Thursday 8 March 2018

What would you do with a small change budget?

What would you do if your business needed extensive change support but didn't have a budget to fund it? Someone asked me this question at a networking event. Her company was about to embark on a digital transformation with only a small budget to support the people side of change.

Unfunded change needs is a common predicament. Many leadership teams are aware that people need support to adopt change, but don’t allocate the necessary resources to meet them. Sometimes, there are no resources to allocate.

Part of a change sponsor’s role is to make a business case for required resources, highlighting the benefits of appropriate support (faster adoption, higher utilization of new practices, better performance) and risks (slow or no adoption, service disruptions, increased costs) of not making this investment.

If the budget for change support is less than needed, the sponsor and project team must decide how best to use it; what will contribute the most to successful adoption of the change.

The options include:
  • Complete a diagnostic on the organization’s readiness for the change and define what is required to implement it
  • Build awareness of the change, why it’s important, and what people need to do to make it successful
  • Coach project team members on planning for and implementing the change
  • Coach leaders on their role as sponsors of the change
  • Support leadership steering meetings where members make decisions on the project
  • Review the internally-created change plan and provide recommendations
  • Oversee the most critical element of the change

If you could only afford one type of change support, which one would create the most value? What would you choose?

Each option has pros and cons. For example, completing a diagnostic would identify current perceptions of the change, risks to be managed, and support requirements to do so. But without ongoing influence, the project team might ignore these recommendations in favour of a faster start-up.

I would invest the small budget in supporting leadership steering meetings where members make decisions on the project. These status meetings are crucial to the success of the initiative because this is where leaders review progress, evaluate risks and make decisions including allocating resources.

Decisions are made based on the information and experience available. Leaders don’t always ask the questions necessary to validate the data and recommendations they receive. They accept project assessments like “we are all green” or “there are no significant risks” without sufficiently testing them. As one leader explained, “You need to trust, but verify.”

A neutral party with extensive change experience would ask the right questions to ensure leaders have accurate and sufficient information before making decisions. Their role would include being a “devil’s advocate” to identify risks. They also would add perspectives and options that might not be known to the internal team, broadening leaders' perspectives and options to consider.

Although a small budget for a change initiative is never ideal, it can be optimized through targeted support. Providing leaders with in-depth change experience when they need it most ensures their decisions are based on accurate data, multiple options, and knowledge.  It also builds their capabilities, including an appreciation for required change support.