Time after time, I encounter companies whose best intentions for new system upgrades, revamped strategic direction or new mission implementation are thwarted due to the lack of a sound, end-to-end change management plan. Applicable to organizations across every industry and in every location around the world, successful change management requires both accountable leadership and collaboration. Leaders must be willing to ask the right questions at the outset and take a methodical approach to ensure the desired end result.
What too many executives overlook, however, is that every action taken toward meeting an end goal has a downstream impact. Without the most crucial components needed for successful change management—accountable leadership and collaboration— anticipating and accounting for the side effects of change become impossible.

An effective leader has not only accountability for the project’s outcome, but also secures buy in from all impacted parties by taking time to ask them the right questions and find out how changes will impact their jobs. With this information, organizations can avoid the ill side effects and even catastrophic failures associated with attempting to implement a new system in a vacuum.

Involving team members reveals several critical pieces of information, such as:

  • What is the full scope of the project?
  • Are the appropriate stakeholders (direct, upstream, and downstream) involved?
  • What will be necessary to secure stakeholder buy-in?
  • Where are the operational or staffing gaps?
  • What is needed to bridge the gaps?
  • Who will need to be educated on the project implementation, and on what elements?
  • Does everyone have a shared concept of the desired outcome?
  • Does everyone demonstrate a sense of accountability for their role in achieving the desired outcome?
  • Is there a rollback plan if circumstances necessitate one?
  • Will adequate end-to-end testing take place prior to launch?
  • Will the transition plan include a tailored training strategy that ensures sustained staff proficiencies?

Having this information will ensure the entire team is equipped with the right tools to meet the new end goal. Here’s an example drawn from one of my clients in the mining industry: If you were going to build a mine, you wouldn’t buy a plot of land until you conduct a mineral assessment, and you wouldn’t bring tools onsite until you knew the subterranean conditions. In the same way, every organization in every industry must find the figurative “lay of the land” by involving the whole team. Only then can they be confident they have identified all the tools needed to ensure the desired outcome.

Without going through this process with everyone on the team who stands to be impacted by change, leaders have a greater risk of running into unforeseen challenges. Of course, unforeseen challenges are a risk even with the best laid-out plans, so successful change management requires the ability to be nimble. When problems occur, good leaders must be willing to course-correct if needed. When I’ve been brought into an organization to right the ship after a project has already gone awry, I’ve seen ample evidence that doubling down on poorly thought-out strategies result in costly outcomes—both monetarily and operationally.

For companies, time is money, and the compulsion to speed ahead without making the investment in methodical, end-to-end change management planning can be tempting. However, money saved by proceeding without it will assuredly result in substantially higher costs when the implementation becomes distressed or fails. In fact, I’ve personally seen these costs rise to millions of dollars due to remediation needs or stressed operation continuity. To avert this outcome, collaborative change management must be an intentional part of planning before the growth, evolution or adaptation program begins.

Mike Del Prado is Chief Executive Officer with Executive Option.

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