As so often is the case in research in the social sciences, a statement that is repeated often enough becomes the standard go-to evidence for a phenomenon. One of these is the myth that 70% of organisational change efforts fail. As Heather Stagl reported in 2014 the genesis of this statistic came out of ‘estimations’ of leaders in the field or from misrepresentation of research findings.
Anecdotally of course most of you reading this will easily recall organisational change that fell far short of its objectives, produced little positive improvements in performance and if anything produced many unintended negative outcomes. So, it is easy to believe the above-mentioned myth.
In the public sector the implications of failed organisational change are multiplied and have not only financial implications but community outcome implications. Yet there is either a lack of useful evaluation of change occurring or when it does happen it is commissioned well after the implementation and is often used more as a political point scoring opportunity.
The disconnect between implementation and evaluation begins right at the commencement of organisational change efforts; in the developing of program objectives. What is the change program trying to achieve?
In relation to government agencies the big picture objective is usually cost savings through less staff or more streamlined structures (i.e. Less silos, flatter structures). Commendable goals I am sure and these should inform the first focal point of the evaluation. The good news is these are easy to measure and there should be good pre/post data available to inform the evaluation.
The second focal point is service delivery. Again, this should be relatively straightforward to measure but the conflating factors on this data source are many and varied. As an example, the initial wave of a restructure in the Queensland Police Service in 2013 had barely settled when the Keelty Review of police, fire and emergency services resulted is some of the most significant changes to how these agencies were structured. These changes in tandem brought about transformation in terms of structure, service delivery model, culture and internal morale. This multi-layered roll out of change creates problems for measurement.
The close proximity of two major events with multiple levels and types of change comprises any ability to reliably identify what is working and what is not. Compound that with a lack of clear goals and early input from evaluation experts during planning makes later evaluation difficult. No wonder the baby often gets thrown out with the bath water and staff feel like they are on a hamster wheel.
Which brings me to the third suite of outcomes that need to be focused on during planning and implementation. The effect of change on staff.
This should be more than a happy sheet (or more often is the case, a frustrated sheet) but rather requires the development of meaningful measures and data collection strategies.
Even more importantly is the plan on what will be done with the results of this component of the evaluation. While not required until much later in the rollout of change, I believe it should be considered when determining data measures.
Why? Because the biggest drain on staff morale and the quickest way to lost trust is to ask questions and appear interested in feedback and then to totally ignore results and do nothing. Of course, management can’t be expected to address all staff concerns but constant collection of information, asking for feedback through surveys or focus groups or suggestions boxes with no follow up or real intention to listen is a sure-fire path to disengagement.
When planning for change also plan how it will be evaluated. Get clear on what needs to be achieved in all three focal points and develop outcomes, evaluation questions and data sources early in the process.
This isn’t about ‘failing’ or ‘succeeding’ in change management. More importantly it is about knowing what is working and what is not, then making informed decisions for the next step.
Change management is no longer a defined, discrete event but more and more is becoming a way of doing business. Determine what matters to your business and measure that in meaningful ways.
Note: A subsequent review of the Public Safety Business Agency, a major result of the Keelty Review, identified many challenges and failings in the new model resulting in a reversal of a number of recommendations.
Maximising Business Potential
Empowering Managers | Engaging People | Evaluating Performance | Facilitating Change
Kim Adams works with organisations and individuals to improve performance and workplace culture through strengthening leadership capacity to communicate with influence, implementing change management projects that engage people and evaluating outcomes to provide an evidence base for strategic decisions.
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