Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Don't Forget This Important Stakeholder Group in Your Change Plan!

Susan Richards,  Managing Director, Steelbridge Solutions, Inc is our guest blogger this week.  Susan has extensive experience leading change in organizations and for clients.  Susan has been a consultant specializing in the HR space for 20+ years.  Her methodology for change management is both simple yet effective.  Educate your stakeholders on the change and let them know what to expect before, during and after the change.  I am honored to work with Susan on change projects as a learn so much!

In a LinkedIn post about communicating organizational change, Maya Orbach points out that most organizations spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy on leaders and top management. Ideally, every employee is a target for change messages; however, scarce resources usually make that impractical. In that situation, Orbach suggests that companies focus on three important audiences: future leaders, social hubs, and vocal members. These informal groups are influential, and you can count on them to spread the word. 

Orbach is spot-on with her priorities, but we would add another critical group—your project team. Just because you've assigned them to your Merger Task Force or entrusted them with your Talent Management Implementation, you can't assume team members have bought in. It's rare that an organization-wide initiative has unanimous support, even at—especially at—the leadership level. When the project moves forward in spite of objections, the naysayers don't automatically climb aboard.  They go underground, where they can scuttle your multi-million dollar project faster than a bomb in a battleship.

Since most project teams represent organizational functions and business units, they will most likely be a scaled-down version of your company's political and power structure. If everyone in your organization is happy and cooperative, you can stop reading now. But if the VP of Finance and the Marketing VP clash like stripes and plaid, or if business unit leaders regularly butt heads over strategy and headcount allocations, chances are that their delegates on the project team will be at odds, too.

Healthy differences and vigorous debate can be constructive, but ugly, open attacks waste time and divert attention from the task at hand. Even worse is covert infighting, when team members pretend to get along while they act as spies for their sponsors. They'll agree to an important decision—until they report back and their boss blows a gasket. Next time you meet, guess what? They will openly disrupt the consensus. They may act as a chronic roadblock, interfering with progress in general, or they may object selectively to any recommendation made by their boss's opponent. In extreme cases, they will keep quiet until it's time to launch, and then sabotage the results.

Intra-team rivalries or disagreements may emerge because sub-teams have different perspectives or competing agendas. For example, the project team is eager to complete tasks and meet deadlines, demonstrating tangible outcomes. The change sub-team, on the other hand, moves more slowly with less tangible results. Other issues relate to team members who may be threatened by the presence of a consultant or even a cross-functional team, especially if the project or initiative encroaches on their area of responsibility. Some members may believe nothing needs to change and their time could be better spent on other activities.

The list goes on…so what can you do? Awareness of the potential problem is critical. Having a project governance structure that includes clear guiding principles and ‘rules of engagement’ for the project team and leadership is a huge step in the right direction.  Treating the project team as a separate audience/stakeholder group is another solution, as well as hiring specialists who understand team dynamics and periodically meet with the team to head off developing issues. I would love hear from you. What are you doing to ensure this very important audience is on board for the long haul?

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