Don’t lie – we’ve all played it.  You’re sitting in company and client meetings, and you mentally twitch every time you hear a buzzword.  You cringe when it’s used improperly.  For me, one of those buzzwords is change management.  Not organizational change management – that’s an entirely different ballgame.  I’m talking about process and project change management.

Companies are finally jumping on the Change Management bandwagon.  Unfortunately, many of them don’t know exactly what that means.  Once they do catch on, they often think it is successful as long as they’re able to mark off boxes and logically advance to the next step.  This is a dangerous way of thinking when it comes to change management.

According to Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, “70% of large-scale change programs didn’t meet their goals.”  A TowersWatson study “found that only 25% of change management initiatives are successful over the long term.”  For the investment made into projects, and even those with change management activities put in place, these are some scary statistics. (BTW – I found these stats from this Psychology Today article.  Some fantastic info in here.)

All of that being said, there are a few things I see coming out of change management plans that are setting projects up for failure, but right now I’m going to focus on Communications.

First mistake – Not having a dedicated Internal Communications specialist to handle all communications needs of the project.  By including an internal comms specialist on the project, they should be able to tap into what’s going on in the company outside of this project.  They should be able to inform the project team of any potential conflicts.  Things like, accounting has a company-wide email going out about EOM expenses, or HR has a new initiative rolling out around insurance changes, which could impact the system you’re about to be working on.  Not having a holistic picture of what’s going on in the company can cripple a project from succeeding.

Second mistake – Not including this communicator in ALL (I twitch bolding, italicizing, and underlining, but hopefully you catch my drift on how important this is) project meetings.  This also means having a comms representative present during the planning phases of the project.  Internal Communications tend to be in touch with most departments of a company.  Many larger companies have dedicated Communicators for the big groups, like HR, IT, Finance, and Marketing.  With so many moving parts in projects AND companies, getting them all on the same page is vital and that means making sure you have everyone at the table.

Third mistake – Relying on a non-communicator to handle communications.  Many companies don’t know where to put communications.  They’re often under HR or Marketing.  Many times, communications isn’t the only job duty.  An employee also handles HR-related tasks or marketing-related tasks, THEN takes care of corporate communications.  This harms projects in a few ways.

  • You don’t have a communicator.  Not just someone who has access to the distribution lists.  You need a communicator who is trained to be able to speak to the project in lay-mans terms.
  • Relying on someone who is HR or Marketing focused tend to bias towards their comfort zone.  For instance, a marketing communicator may try to sell employees on the project, rather than focus on the “WIIFM” for employees.  Telling them how great the new system will be, instead of telling them the actionable items and impact each employee will experience.
  • Do I need to focus on having someone in IT trying to communicate about a project?  Just kidding – love you IT folks!  The work done in IT departments is imperative to day-to-day company function.  This does not make IT Specialists communicators.  To the companies who have hired communicators for your IT departments, here’s your virtual High Five! For those without one, I recommend it.  Today, so many programs, projects and initiatives are coming out of IT and having a dedicated communicator can help not only get the word out properly as to what’s going on, but they can also give a helpful boost to some of your internal PR issues.

While change management might have been seen as an add on to projects before, digital disruption and disruptive technologies make change management a requirement.  Projects should not be approved without a valid change management plan in place.  Having a Change Management plan is vital to any and all projects.  The key for that plan to be successful centers around a set internal communicator or team that can act as interpreters, communicators, cheerleaders, and as neutral 3rd parties.