Leadership Matters: 7 Change Management Tips to Dramatically Improve Project Success

compass and paper tag labeled CHANGE sitting on old wood
By Jessica Szewczuk, CPA, CA, CCMP

6 minutes

Buy-in, communication and continuous learning are key to boosting results and ROI.

“Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again.”

We’ve all heard iterations of this quote and concept. While this particular rendition came from Graeme Wood via Twitter, Martha Durdin, president/CEO of the Canadian Credit Union Association, echoed a similar sentiment at a recent credit union conference. 

The way the world works and the way people behave is changing faster than it ever has and it is fundamentally reprogramming our society. 

The financial services industry is no exception. Buzzwords like “disruption,” “innovation,” “blockchain” and “open banking” have been making their way into conferences, strategic planning sessions and even trickling into everyday conversation at the branch level. 

If change is relentless and inevitable, how can credit unions compete not only with big banks but also the mass of fintechs seeping their way into members’ wallets? 

Many credit unions will tell you that they simply cannot afford a full-time organizational change management resource. They’re right

They’ll also likely tell you that they need to invest their members’ resources in products, services and innovations that will serve them and not back-office overhead. Also right

A colleague shared, “If your credit union has fewer than 100 employees and you can feasibly speak to them all in one day, you probably can’t justify an internal change resource.” She’s right, too

But, what happens when the cautious and intentional investment of member resources doesn’t return expected benefits? Even worse, what if a change fails? In addition to wasting precious resources like time and money, failed change creates a sort of muscle memory within an organization. It means the next change will be a lot more difficult. 

So, how can credit unions without formal change resources successfully manage the constant demand for change?

My experience experimenting with change management tactics on credit union projects has resulted in:

  • increased speed of adoption, utilization and proficiency (measured in people hours and training costs);
  • reduced budget overages (measured in time and dollars);
  • significantly reduced resistance to change (greater buy-in and engagement from staff, less “people-side risk”); and
  • nearly eliminated failed change initiatives.

These results translate into greater “bang for our members’ bucks.”

Try these proven and easy-to-implement change management best practices now!

1. Understand & Align Your Priorities

Invest in solid level-setting and alignment within your organization.

Collectively identify and prioritize competing strategic initiatives based on overall impact, risk and resource requirements. Engage key stakeholders in this conversation. Aim to have representation from each department or provide each an opportunity to engage in the discussion. 

Understanding and aligning your priorities will help your team understand the impact of concurrent changes. You may even want to create a calendar to overlay the moving pieces as a tool for mapping workflows and project resource requirements.

The process should start at the executive level and cascade through the functional teams in the organization to get everyone on board.  This is important—it is the foundation for change. Without alignment, almost every project risk is exponentially higher.

Pro-tip: If you’re just starting on your change management journey, check out these Gantt chart templates for Excel that can help track duration, timelines and resource requirements! 

2. Define Success

Define key performance indicators for change management success. Consider quantitative and qualitative factors, including:

  • budget, in terms of time and cost;
  • training objectives and built-in measurement mechanisms (i.e., quizzes and feedback) to ensure they are met;
  • employee engagement (measured through communication and feedback); and,
  • speed of adoption, utilization and proficiency. 

Measure early. Measure often. Communicate the results. 

Pro-tip: When you’re managing your change tactics, try setting some success metrics before launching the initiative. For example, if you’re releasing a survey, proactively identify what you deem to be a successful percentage of employee engagement.

3. Strong Sponsorship

A sponsor can make or break a project. Sponsors create awareness, cheerlead the change, create a support network with other leaders and remove obstacles.

If you’re a change leader in your organization, one of your many roles is to make the sponsor’s job as easy as possible. Map out the sponsor’s needed engagement—communications, presentations and key messages. Even the best sponsors appreciate the help.

Pro-tip: For more information on project sponsorship, check out this great resource from Prosci!

4. Understand Your Stakeholders

Organize internal and external stakeholders into groups based on the way the change is impacting them. Consider whether they will support, oppose or be neutral to the change. Also measure their respective levels of influence.

The more time you invest in understanding and communicating with your stakeholders, the easier it becomes to help them buy in, engage in and support the change. This is what drives organizational success.

Pro-tip: Maybe this is more of a spoiler alert—the use of cross functional teams (see No. 6 below) is a great way to encourage open, collaborative feedback and functional engagement.

5.  #allthecommunication

Firstly, overcommunicating is impossible. It’s not a thing. It simply cannot be done. So #communicate and then #communicatesomemore.

The No. 1 reason change fails is because people don’t understand why it’s necessary. That is a breakdown in communication.

Big-picture strategy messages should come from senior leaders and project sponsors. Think town halls where CEOs and vice presidents speak to the business reasons for change. 

Employee-specific messaging is best served from a direct supervisor. During these discussions, the vision for the change and specifics like “what’s in it for me” can be navigated. 

Communication should be sincere, honest, timely and direct. It shouldn’t be sugar-coated, and, if you make a promise, you have to stick to it. If you get asked a question you don’t have an answer to, say so. Do the research and share the good question and response with everyone. 

If your “Spidey senses” are telling you that there is a buzz about something, there is. Go. Ask. Regroup. Address rumours. Be honest.

Pro-tip: If you run a quiz with a prize and don’t get feedback, consider this a red flag. Look back at your communication strategy and get some ears on the ground. 

6. Cross-functional Teams

Credit unions love collaboration. It’s in your blood. Cross-functional teams are a powerful way to engage stakeholders from various departments and levels in the organization in leading change.

Pro-tip: Seek stakeholders with influence. They don’t need to be functional leaders. Observe your team. Learn who “everyone listens to” or asks for help and engage that person.

7. Project Post-mortems

Ultimately, when the project runs its course and transitions into daily operational function, invest the time with the project team and key stakeholders to review what worked well and what could be improved. You will learn something from every change. There is always room for improvement. 

If something is worth changing, it’s worth changing right. Use the tools provided above to maximize the impact and ROI of your change initiatives. 

It is entirely possible to implement change without full-time dedicated change resources, but it does take practice. If you’re ever feeling like an initiative is too big, too expensive, too important or too risky to fail, invest in a professional change leader! cues icon 

Jessica Szewczuk, CPA, CA, CCMPis senior manager/consulting & business advisory services at Metrix Group LLP. She attributes her career as an organizational change leader in large part to Lakeland Credit Union (a midsize credit union in western Canada) where she worked, learned and experimented with change management tactics for nearly six years. While she has now shifted her career to leading her own consulting practice at a firm in Alberta, she remains passionate and energized by the credit union system.

Discuss Change Management on CUES Net

CUES members, join your colleagues on CUES Net for the Pathway of the Quarter: Change Agility. We are following a learning pathway about change management in CUES Learning Portal and discussing the concepts together on CUES Net.
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