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Project manager toolkit: getting stakeholders onboard the change train!

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With most business projects, you can expect there to be some element of change and impact to those involved in it. Whether that be implementing a new staffing structure or rolling out a new bespoke software system, as a project manager you will inevitably have to manage a range of responses to change created as a result of the delivery of the project you’re managing.

This can often be one of the most challenging aspects of stakeholder management as you’ll likely experience a mix of emotions and responses from the various perspectives.

The response really does depend on the impact the change will have on the individual and their specific situation.

Therefore, it can be really useful to understand why people resist change. In doing so, you can begin to gain powerful insight into what is going on beneath the surface of peoples varied reactions.

Why people resist change

Now this may sound extremely simple and it is…Individuals will resist change because they don’t agree with it and in some cases, they may not understand it! If the individual doesn’t perceive a direct benefit to them or they don’t believe in the purpose of it, they are unlikely to be on board the change train!

So, what are the secrets to creating effective buy in from a range of stakeholders and what can you do to prevent resistance to change?

Involvement

When you’re ‘told’ to do something, and you don’t want to do it, how do you feel?

With a bit of mindreading, we’ll guess this was a negative feeling? Right?!

Informing people is not enough when you’re looking for them to agree with something. After all, you can’t expect anyone to agree with something just because you or the CEO think it’s a good idea. They’re not you! They’re them!

However, by involving individuals you instantly create a shift in response.

Which statement below makes you feel more openminded and positive?

“We’re changing to a new system. It’s happening at the end of the year and it will impact your role. But don’t worry, it’s really beneficial for business sales.”

“We’ve got this idea which we think will really make your job a lot easier and benefit the entire company, we’d love to know your feedback on it.”

How you approach this initial element has the potential to impact how the change is received throughout the entirety of the project.

So, seek to involve, not to simply inform your stakeholders during the project.

Communication 

When you’ve approached with an ‘involve’ strategy it needs to be accompanied with boundaries!

Managing expectations becomes the next crucial step to avoiding conflict and resistance. For example, when inviting feedback, it is essential to frame this appropriately by making it clear that feedback will be acknowledged and considered. However, this does not mean that all feedback will be actioned and put in place!

In terms of effective communication, it becomes essential to follow through with any agreements or commitments you make. So, with regards to feedback this is a cycle not one way.

If you have given feedback and it isn’t acted on, you’ll want to why! Therefore, you need to give feedback on anyone’s feedback! If you miss this vital piece you are at risk of undoing all of your earlier investment.

Furthermore, overall communications must be consistent throughout the project. Often if there has been no progress with a particular element of a project there can be a temptation to not provide an update, as there is nothing to update on, right?

Sadly not, this is where tension can build as others begin to mind read as to what is happening! This can then create unnecessary uncertainty.

Therefore, the best way to avoid this is to communicate the fact that there is nothing to update them on! Things are ticking along and on track. This simple gesture will create reassurance.

Above all, it’s extremely important to ensure all your communications:

·         are clear and unambiguous

·         highlight individual benefits (what they will gain)

·         outline expectations (what each party can expect from each other)

·         aim to elicit a positive emotion

·         seek to understand responses rather than judge (no matter how tempting!)

·         provide clarity with factually based reasoning

·         a cycle/two way (i.e. inviting feedback)

Collaboration

Not all stakeholders will be at risk in terms of resisting change. You can expect a range of responses, some will be more ‘sold’ than others. There will be some who can’t wait to welcome this new exciting change!

It’s these people who will be your saving grace! By Utilising these individuals to lead the example, you’re more likely to gain the traction for securing the buy in of others as this positive ripple effect starts to take hold.

As a project manager, your role will be to work from the top down, ensuring each level of management is both on board and demonstrating role model behaviours i.e. ‘walking the talk’. After all, telling someone to embrace change when they’re in fact resisting it themselves will show in their behaviours even if they don’t intend to!  

Future proofing

The easiest way to make managing the fall out of change from the projects you undertake, is to work together with business decision makers to develop a culture of change.

How? By regularly changing things!

Ensuring change is integrated into everyday business will overtime create a culture and mindset for change. Behaviours of resistances and negativity will eventually give way to flexibility and enthusiasm!

Now wouldn’t that be an interesting project to implement…




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