners can help their organizations derive value from these changes.

Over the years, I have witnessed organizations incorporate external forces, such as fluctuating market conditions or the advent of new technology, into their business planning process to much success. 

A few years ago, I was part of a project team that helped harness external change. I was employed at an organization at the top of its industry, but one that was also facing shifting customer demands across its portfolio of products. The organization had to consider how to meet the demand changes, increase revenue and address the variability of the business plans. 

The organization defined a new strategy that would allow us to weather economic headwinds, advance our value creation by integrating new products and services, and increase shareholder value. That strategy relied heavily on investing in a multi-year journey to execute mergers and acquisitions. And to succeed in this strategy, we needed to adapt internally to incorporate newly acquired companies into our operations.

That led to the creation of a Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) integration team, and I was invited to participate in building up this capability. Management selected a core project team that included high performers, particularly those who demonstrated strong IT skills and solid project management experience.

Right from the beginning, our core project team focused on setting clear goals, based on how we would provide benefits to our organization's customers -- and shift the market demands back to our favor. We drove several goals-setting sessions to establish a project timeline and identify opportunities for synergy savings (syncing expenditures to reduce administrative costs).

Then, we selected the rest of the M&A integration team members -- mostly various subject matter experts and business analysts who were well versed in project and change management. This helped us deliver multibillion-dollar integration on time and closely aligned to strategy. We were able to do so because of our team members' clear roles and expertise, but particularly because of these standout team characteristics:

  • Agility: We were very nimble, moving quickly to pull and release team members across milestones.
  • Change management: Team members' ability to adopt additional support requirements within their groups allowed the full integration to occur.

Over the next three years, this same project team was called upon to develop knowledge and competence in the area of internal change. My organization dedicated a small M&A office to develop integration tools and codify our knowledge. We were even asked to continue to work together to build on the initial strategic goal: to help the company maintain its leadership position in the industry. That required us to support post-merger integrations by leading work streams and mentoring junior teams. Our competence increased in managing people across matrix teams, and the use of change management prepared us to lead and sustain other major initiatives of the organization.  

How do you identify external change and help turn it to your organization's advantage? For more on change management, download PMI's Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide, currently available for free download for a limited time only.

Effect Change, Drive Business

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More times than not, change leads to new competitive environments -- and project managers who are able to adapt quickly tend to survive and capitalize. In such an environment, one of the most important tools a project manager has is the ability to effect change to drive an organization's competitive advantage, its ultimate goal. However, as I discussed in my previous blog post, change is always met with resistance and uncertainty. 

Not only do project managers have to deal with resistance to change from team members, but they must also plan for and overcome general pitfalls of implementing that change. To do so, consider incorporating better change methods into your daily practice. Below is a list of 10 design principles -- culled from a list created by Booz Allen Hamilton consulting principals, which I expand on with personal experience -- that should be part of our overall change plans efforts: 

  1. Address the "human side" systematically. Engage employees early in the planning phases. Proactively manage suggestions and concerns based on their field of expertise.
  2. Start at the top. Gaining executive buy-in to ensure the likelihood of success.
  3. Involve every layer. If the change affects the entire organization, then consider identifying managers at each layer to be responsible for the change management plan. 
  4. Make the formal case. Establish a business case with defined goals that articulate the rationale behind the change and the benefits it will deliver to stakeholders. This could be a renewed organization mission or vision statements.
  5. Create ownership. Motivate employees to take ownership of the change and leverage the organization's rewards and recognition system to reinforce those team member commitments.
  6. Communicate the message. Teams need to understand how to be successful in driving change. Establish a formal plan to deliver that message through a communication matrix that includes methods such as town halls, videos, team meetings and informal gatherings. 
  7. Assess the cultural landscape. Assess the organization's values, beliefs and attitudes to obtain the baseline culture. Then contrast the baseline against implications of a new, post-change culture to determine what to communicate to stakeholders as the value of the organization's new culture.
  8. Address culture explicitly. Provide employees the expectations of the new culture, and identify ways they can help it flourish. Reinforce those who embrace the new culture by using the organization's rewards and recognition system. 
  9. Prepare for the unexpected. There may be a new set of stakeholders not originally considered during the development of the change plan. Remain flexible to integrate their engagement, should it be warranted.
  10. Speak to the individual. Identify an individual's emotional situation and prepare to understand their reaction to change. Then guide them to adapt to new ways of working.
What change methods do you use to provide your organization with a competitive advantage? 

PMI's new title, Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide,  is currently available for free download for a limited time only. It contains knowledge to help project and program managers identify change elements and account for them in their project/program plans, as well as create clear and powerful strategies to guide organizational development. Visit PMI.org for more on change management.

From Project Manager to Change Agent

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Employees who adapt quickly are an organization's change agents. Project managers have the potential to be great change agents — and in that role, enact change at the project team level.

But that requires helping an individual accept change in the first place. To do so, I often start by looking at U.S. business consultant Charles Rogel's method, the SARA model. It describes how individuals react to change:

  • Shock or denial, particularly if it's not what they want to hear
  • Anger or anxiety, especially considering the point of view of the news
  • Resistance then sets in, when the realization of inevitable change looms.
  • Acceptance is last, usually turning to support of the change for the better.
I have had to employ the SARA model many times, for major changes — from outsourcing to mergers and acquisitions — that have led to organizational changes and restructuring for my teams and me. As a leader, empathetic to my team's uncertain future, I have used SARA to help me guide them toward visualizing an end state that they can accept, even if it requires more time and effort than I had originally scoped for it. I have even provided placement assistance to help some individuals find their next role outside of my team.

In the end, you just have to remember: You cannot force people through the process. But learning to guide them through it helps you improve your leadership ability by aligning teams and stakeholders to a common vision. 

What model do you use to help guide your project team toward acceptance of change? For more on change management, visit PMI's change management portal.

Bracing for Change

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A colleague recently started leading a department responsible for maintenance projects for a manufacturing organization. The project manager wanted to implement changes such as rolling out new project software, increasing administrative transparency, and revising team and stakeholder communication methods.
 
Naturally, he was concerned about how these changes would be received. My advice: 

Communicate with everyone affected as a result of the disruption. Host meetings to explain the factors behind the need for change, such as out-dated processes, unsatisfactory performance, expansion plans or executive directives. The reasons should be transparent, easy to understand and supported by relevant facts. Follow up with details on employee and organizational benefits to the changes. Above all, the vision for change should be realistic and believable. 

Plan for time to collect and acknowledge reactions to the proposed changes. Expect both positive and negative reactions, and be prepared to hear and answer questions. In this specific case, concerns included: fear of increased work hours or workload, uncertainty over the size and management of the disruption, nervousness toward new systems and job security.

Create avenues where people can freely voice these concerns -- publicly via workshops and meetings, and anonymously via surveys. This helps the project manager understand the sources of any resistance and support.

Recognize adjustments. In the case of my colleague, the majority of individuals in his department had been with the organization for over 15 years. That means they probably formed the present systems and culture, and therefore it was expected that this group would be more skeptical toward change. In this sort of situation, describe how and what type of training and support can or will be provided. Identify who will be responsible for managing the change and how the process will take shape (i.e., the immediate first steps).

Manage emotional and psychological stress by being supportive of and empathetic to team members as they adapt. Plan for active team and stakeholder involvement -- for example, brainstorming meetings. It may be necessary to plan for some of the team to visit another organization or department that has recently undergone similar changes. Visibly involve executives and other departments, such as human resources, for rewards and incentives to encourage the adoption of change.

Plan for and implement changes using project management techniques, such as risk assessments, stakeholder analysis and progress measurements. Prepare for frequent reporting of successes and setbacks so everyone knows how the change is progressing and what achievements or adjustments have been made.
 
Enforce the change. Look for quick wins and be prepared for some to slip into the old way of doing things -- and perhaps sabotage or reverse the change. Check that everyone is adhering to the new plan. In the event of strong resistance, it may be necessary to respond decisively with disciplinary action. While it is important to be open and inclusive, there should also be a clear understanding that change is not optional.

Wrap up like a project. Once the changes are complete, close, celebrate and reward the team. Don't forget to list lessons learned.

What advice would you add? How have you helped a project team adopt change?

For a closer look at change management -- including case studies -- read PM Network's "In Times of Change," June 2012.

Stick to Project Management Basics

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The importance of fundamentals in project management is obvious, but easy to lose sight of.

As professionals who constantly strive to improve, we study, read, take courses, attend seminars, listen to podcasts and more -- all to become better project managers. Ironically, sometimes this desire to learn causes us to lose focus on the fundamentals.

Instead, we look to novelty, the latest trends and perhaps even the latest fads in the interest of improving.

Likewise, we might embrace sophisticated techniques without ensuring that we've properly implemented the basic things on which the sophisticated techniques depend.

I've often heard great sports figures and musicians emphasize the importance of fundamentals in their success. Project managers would do well to place similar emphasis on the basics of our profession. I'd go even further to suggest that before we embrace any new or sophisticated technique, we should first look at how well we are implementing the fundamentals.

For example, what good does it do us to implement the latest agile techniques on a project where we haven't adequately implemented rudimentary change management disciplines? Similarly, what good would it do to implement Monte Carlo simulations in a context where we haven't adequately identified basic risks?

In my estimation, our success depends almost entirely on how well we have implemented fundamental risk and change management processes.

Things go wrong and plans change -- yet we often charge ahead without adequately planning and preparing for those realities. Certainly, our intuition tells us this is true, and our experience validates our intuition. Yet it still often happens that we lose sight of the obvious fact that the basics matter and matter most.

If you should ever waiver in your conviction, look no further than PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession. The report notes that change management and project management basics are among the most critical project success factors.

New and sophisticated techniques have their place, but the best thing to do in any profession is to go back to basics. Don't let the allure of the sophisticated or the novel, distract us from the value of fundamentals.

To discuss Pulse of the Profession on Twitter, please use #pmipulse.



See more on the Pulse of the Profession.

Project Change Challenges

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Who should lead the change challenge: organization management or project management?

The project team probably has a better idea of the technical aspects of the changes required. But, the organization's management initiates the project and has overall responsibility for achieving the intended benefits after the project is complete.

In my opinion, change management is an organizational responsibility. The role of project management is to focus on creating the deliverable effectively and supporting the organizational change effort.  

In short, the project management team works for the organizational change management team. However, I have seen many situations where managing the change is treated as a project responsibility.  

For those project teams undertaking change management, the change challenge is getting the necessary buy-in from organizational stakeholders who have to make effective use of the project's deliverables to get the expected value from the project.  

There is no point in the project team being happy with its work if no one uses it. The way the organization works has to change if the deliverable is going to be used effectively to create value for the organization and generate a ROI on the investment in the project.

Effective communication with the affected stakeholders is a must when addressing the change challenge. These communications follow a fairly standard pattern:

  • Explain the reason for the change needs so they are understood.
  • Define, communicate and support the actual changes to work practices and behaviors though training or other skills development activities.
  • Provide ongoing support to embed the new practices into the operating culture of the organization.
Do you think change management is an organizational or project responsibility? Which option do you think is best for effectively engaging with the affected stakeholders? Which option best facilitates the overall change in behaviors needed to generate a successful project outcome?

See more posts from Lynda.
See more on stakeholder management.

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