There are two critical factors that have a dramatic impact on the success of change—adequate capacity and the assurance of the right skills and knowledge to fulfill the requirements of the future state. This is especially true if the transformation you are after requires the organization to break through to new levels of performance.
Having surveyed thousands of leaders, managers, and consultants over four decades, adequate capacity to change is the number one issue impairing the success of change. Sponsors need to think through what kind of time, attention, and resources their new solution requires. Many sponsors and project leaders assume the work of making the change a reality can be done on top of people’s current workloads. This is faulty thinking. Change requires the generation of real capacity.
The Sponsor’s Role in Ensuring Adequate Capacity for Change
Capacity is an issue for two groups—the people on the project team who must spend time assessing, planning, and implementing the change, and the stakeholders who must make the change happen on the ground. Both require time, attention, and support to make the change a reality.
Change sponsors need to understand the importance of ensuring adequate capacity for both groups. Too often, after they have handed the change initiative to a project leader and team, they stop thinking about the project until some issue or status report needs their attention. Good sponsors need to do more about planning capacity, given its impact on their initiative.
If your change is transformational, capacity planning is essential. A significant condition for success is to set the expectation that adequate capacity will be created to support the work required to make the change happen, all the way through the sustainment of business benefits. If you adequately scope your change, you will need to conduct a capacity review to ensure the capacity to do all of what is required.
For the project team, the project leader needs to be held accountable for getting the agreement of the bosses of every team member that sufficient time will be allowed for them to attend meetings and accomplish their change work. For stakeholders, sponsors must require that an inquiry be made about how many change efforts will simultaneously hit the same stakeholder groups and what kind of time is required of them to change while continuing to fulfill their normal jobs. This may require involving the leaders of other initiatives that may also be impacting your stakeholders.
Once you are clear about the magnitude of capacity required, if it is not already available, it needs to be generated. This is typically not sponsor-level work, but rather falls to the project leader. The exception is when the generation of capacity requires senior leaders to decide what operational work can be slowed down, stopped, or out-sourced to temporarily make room for change work. Then these decisions need to be carried out and monitored for impact on both the operation and the project. Stay on this issue; it can be a make-or-break one for your breakthrough outcomes.
The Sponsor’s Role in Ensuring Stakeholder Capability
Too often, implementation looks like a series of communications and trainings, followed by a hand-off to operations to normalize the new reality. Sponsors may have a role in the communication about deployment. However, after communicating, how do you know if your stakeholders understood and agreed to make the change? This is an important time to stay visible, supportive, and inquiring, especially if the change is burdensome to your stakeholders and the stakes are high. Ask your team to ask your stakeholders—before deployment is planned—what stakeholders think they will need to fully adopt the change. Ensure the team builds their requests, if reasonable, into the deployment training and engagement strategy.
Most change trainings are “tell” oriented—here is the information you need to know and here are the work practices you need to do. We know from experience that one-directional trainings and communications do not land or stick. Just because your stakeholders spend a day in a classroom, even when asked to practice, does not guarantee they built the capability to succeed in the change when back on the job. Set the expectation with your team that stakeholders will be supported after the training to ensure they can be successful. Support the strategy, after they have had a while to try it on for size, to encourage them to openly discuss how it is going, what suggestions they have to make it better, and what more they need to work optimally in the new state. When you provide this permission and support, only then will stakeholders want to make the change a success.
Here’s a tip: Make this support known when you first announce the change. Describe it as an essential ingredient needed to achieve breakthrough results. This will relieve your stakeholders’ fears of not being able to succeed in the new state. And, it demonstrates that as their project sponsor, you are thinking about their needs and are concerned for their intention to be effective in their new reality.