Managing the Human Side of Change in Projects (Bahia Sarlie & Karin Deacon)

Managing the Human Side of Change in Projects (Bahia Sarlie & Karin Deacon – Human Beings who work, laugh and play at PM.Ideas) ”It is impossible to change organisations which do not accept the danger of their present way of doing things...organisations only change when the people in the...



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Managing the Human Side of Change in Projects (Bahia Sarlie & Karin Deacon)

| Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Managing the Human Side of Change in Projects (Bahia Sarlie & Karin Deacon – Human Beings who work, laugh and play at PM.Ideas)

”It is impossible to change organisations which do not accept the danger of their present way of doing things...organisations only change when the people in them change, and people will only change when they accept in their hearts that change must occur.” (Sir John Harvey Jones , British Executive, submariner.)

People change management is a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams and organisations from a current state to a desired future state. Change Management is a term broadly used and we also know from experience that proper change management is the key to success in all projects. The current definition of Change Management includes both organisational change management processes and individual change management models, which together are used to manage the people side of change. The people side of change however does not always run smoothly. Most individuals do not like change and would resist change at all costs.

Throughout most of recorded human history, change management was of minor importance at best. For example, if your grandfather was an accomplished blacksmith, and your father was a fabulous blacksmith, you might not only learn to be good, but you might become the best blacksmith ever. Let’s fast forward to the 21st century. How valuable do you think you might be as the best blacksmith now? The same fate would be true for the best carburettor mechanic or key punch operator today.

Change – once occurring over one or two generations at best – occurs on a much shorter timeline. If you accessed the Internet 12 to 18 years ago, you were on the cutting edge of computerisation for the masses. Should you have done little to improve your computer ability since then, you are probably suffering from the ”dinosaur” syndrome. Change in the business community is a constantly and evolving reality. Managing these changes successfully, particularly the people who are involved in the people change management environment, is a necessity. Due to the pace of change in business today, you only have one shot at getting things right the first time. And because of these fast paced and complex business environments, we tend to forget some basic logic:

  • Delivering projects means we are changing the organisation in some way
  • Organisations are made of up of people
  • People need to change behaviours and acquire new skills
Therefore, every project we initiate must include deliverables associated with assisting people to adapt and embrace change.

Project and Program Managers play a critical role in effecting change in organisations since organisations enable their strategic changes and imperatives using projects as the key vehicle. The problem, however, is that very few organisations expect Project and/or Program Managers to realise their strategic imperatives. Project and Program Managers are typically measured and managed on the scope, cost, time and quality objectives of their projects while Operations is expected to realise the benefits forecasted at the beginning of the project. As there is typically a material lag between the time that a project is concluded and when the business benefits can be expected to be realised, the Project and Program Manager’s perspective is focused on the short term. In other words, Project and Program Managers are rarely expected or incentivised to gear and steer their projects to deliver long term, sustainable change.

Let’s review the statements below and think about your personal experiences and how many of these statements ring true for your environment.

Phase 1 of the project failed, so let’s try to get it right in Phase 2: Many projects fail because the requirements are not properly defined or maybe it is someone’s pet project, or the project is fast tracked and skips critical steps in the project life-cycle . Why is it that we always have time to fix things, but never have enough time to plan properly? It is the management’s team responsibility to build a compelling case for the project; in other words, the change. You achieve this by answering the following questions:
  • Why are we doing this?
  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to be?
  • How are we going to get there?
  • What do we need to do?
  • When do we need to this by?
  • Who do we need involve?
During a project, many of these questions are answered in the Project Charter, Business Case and Scope Statement. Remember, your perception of the significance of the change may be one thing; someone else’s may be very different to yours. This process assists in defining all the stakeholders involved in the change as well as their attitudes and perceptions. People need to form a common understanding of the significance of the change. Without these questions being answered, people will continually question why the project is being undertaken.

Mixed messages in terms of commitment to the change: When a project is approved, it is imperative that the Executive Team send a consistent message that the change is not an option. However, in reality the message which is communicated is one of "We‘d like you to change, we‘re asking you to change, we implore you to change, please change..." Whenever people have the option not to change, they won‘t.

Process, Process, Process: The management team on the project can get so caught up in planning and managing governance processes that they forget about the soft issues, which can derail the project and the project deliverables which the project has undertaken to achieve.

Ignoring people’s concerns: Executives tend to downplay or ignore the human pain of change. It is this insensitivity to people‘s feelings that not only prevents the change but destroys morale and loyalty in the process.

Excluding affected parties: A great deal of resentment is aroused when management announces a change and then mandates how the change will be implemented. People need to be involved. Key stakeholders must be included in defining the scope of the change and how the change should be implemented.

Abdicating responsibility: Many organisations outsource the change responsibility and make it someone else’s problem. What is going to happen when the project is completed and the new processes, systems and procedures must continue when the “outsiders” have left the building? It is the people inside your organisation that embrace the change. The people inside your organisation understand how the change is going to affect their jobs and your clients.

Lack of demonstrated commitment from the top: During the project, the management team does not continuously talk about the change; explain the benefits to the organisation, and the benefits to the individuals affected by the change. They just expect things to happen because they said so. People will automatically not commit to the change when they see their managers doing the same thing.

Lack of follow- through: You can have the best planning in world; however a plan is merely something on paper if not executed, monitored and controlled. Regular and timely progress reporting must take place and communicated effectively.

Projects by definition are designed to introduce some kind of change, be it a new product, service or result. The main reasons organisations adopt a project management approach to implement initiatives, is to accelerate the change process.

Perhaps the organisation has decided to introduce a new product or service in order to assist them to realise their strategic objectives. This product or service could bring about several benefits to the organisation, including a healthy Return on Investment (ROI). To implement this product or service successfully, the way people currently work is going to change as a result of the introduction of new business processes, systems and procedures. The employees will need to embrace and adopt these changes to the current operating model as quickly as possible, in order for the company to realise the intended benefits.

Take a couple of minutes and list all the current changes which are taking place in your organisation. We are sure you have an A4 page of projects and initiatives which you are being effected by. Some of these you will agree with and others you may be weary of. We need to remember that due to the pace of business today, organisations need to implement various initiatives to stay ahead of the competition, manage cash flow and deliver a healthy return to their shareholders. We also need to appreciate that everyone has a threshold as to how much change they can handle at any point in time. Individuals will also prioritise in their own minds as to which project is more important than the next. So when you come along to market your project, you need to first accept that people’s reactions are going to be different based on where they are at that point in time and let’s not forget they have day jobs. People will not just drop everything and ‘change‘, or learn new skills, just because you say so. Even if they want to change and learn new skills, they have a whole range of issues that keep them fully occupied for most of their working day.

The resistance to change is not because of the change, but because the implemented change is perceived as a threat to the individual or they actually feel they cannot deal with yet another change which is being imposed on them.

To illustrate this point, imagine the following project mandate. We (multinational FMCG manufacturer and distributor) have successfully completed a due diligence and decided to acquire controlling shares of the innovative, South African cosmetics manufacturer, Rainbow Nation Cosmetics. Rainbow Nation Cosmetics is a specialist cosmetics company who has consistently grown its EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Ammortisation) by 50% year on year for the past five years. As it makes financial sense to leverage the Group’s shared services function, we require a project to integrate Rainbow Cosmetics into the Group, including relocating them from their current offices to our South African offices in Woodmead, Johannesburg.

A large percentage of Project and Program Managers will facilitate a project scope statement to include several projects and sub-projects ranging from relocation to IT and system integration, most of which will be technical in nature. Some Project Managers will even include a communication and change management project or sub-project, which is largely geared to communicate project progress (and only the good stuff) to a set of stakeholders via email. The approach/focus is typically on a list of objectives, tasks and deliverables that crossed off a checklist by the end of the project. Few (between 30% and 40% of strategic projects) will employ a sound change management strategy/approach that is geared ensuring that the two businesses are integrated so well that they work as a cohesive partnership to maintain the successful growth demonstrated by Rainbow Cosmetics let alone surpass those.

It is highly likely that the reason for this is that the typical Project Manager is a left-brained, methodical, analytical, process-thinking individual, who typically have little tolerance for non-scientific, non-formulae driven (not if/then logic) decisions. Anecdotal research suggests that this is likely the reason most Project Managers become authoritative/directive in their approach to address challenges/dissention in their teams when things become less certain, especially when they relate to people/personalities. These Project Managers typically fail to garner the reactions/performance that they expect from their teams and/or operational stakeholders using the force they’re accustomed to exerting. The reason for this can be found in Dr. Bill Crawford’s quote: “Whenever we try and force anyone to change, they will either resist us, resent us, or both and as a result become more motivated to defend their position.”

The implications of this poor or immature approach to people change management are widely documented (ADKAR, Deloitte and Touche, IBM, Prosci, John Kotter). Between 60% and 70% of projects will be challenged or will fail! The knock on effects of this for the Project and Program Managers, over time, is that there is a highly likely risk that they will earn a reputation of non-delivery. Despite all their authority or perceived power, Project and Program Managers are reduced to paternalistic/kindergarten management styles to try (unsuccessfully) to get their project teams to ‘toe the line’.

To break this vicious cycle and commence on a trajectory of improved success, it is important to understand that at its core, most changes are challenged or ultimately fail is due to the fact that these changes require human beings to change. And human beings, as a natural instinct, resist change because they fear it or maybe just don’t understand it. Producing a sound Project Charter is of is a critical.

Remember the following important points when implementing change:
  • Consider that people will resist change at all costs
  • Every individual will have a different point-of-view to the change
  • Individuals have different motivations for their resistance to change
  • Recognise resistance to change and give the individual time to react to the change as this is a normal reaction
  • Communicate the change unambiguously and to the point.
  • Promote the change by selling the benefits to the individual.
In closing, people change management is not an easy task and needs proper planning for effective implementation. It not something that can be an afterthought or a separate initiative running alongside a project. People change management is an integral part of any project. Take time to really listen to people, truly engage your stakeholders and communicate the case for change with passion and energy continuously.

PM.Ideas has evolved from a company founded in 2001 by a team of entrepreneurial and passionate project managers to the leading global project management, leadership and business skills training provider. We are a company that embraces a strong foundation of commitment, integrity, quality, flexibility and excellence in all that we do.

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