Putting the people stamp on change

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We have often said that ‘how’ we implement change is as important as ‘what’ we are changing.  So we were interested to attend an Association for Project Managers (APM) event around enabling change.  Here are some of our observations:

Neil Ennis, Network Transformation Director at The Post Office, has a challenge. A very big challenge.

After 375 years of service, the Post Office represents the backbone of communications in Britain. As one of Britain’s most recognisable institutions, we know it as a place we can chit-chat in the queue, post parcels to loved ones, or update our pension books.

And Neil’s team has been tasked with changing that.

More than 11,500 branches are to be modernised. The glass facades are coming down, opening hours extended and queues reduced. And the agents that house their local Post Office – often convenience store owners – are being asked to make the changes for no guaranteed returns.

But a modern looking service counter, longer opening hours and quicker queues can mean more revenue for the convenience stores. After all, when you’re standing in the queue to the Post Office, have you never been tempted by a chocolate bar or magazine while you’re there?  Around one in three Post Office customers buy something else from the shop. And the stores themselves aren’t under threat – the Post Office has committed to not closing any branches until at least 2020.

But that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy job explaining the benefits of the changes to shop keepers.  Neil and his team invest a significant amount of time engaging and communicating with those who would be affected by changes: customers, agents and their single shareholder – the government.

“There’s no point in hiding the truth – you need to communicate why change is happening.”

Enabling change

This was just one of the topics addressed at this meeting.  Accompanying Neil’s talk were other presentations focusing on the importance of leadership during change.

John Wardle, who heads up the Engineering function at KC (part of Yorkshire’s KCOM Group), had a direct approach to transforming his underperforming field team. He qualified the problem with statistics about levels of productivity; created weekly face-to-face meetings with his group of engineers on their performance; and most importantly, he changed his ‘management layer’ by 80%.

The result: a 40% rise in productivity within their field team without a single redundancy.

In the final presentation Alex Swarbrick from the Roffey Institute agreed that based on their research, leaders need to be strategic, visible, communicative and trusted.

So, what do they have in common?

It was particularly helpful to have established project managers and change management professionals in the same room, discussing the same topics. They do of course go hand-in-hand.

And what was clear was the significant impact that leadership can have on a change programme.

While the seminar room was brimming with project management qualifications, Neil professed the importance of passionate leadership. “You can have all the qualifications in the world but if you cannot convince people why you’re changing, it won’t happen.  You need to own the project and be passionate. You need to live the project.”

So the next time you’re in the queue at your local Post Office use the 30-40 seconds (that’s Neil’s target!) carefully. Consider how you can ensure that your change is successfully delivered by how you engage your leaders, manager and employees.  Because the way in which you choose to implement change will be as important as what you change.  Indeed, even technically excellent project management will not necessarily succeed if the organisation isn’t prepared to accept it.

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