Mastering Change Management: How to Prioritise Initiatives in Large, Complex Organisations
Change is constant and unrelenting. This adage rings particularly true in large and complex organisations where change management initiatives are as frequent as they are crucial. I have worked in several large organisations with as many as 70 projects, all considered critical, in action simultaneously! The number should depend on the organisation's capacity to absorb the change and successfully retain effective function. However, not all changes carry equal weight or urgency. The real challenge comes from prioritising these initiatives for maximum impact and minimal disruption.
Welcome to the "Strategic Change Chess" world. It's a game where every move matters, and timing is everything. Here are tips to become a grandmaster at this intricate game.
#1: Set the Board - Get Ready to Play
Senior Executives set the board. They need to establish a firm and compelling why for any players. That can only be done when thorough and effective root cause analysis is conducted. Many organisations have backed themselves into a corner by undertaking projects on the spurious assumption that they will fix a burning problem - but they don't! Healthy challenges must occur between executives to par down the field and ensure that 'pet project pitch wars' don't hamper integrated organisational evolution—more on that in my recent blog post, 'The Yardstick of Success: Mastering Metrics for Business Change Management Success Measurement'.
#2: Strategic Alignment: The Opening Move
Just like the opening move in chess sets the tone for the entire game, aligning your change initiatives with your organisation's strategic goals is paramount. It confirms that every change contributes directly to achieving your company's vision and mission. You also need a view of what the holistic gain is across all contributing projects and a weather-eye for the risks.
#3: Stakeholder Impact Analysis: The Knight's Tour
In chess, the knight moves uniquely - jumping over pieces while covering all squares on the board. The change manager's role is like the knight, as you need to be all over the board! Stakeholder impact analysis helps you leap beyond obvious impacts and consider all possible consequences of a change initiative on various stakeholders – employees, customers, shareholders, partners, interested onlookers, and lobby groups, thus enabling you to prioritise changes based on their overall effect. These stakeholders are like the sides of a Rubik's cube. Their attitude and orientation to the change will vary depending on their role. The role they play dictates their attitude and enthusiasm for the impending transition. This is the 'face they have turned towards the change'. For more on this, see Chapter 2 - 3 of my book, 'Change Management that Sticks'.
#4: Urgency Vs Importance: The Bishop's Diagonal
The bishop moves diagonally across the chessboard - able to cover great distances but only along specific paths. In change management, too, it's essential to differentiate between what's urgent (short-term) and important (long-term). Prioritising based on this distinction will confirm that both immediate fires are put out, and long-term goals met. The tactical and strategic projects should mutually reinforce each other, but only when you work to quantify the mutual impacts. Evaluation keeps the activity grounded in what matters most and aware of cumulative consequence.
#5: Resource Availability Assessment: Rook's Straight Line
Like a rook moving straight across any squares on a chessboard, assessing resource availability allows you to see how far you can go with each initiative given current resources – time, money, or workforce. Prioritise those changes that can be effectively implemented with available resources.
These are the standard project constraints. For the change manager, there are a wide variety of other potential constraints. Most important would be the current level of change saturation, the culture, the political climate, and the organisation's position within the life-cycle (expanding or contracting).
#6: Risk Assessment: The Queen's Gambit
The queen is the most powerful piece in chess, able to move any number of squares along a rank, file, or diagonal. Similarly, risk assessment is a powerful tool in change management. It helps identify potential risks associated with each initiative and their impact on your organisation's stability. Changes with high risk but low reward should be deprioritised - off with it's head! Executives must accept hard prioritisation should one of their initiatives require deferral!
#7: Communication and Engagement Strategy: The King's Safety
In chess, protecting the king is paramount. In change management, safeguarding employee morale and engagement during transitions is crucial. A robust communication and engagement strategy confirms that everyone understands why changes are happening and how they will benefit them personally and professionally - thus reducing resistance and facilitating smoother implementation.
If you're wondering what engagement means, let's use the example of a significant change affecting meat-packing workers. You could engage by having the CEO pre-record a speech and show it to staff during their morning tea break. Or, you could enlist the shop floor leaders and identified influencers from the employee ranks to front question-and-answer sessions about the change. Present in bite-sized at paid additional breaks. One is likely to land well and increase awareness and buy-in, while one is not!
#8: Continuous Evaluation: Checkmate!
Just as a chess game isn't over until it's over, change management requires continuous evaluation even after implemented initiatives. Regular reviews confirm that you achieve desired outcomes and allow for course corrections if needed.
These strategies better equip an organisation to prioritise initiatives effectively. Make sure every move contributes towards your ultimate goal of organisational success.
Change Management Chess isn't about winning or losing; it's about doing the right things at the right time, in the right way. This is how you evolve continuously to stay ahead in an ever-changing business landscape!
P.S.: Have you faced challenges while prioritising change initiatives? Share below! Let's strategise together because when we share knowledge, we all win!
Barb Grant, the author, is a master change practitioner who mentors change managers and change agents to deliver change that gets adopted and delivers meaningful results. She is the Director of Encompass Consulting, 'Bold Change' and CM2 change mentoring and author of the #1 Amazon bestselling book for change agents, 'Change Management that Sticks.' The book is the 2023 gold award winner in the Global Book Awards category 'Organizational Change'. Barb is a frequent speaker on topics related to change management and the successful leadership of change.
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