Most public service organisations would like to create lasting organisational change, whether this is through reform and transformation programs, specific projects or via continuous improvement.

A common statistic that’s bandied around is that over 70 per cent of organisational change initiatives fail. For most of us, this intuitively makes sense as we’ve all seen the fanfare that comes with a new change program, only for it to be quietly shelved six to twelve months later.

So, what can we do about this problem? 

Changing an organisation’s culture and behaviours can take protracted effort over months and years, depending on the scope of the change, where you started and the size of the organisation. It can be useful to use change management principles to guide you on where to focus your attention.

Change management is a discipline that’s only really taken off from the 1990s onwards as researchers and academics began looking at how human beings experience and interact with change.

A common concept in change management is that there are two sides to any change: the technical side and the people side.

Technical: This is about making the actual change happen. For example:

  • Developing a new policy or process
  • Releasing a new ICT program or system
  • Restructuring a division.

People: This is about getting people on board with the change, so that they don’t just revert to their old behaviours. This includes:

  • Creating a ‘narrative’ for the change that resonates with people
  • Creating awareness of what is changing
  • Generating interest for the change through explaining the ‘what’s in it for me’
  • Building knowledge of how to undertake the change, including training and upskilling
  • Managing resistance to the change.

It can be easy to focus solely or mostly on the technical side of change. After all, shouldn’t a good system, policy or process speak for itself? Unfortunately, that doesn’t usually happen.

A classic example is the implementation of collaboration tools (Teams, Slack, etc). Often organisations don’t put enough thought into what the organisational need is for a collaboration tool (i.e. what problem is being solved), barriers to take-up, potential resistance to change and what level of training may be needed. Thus, despite a minor flurry of activity at the beginning, once the dust settles, often it’s only a few eager early adopters still using the tool.  By this time, the project team has already moved onto the next project and management is left disappointed that the benefits of the project weren’t achieved.

The people side of change must be addressed. There may be many reasons why staff are not using the new ICT system, or not enthused about the new process. These reasons have to be identified and addressed, otherwise, it can be easy for a change effort to fail. This includes having senior leadership actively driving the change, rather than expecting it to be driven by the project team or change management team.

Measuring change

A critical part of change management is to measure whether it has been effective or not.  This can help you prove the value of change management as well as help you identify where more improvements need to be made. Given this, it is essential that change management is measured regularly during the change journey.

There are multiple dimensions of change that can be measured, such as, whether the change has been accepted into business as usual, whether individual staff members have accepted the change, whether the benefits have been realised and whether the change management activities have been successfully implemented.

There is a certain amount of subjectivity when it comes to measuring cultural and behavioural changes, which often means that proxy measurements need to be put in place. For example, fewer unplanned staff absences could be a proxy metric that indicates a good culture. However, it would need to be coupled with another metric as it could also be an indicator of ‘presenteeism’ where sick staff feel like they have to come into the office.

Some common ways of measuring change management effectiveness include:

  • Staff surveys, although these should be used sparingly as often staff members are over-surveyed
  • Adoption metrics that show how many people are using a new process or system
  • Training attendance numbers, although this needs to be used together with other measures as attendance does not necessarily mean they understand the materials
  • Compliance checks to identify whether staff are complying with a new policy or process
  • Formal or informal interviews with key staff members to determine their views on the change.

Most organisational change programs would need to pick a combination of methods to measure change effectiveness as one method is unlikely to measure all the relevant dimensions.

Ultimately, regardless of what methods you pick, you need to ensure that you use the results to drive decision-making and action so that you can better achieve the outcome and benefits you’re aiming for.

How we can help you

At Callida, we have practical experience with building successful change programs in the public service, using contemporary change management tools and methodologies. We can help your organisation with navigating the people side of change so that next time your organisational change program is successful and with clear performance metrics so that you can show people how successful it is.

By Dannya Hu

Get in contact with us to discuss how we can help you:

(02) 6162 3339

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