Change management seems to be met with quite a bit of scepticism and not sure if this is unique to East Africa or a global phenomenon. Is there really a case for change management, or is it another management fad that has done its time?

The shape and form of the scepticism changes dependent on the audience. The hardest to convince on the value of change management are Executive leaders whose primary waking concern is understandably business performance and financials. These Executives are under immense pressure to deliver results to shareholders and shoulder immense and overwhelming responsibility. The life of an Executive is difficult and lonely and this is an Executive challenge we rarely speak about. The question is how do we come alongside our Executives, and facilitate better attainment of business results.

A recent conversation with a Board Chairman left me both flustered and intrigued on the dynamics of the corporate scene. This Chairman openly shared his frustrations on the frequent requests for different technology investments; investments ranging from infrastructure purchases to software updates, licenses and hardware changes. The question presented to which I didn’t have an immediate answer, was ‘Does it really take one year to implement an ERP?’. Perhaps it does, perhaps it doesn’t, or perhaps it depends. The duration of the implementation is not the issue, the underlying issue was the Chairman’s frustration of little or no results. How to do we avert questions like this being asked? I am not a technology expert but in my experience, where any change introduced directly impacts how users do their jobs, if the users is not adequately engaged, on-boarded or trained then more often than not the change being implemented will not see the light of day. This leaves the project team with the difficult task of re-designing the project, organising more training and asking for budget enhancements. There are causalities to this as well. There have been project managers who have borne the consequence of a project not delivering expected outcomes, reflected in poor performance review and sometimes job loss. Can this be avoided? I believe it can.

Costs, re-work, re-think, re-design can be averted if technical and project teams equally focus on ensuring job holders who are affected by the changes are equipped, supported and adequately engaged to embrace and adopt the changes. It is important that the people side is prioritised and sequenced with project activities. It is reported that as many as 70% of all changes fail. This statistic can be averted with a more planful, intentional and proactive approach. It is important to start engagement as early as possible, and anticipate possible areas of resistance and plan for this. There is no need to be taken by surprise by resistance; anticipate it and plan for it. The Executive role is critical. We follow our leaders. Leaders need to be seen advocating for the changes and soliciting support; this cannot be underscored.

Executives mistakenly work on the assumption that people are paid to do their jobs and should therefore accept the changes and change or ship out; ‘ compliance or forced change’ as we sometimes call it. The impact of this is that indeed change will happen and the negative effects of this approach will be seen and felt in poor staff attitudes, declining moral and lax service. This approach rarely works and leaves a poor legacy of changes in the organisation.

Nyawera Kibuka is the CEO, Change Advisor and Prosci® Advanced Instructor for East Africa @ Cedar Consulting (http://www.cedarconsulting.co.ke)