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Overcoming the Noise in Change Saturated Environments

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In order to thrive in today’s business climate organizations must be ready to adapt to constant shifts. A dangerous counterbalance within this environment is change saturation. Project managers are challenged to deliver increasing value in the face of stakeholder groups who are quick to disengage given the volume of initiatives vying for their attention. By focusing on the change management activities that add the most value, project managers can set their projects apart from the “noise” of an ever changing organization, driving benefits realization.

Key Change Management Challenges

What is Change Saturation?

Organizations across multiple industries are anticipating change as being a significant part of their near and long term futures. According to the most recent bench marking report, Best Practices in Change Management by Prosci, 72% of respondents expect change to increase over the next two years. The resulting reality for most employees is change saturation – according to a 2013 Strategy&/Katzenbach Center survey, nearly 65% of respondents report that change fatigue is a problem.

Change Saturation is the concept of measuring how much change is going on in an organization, and the ability or capacity of said organization to handle the change. The point at which the level of change is higher than the capacity of dealing with change. Do you remember the sink or swim analogy? Well when the organization is change saturated, they sink.

Despite being considered best practice, it is also common for projects to lack a dedicated change management resource within their teams. The same survey highlighted that nearly half of all change initiatives fail due to lack of skilled resources to sustain the change over time.  It therefore has become increasingly important for project managers themselves to be proficient in change management approaches.  So how does a project manager rise above the noise and achieve the benefits set out by the project?

What impact does Change Saturation have?

Before a project manager can address the challenges brought on by change saturation, they must first understand what it looks like.  A saturated employee may experience increased anxiety, be disengaged or apathetic towards the project, unable to prioritize tasks or align with the new way of working.  The downstream impact of these symptoms is ultimately seen in the project’s decreased value proposition.

As a project’s benefits are directly tied to user adoption, a disengaged, saturated stakeholder group can single-handedly cause cost overruns via retraining or schedule delays due to retroactive engagement activities. These delays often lead to a longer time to benefits realization, which translates to missed value capture.

Once identified as operating within a change adverse environment, Project managers must evaluate, and more importantly, prioritize which activities from their chosen methodology will add the most value.

“Once identified as operating within a change adverse environment, Project managers must evaluate, and more importantly, prioritize which activities from their chosen methodology will add the most value.”

An Approach to Change Saturation

For example, MI-GSO | PCUBED project managers often leverage the 8E Model, our own Change Management Approach. While there are eight ‘E’s in the model, from Envisioning through to Embedding, saturated stakeholders may not have capacity for adopting all of them at once.

We always recommend to adapt the approach to the needs and capability of the organization.  In the case of change fatigue, we suggest focusing on a few prioritized activities that will provide the most value. These are a Communications Approach, Leadership Engagement and Identifying Priorities. We will go in a bit more detail on each below.

3 key aspects of change management for change saturated environments
3 key aspects of change management for change saturated environments

1. Communications Approach

As most projects depend on some form of stakeholder adoption, success depends on teams embedding the solution to enable the change. A plan to engage stakeholders can often be the difference between a project’s success and failure. When it comes to change management, your communication plan can mean the difference between success and failure. 

To address communication within change management, one should note that an organization’s ‘standard’ communication practices may not be sufficient. Communications that do not stand apart from everyday noise will not accomplish their objectives. Instead, creative and innovative communication strategies should be leveraged, as these can make a big difference in stakeholder engagement.

Project managers should first work to understand what the preferred media of communication are in their organization. With those stakeholder preferences in mind, project managers can then leverage additional mediums to help push their message. The most creative thinkers will strive to link new media and communications strategies to their organization’s standard communication tools. The goal of every communication program is to get the message out, but in change saturated environments, it is even more difficult to reach those stakeholders who are hoping the newest change will just go away.

” When it comes to change management, your communication plan can mean the difference between success and failure. “

2. Leadership Engagement

In every change management benchmarking study conducted by Prosci, executive sponsorship was the key to success yet also the reason for failure in critical projects. Project managers today understand that they need Executive Sponsorship.  However, to put it bluntly, we often go to ask for help but are not clear on the exact help required.  Project Managers must work with their executive sponsors to clearly outline the sponsor’s responsibilities and agree on the level of involvement that will be necessary to facilitate effective adoption.

3. Identifying Priorities

Finally, no communication or sponsorship plan can fix poor prioritization. Executives push for projects that address the shifts, regulations, and pressures that face their organizations as “priorities”. But, as the saying goes, “If everything is a priority, then nothing is.”

Leaders must work with project managers to align their change portfolio to achieve value early and often. Sometimes it’s better to get a quick win on a project that adds less value in order to create momentum for the following, more difficult projects. Clear priorities allow stakeholders to focus their attention on what support project managers’ need, in the order that aids maximizing momentum. This can lead to smoother implementations and a faster rate of adoption.

In Summary

By focusing on the activities that add the most value early on, being specific on what help is required, and being creative and innovative in performing change oriented tasks, project managers can set their projects apart from the “noise” of their ever-changing environment.

While this may seem a daunting challenge, MI-GSO | PCUBED uses proven change management methodologies to provide project managers with the necessary tools to successfully accomplish this task. One of the key tools MI-GSO | PCUBED uses is our Change Readiness Assessment, either deployed at the onset or later in the project, to objectively predict how an organization’s people will adapt to strategic change. As pinpointing crucial early indicators could ultimately mean the difference between success and failure.


This article was written by JD Jacob.


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