Who dictates the pace of change?

So I’ve just returned from a meeting that I’ve been anchoring after for a while.  In the 1990s I was employed as an internal consultant to The Benefits Agency.  And a mere 14 years after that greatest of development chapters of my life closed, I met up with the leader of that consultancy group for a bit of reminiscing and personal support for each other.

Surreal, humourous, “seemed like yesterday” all sprang to mind today, and I was reassured that someone who I have always looked up to and was guided by, confirmed that my direction of travel, with the mandatory bit of tweaking, looks promising indeed.

But one particular part of the conversation struck a chord with me.  Whilst discussing the management of change “the boss” asked me how many times in all my experience of learning to lead and manage change was it taught that people adapt to change at different rates.  The answer, I had to admit, was not that many.

Generally change projects are led and planned with particular timeframes in the plan.  So okay, it’s right that projects need to have targets to work to, otherwise there will always be slippage.  You can’t do projects properly without them.

But how do the project managers come to the conclusion about dates to aim for?  Often this will simply be about an estimate of when products and services can be ready and then they will be rolled out.  If you’re lucky there might be a small pilot programme that tests the water.

It set me wondering about how prepared people are for the changes that are about to be thrust upon them.  Even strong project managers can have a change curve in mind and the timescales for managing the change through.  But if those affected by the change learn to adjust and adapt to the change at different rates the project leader also needs to know when the critical mass of support has been achieved that will lead to the anticipated benefits being realised.  Project managers are surely reliant on line and senior managers on the ground to work with their staff, support them and give  project leaders the assurance that a critical mass of support is available and any levels of resistance are manageable.

Without that level of intelligence and support from local managers you might just be running a project which will hit snags and delays and water down the anticipated efficiency savings or performance enhancements.

What is your experience?  Do your projects always generate the benefits stated in the business case.  Do you save as much money as anticipated?  Or does your organisation’s performance improve as much as you had projected?  And if not, why not?

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