Change happens. All the time. Even in the most hidebound, traditional, staid organisation, change happens.

These days, in times of uncertainty and insecurity, change happens fast. Most organisations, especially bigger ones, they are in that big, strange and scary thing called Transformation.

You will have plans, you will have GANTT charts, project plans, meetings, systems in place, you will have risk registers, issues logs and lots of rolls of brown paper with sticky notes on them, you will have consultants with their Prince 2 or Successful Project Management qualifications, ensuring these are all in place.

That’s all good. You need to do that. But I can also promise you, hand on heart, that if you forget one thing, then all this planning and systems and consultants will not deliver the change you are trying to achieve. Because, in the end, people change. Not processes, not systems, not project plans, not even the longest piece of brown paper and the most widely variegated shades of sticky notes. People are where change happens.

An organisation I know, during a period of 7 or 8 years, went through two mergers, a business modernisation programme which achieved £100m a year savings, a re-brand and another transformation programme. Of the hundreds of projects that made up these programmes, some delivered the benefits they were supposed to, some didn’t.

Every single one that succeeded included in its project plan, in its preparation, consideration of how the change would impact on the people on the receiving end of the change. Every. Single One.

And the ones which failed the worst, the ones that missed deadlines, negatively impacted customer service levels, went over budget or failed to deliver savings failed to consider the impact on the people.

An example of the former – we were closing a national network of over 100 local sales offices, supporting a field sales force. The consultants running the project knew we had to let people know, and suggested bussing people to one or two central meetings so they could be informed by the Big Boss.

The Big Boss in charge of that bit of the business had an observation, specifically about one of the more geographically remote offices. “So,” he said. “You want to bus people 200 miles to tell them that they’re numptied”.

Good point, well made.

The announcements were made at local meetings, by managers the people there knew, with full on-site HR and comms support. The project worked.

An example of the latter that I heard of – a major systems change in a call centre. The project delivered the systems changes on time, to budget. It won awards, was held up as a paragon of systems change, it was, as far as the IT world was concerned, market leading.

Except, no-one had thought through the consequences for the people in the call centre. They had to navigate through new screens. They hadn’t had time to have been trained properly. Customers couldn’t do what they were used to doing because the systems had changed. They called the call centre. Queue times went up. People had to be taken off the training in the new systems to cope with the extra calls.

Not so good.

It’s pretty easy to make sure you do take account of the people impacted by change – you can stop and think “how will people feel when this happens?”. The Big Boss did this. The team on the other project didn’t.

If people have a positive experience of change they will be more accepting of change, and guess what? Change will be delivered.

I know a more formal process which can be built into the change process, complete with built-in measurement and diagnostic systems, to check if the people experience turns out as you want it to be.

But it boils down to thinking through – which bits of change are going to impact people, who are they, what will that impact be, and how can we make their experience of that impact the best it can be?

Next time you’re planning, give it a try. Or give me a shout, I can help you out with this. Especially if people are being numptied.

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