Rainbows and Unicorns? Why Change Management is the Hard Part

Rainbows and Unicorns? Why Change Management is the Hard Part

75% of transformation programmes fail. They take too long, they cost too much money, or it just feels too hard. The people working on the programme get tired, the people affected by the programme dig their heels in and resist, and sooner or later the wheels fall off, and those multi-million IT-enabled business transformation juggernaut programmes grind to a halt. Why is this? Research suggests that it’s caused by a failure to invest in change management. Putting it another way – you can write the code, you can re-design the business processes, but if you don’t manage the wellbeing of the people working on the programme, they’ll become exhausted, and if you don’t manage people through the changes the programme will bring, even while you’re in the process of delivering it, the sooner or later that natural human resistance will bring your programme to a standstill. “We’re not sure this is the right thing to do any more.” “We have too much on our plate at the moment.” “We need time to reconsider our options.” “It’s taking too long.” “It’s too expensive.” “It’s too high risk.” “It’s too hard.” “The benefits don’t stack up.” “It’s not what we’re used to.” Sound familiar?

A savvy programme team will include change management from the start. It’s a worthwhile investment that can significantly help the programme to stay on track. A good change management team provides the oil that enables the programme delivery machine to run smoothly, whether this is through managing tricky senior stakeholders who would otherwise throw awkward spanners in the works during the Programme Board, delivering a set of team development activities that help the management team to build trust in each other, or ensuring all the right business subject matter experts turn up to all the right design workshops, fully inducted and raring to go. And of course it’s through change management that the programme lands successfully, the change is adopted as swiftly and efficiently as possible, and the expected value is achieved as planned.

Prosci, the global leader in change management solutions, regularly survey hundreds of global organisations to assess the impact of change management on their organisations, programmes and projects. The data demonstrates a clear, pronounced correlation between the application of change management and programmes delivering to time, cost and quality.

Despite the crucial make-or-break role that change management can play, it’s all too often perceived as ‘the soft side’ of a programme. “Look at you business change folks, with your fairy dust and rainbow unicorns”, said a Programme Manager to me once, in an indulgent tone. “You mean the team who enable speed of adoption, ultimate utilisation, and proficiency?”, I replied sweetly. As a change manager who has worked in the field for over fifteen years, I believe that change management is very tricky, combining the dual professions of complex individual and organisational psychology with detailed business and system architecture. Unlock the secrets of an old bit of system code? Sure. Persuade an influential and outspoken long-serving employee that there’s a better way of performing the role he’s been revered for delivering for the past thirty years, and turn him into an advocate for the change that will cause him to lose his special status in the organisation? Now that’s a challenge. System code doesn’t say one thing in a meeting and then deny all knowledge of it the next day. System code doesn’t get its feelings hurt, or need reassuring that it’s adding value. Yet all too often change management is dismissed as ‘the fluffy bit’.


Fortunately for the state of the IT-enabled business transformation industry, there are lots of people working at CxO level who genuinely get it. As an old boss of mine used to say: “the soft part’s the hard part”. He’d then roar with laughter at his own joke, but it didn’t detract from the truth of the statement.

The big question is – how do you do it? How do you persuade people to change? How do you unlock the psychology of an organisation comprised of unique individuals, each with their own core beliefs, personal drivers and emotions, the latter of which can often fluctuate from one day to the next? Give me a multi-million pound budget to balance or a tough commercial supplier contract to review any day; that sounds far more straightforward.

The good news is, there’s a secret weapon of change management, and I’m willing to share it with you. It’s a technique that I use successfully on a daily basis with colleagues, with teams, with organisations, and even with my kids. Come back next week to find out more. In the meantime, you can check out this post on enabling individual psychological wellbeing to whet your appetite.