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Overcoming Barriers to Change Management


Sometimes, you can come across barriers to change. Here, we look at how to overcome them.

There are many lessons that have been learned by project managers responsible for carrying out major transformation initiatives (many of them in hindsight!) but one alternative insight is that project management could be considered as 80% art and 20% science (Andrew Barnitz).

The art part of project management refers to that which forms the initiative to build a bridge between the solutions with the expected and measurable business outcomes. The art part could be considered creative and intangible and the science refers to the factors that can be measured through monitoring the project such as controlling budgets, communicating with team members i.e. the scope of the project.

In this way we can view the artistic element as understanding how the project is embraced and adopted by employees and other relevant parties such as stake holders and contractors (the change management) and the scientific element as how it is actually designed and developed (project management).

In the past, the focus of many companies has been on the scientific side when instigating change and yet to use the above analogy – only 20% of the power has lain in this realm. It makes sense therefore to focus the bulk of energy on ensuring the acceptance of the project instead because after all – it is this initiative that will lead to the ultimate success of any project undertaken.

We can now understand therefore that much lies in the ability to integrate the two processes; the management of change and the management of the project itself. However, even in 2020 this ideology is still in its infancy so how do companies get on board? The answer can be found by considering the series of steps below:

Role clarity

Companies may wish to consider appointing both a project manager AND a change manager. A project manager is accountable for the ultimate success or failure of a project; the stages of planning, executing and the projects conclusion. They are also responsible for managing teams so that the actual work is undertaken and that goals are met in accordance with key stakeholders etc.

A change manager will also play a key role in ensuring the project is adopted by employees so that objectives are met on time and budget. This manager needs to be people focused and concentrate on the personal and emotional side to help execute changes to processes, systems, job roles and the re-organisational structure of the company.

Perhaps a clearer cut way of describing the difference is that project managers are solution focused whereas change managers are outcome focused. Naturally there is a cross over between the two roles but determining the responsibilities of the manager/s leading the project can mean that time and money can be more effectively spent from the outset.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Being aware of barriers

The biggest barrier is convincing non-believers! Because the job scope of a project manager has – up until this stage – been somewhat clouded or open ended; many managers do not have the capability to learn change management and this is where change consultants can help.

Another barrier for logically minded managers is accepting the notion that change management cannot be easily measured so it can feel like you are talking another language to executives when trying to explain the need for money to be invested in the necessity for change management especially if they are the ones in charge of the project budget!

A third barrier is location. Change management may be accepted more easily by foreign companies who are focused on the psychology of their employees but in general it is still struggling to be accepted in a huge percentage of business boardrooms!

Dealing with these barriers

It is necessary to influence leadership on the benefits of integrating the two approaches and explain that the combined strengths can help to literally transform a business and deliver the desired outcome.

The benefits of combing the two approaches are as follows:

  • Enhanced employee engagement
  • Increased ROI
  • Avoidance of change saturation or conversely over emphasis on the logistics of a project
  • The ability to measure tolerance of a company’s tolerance to change and project management in general

Focus on the actual integration

a. It begins with education and informing all involved on the benefits of additional change management and how it is crucial to the overall success of the project.

b. Expectations then need to be set on how the actual change work will be carried out by using facts and insights that can be gained through change readiness surveys on employees and stake holders as well as carrying out impact assessments.

c. Use friendly terminology and no fluff language to explain the processes involved at all stages whilst continually assessing acceptance and supportiveness.

d. Present a united front to all involved.

e. Collaborate with the project manager, other executive members of staff and key stakeholders to form a master project plan that can then be delivered throughout all involved.

Effective integration is the key to successful results

When any organisation undertakes projects; whether that’s to improve performance, grab opportunities or resolve key issues, it is ultimately the employees themselves who will have to change and it is acceptance of a new way of working that will lead to successful results.

Companies can employ change management training to assist with this process and deliver the two-pronged approach of change management and project management. As we have already explained; there is an interdependent connection between the art and science of project management, and it is important that both the roles of project and change management not only co-exist but use each other to complement and combine individual skill sets. As Leonardo Da’ Vinci said (and it is incredible to see that this expression can be applied to project management 5 centuries later):

“To develop a complete mind: study the science of art; study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else”.