Change Initiation: Why the right set-up matters for your change project’s success (even if you think you have already figured everything out)

Frankfurt, 18. August 2017 – Got a really good idea that will change your company or department for the better? Do you have a clear picture about how to implement the changes? Do you already know how everything will play out during the transformation process? Well, the good news is: you seem to have a vision and are not afraid to face changes. The bad news is: your change project still can fail. Managing change projects right from the beginning and implementing the right change measures is crucial for achieving the desired change outcomes. Read on to learn how Change Initiation can help you to get off on the right foot with your change project and how to lead it to success.


Change Initiation: Where to start in the first place … and how

Let us create a competitive baseline for the following scenario: You receive a job offer for a top management position of one of the world’s market leading manufacturers. Your new position entails the responsibility over the entire IT department, which operates globally. However, your predecessor has held the position for several decades. Consequently, over time the department got used to certain “ways of doing things” that are not always up to par compared to international standards. How would you react? Would you blindly accept the position and keep everything as it was? Likely, you would consider accepting the position if you get the freedom to “change everything”. However, more often than not, changing everything is easier said than done. Introducing a new strategy, organizational structure, processes, methodologies or changes of any kind is not exactly a piece of cake - neither from a conceptual nor a people-centered perspective. Getting your employees to accept or commit to the “new way of doing things” is difficult. Still, organizations must introduce new ideas and solutions that are critical for their success in order to further improve and develop and most importantly – to stay competitive.


Change Initiation: Why changes fail

If a company is to change (strategy, organization etc.), its employees have to change, too. However, their first emotion when confronted with the change is the loss of control accompanied by the fear of not being able to handle change. According to a study by Towers Watson, only 25 % of organizational change management programs actually achieve their long-term goals. Consequently, only installing but not really living the change can turn out to be a costly endeavor. Most of the time however, it is hard to tell, how much impact the change will have on the organization and especially its employees. This is why many executives struggle with defining how much Change Management their projects or initiatives actually need in order to support the transformation properly. Therefore, setting up an end-to-end change process and clear game plan at this stage of the project is difficult without a deeper understanding of what exactly the change will entail and which risks will come with it.


Change Initiation: Begin at the beginning

As new head of IT, you want to make sure changes and new ideas are introduced properly right from the beginning in order to have the desired positive impact on your department’s performance. Consequently, putting some thought into the actual Change Initiation helps to set the basis for a successful change implementation. Change Initiation thus precedes all other change measures and activities. It is an effective but simple way of starting things right, getting the key players on board and tailoring the next steps and actions to the specific needs of the department, people and company.

To initiate the change at this stage of the project, the focus lies on defining:

  • the Change Story
  • the Change Purpose
  • the Change Roadmap
  • the Change Agents


Change Initiation: Develop a Change Story

Theoretically, both the Change Story and the Shared Change Purpose follow the same objective, namely realizing the necessity of the change and the impact it will have on the organization and its departments. However, the main difference lies in the target audience.

Create the Change Story with the initiating sponsor of the change project, who further needs to see that hands-on managing the change is critical for the overall project success. Therefore, as the first step, a formulated and pitchable Change Story is essential for understanding the project’s change aspects. A first Change Impact Assessment helps to get a basic idea of what is actually going to change. Once completed, the Change Story should answer the following questions:

  • Why is the change necessary and why can’t things stay as they are right now?
  • How will the world look like after a successful change implementation?
  • Which steps do we need to take in order to implement the change?

Answering those questions creates more clarity about where the change comes from and about which departments and employees it influences. Once defined, the Change Story works as a baseline for creating a Shared Change Purpose in order to communicate the legitimacy of the change throughout the company.

Change Initiation: Create a Shared Change Purpose

Once the Change Story has been agreed upon, you need to get the next management level on board by creating the Shared Change Purpose. By actively involving this team of executives (e.g. in workshops), they can take part in conceptualizing the actual implementation roadmap. This way, they can better internalize why the change is inevitable and get a precise idea of what it means to them, their department and the entire company. Seeing as the executives have different areas of responsibilities, creating a common picture of the Change Purpose and its’ benefits for everyone involved, helps them to better relate to the necessity of the change. They will have more trust in the commitment of the top management supporting the change project and feel more in control of the changing circumstances, as they know exactly what to expect. This fosters understanding and security during the change process and sets the groundwork for communicating the changes to their employees later on. The Change Purpose therefore serves as a useful communication vehicle for the entire organization and keeps up the employees’ energy and unity throughout the entire transformation.

Having a common purpose prevents situations in which executives (who are essential stakeholders of the change) are unsure about the project and its’ impact and benefits. They are not to think that the reason behind the change is simply that it “comes from the top and now everyone has to do it”. Instead, they can engage in the development of the change purpose and relate more easily to “what’s in it for us” in terms of new conditions that benefit them as well as others. In sum, both the Change Story and the Shared Change Purpose work together to transport the change idea to the stakeholders.

Change Initiation: Map out the Change Network to monitor and manage relationships

The success of a change project always depends on the people involved. This makes it vital to identify the most important stakeholders and to be in the clear about which role everyone has and who is willing and has the potential to influence the change in a positive way.

This helps to point out critical nodes and to get an idea of the people’s attitudes towards the change. Identifying and addressing those attitudes lays the ground for deriving specific action plans aimed at building an effective and powerful engagement process. The Change Network Map therefore is a powerful interface for tracking and guiding people’s attitudes towards the change and creating transparency about possible influential opportunities.


Change Initiation: Train Change Agents and make the game changers

Important key players for the change implementation are Change Agents. They are actors, who are deeply convinced of the change’s benefits and actively support it. In order for them to work effectively, however, they should receive enough information about the change project’s essentials and training about change management basics, so that they are able to promote and endorse the change throughout the organization. Depending on the situation at hand, this leads to the definition and selection of specific actions that will help to build commitment while at the same time addressing and managing possible sources of resistance. Change agents should know the change management basics and understand that people can have different reactions when confronted with change. It is important that they are aware of their own role and their impact on the entire change project.


Change Initiation: And then?

Generally, Change Initiation does not only make sense once the project scope is clearly defined, but can also provide valuable input for your scoping process. The project manager is aware of the change affecting the project and therefore necessary action can be defined for a transparent implementation roadmap. In addition, if your approach is more agile the Change Initiation feeds your backlog with essential actions or user stories.  With relatively little effort, the Change Initiation makes the project’s overall change impact more tangible. The transparency it creates makes it easier to anticipate the real project impact. This makes a qualified decision about how much Change Management you actually need for your project possible, and thus increases the probability of success.

In sum, Change Initiation is the right starting point for your change project. Getting everyone aware and on board is crucial, as is taking into account various perspectives and change aspects. This and the standardization of this method make it highly effective and essential for every change project.  Change Initiation thus lays the ground for taking structured next steps on a successful path of your change implementation.  


For more information, please contact us:

Jan Philipp Hölz, Senior Manager
T +49 – 69 -56 03 03 03