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Executing Your Plans for Change

Executing Your Plans for Change5 Common Mistakes

by Erica Titchener, Global Head of Technology & Operations Consulting

There’s no doubt that this historical event we’re living through has driven us all towards irrevocable change. We’ve been forced to make change out of necessity, but that necessity gave way to improvements and innovation. 

Execution QuoteIt’s a sad truth that our consulting practice spends a significant amount of time helping organisations recover from the results of failed projects—both for large-scale and smaller point solutions. The reason for failure is almost always because the client didn’t recognize the importance of managing the change itself and focused solely on  the mechanics of what they thought would be a “silverbullet” to solve their need. They were forced to invest further time and money to obtain outcomes they could have, and should have, reached with initial investment. 

It doesn’t need to be this way. To take the next steps with assurance and protect your investment in change, you first need to understand the five most common mistakes clients make when it comes to successfully implementing change and learn how to avoid them.

Over the course of this series, the industry leading experts I have the privilege to work with have explored the Four “A”s as guiding principles to move your organization forward. They have given valuable insights into the realities, challenges, and opportunities that have arisen due to COVID-19. Whether you decide to embrace all of these concepts, actions, and advice or you choose just a few to focus on, the stage is set for change and the challenges that come with it. 

Mistake #1: Forgetting about what matters until it’s too late. Mistake #1: Forgetting about what matters until it’s too late.

Impact: Poorly conceived change management strategy and execution can lead to go-live delays, heavier remediation costs, and damaged reputations within HR and Talent Acquisition following an implementation project.

Solution: Develop a change management strategy that encompasses the functional and cultural changes you want to instill in your organisation for tomorrow and beyond.

With more teams working remotely alongside significant organisational change resulting from the pandemic, a thoughtful approach to this has never been more important. Over the course of my 15 years of experience working with clients, I’ve observed that the most successful change programs result from robust strategies and investment in the right resources to deliver it.

There’s more to success here than a well-developed project plan. Your program for change must be the catalyst for you to build a new culture. Our Talent Strategy Consulting Project Management Office recommends that organisations wanting to protect their investment and minimise risk in their programmes carefully consider the following: 

  • Deliver a clear roadmap supported by a robust project plan and change objectives -Building and socialising a roadmap that demonstrates how Talent Acquisition’s strategy aligns to the overall objectives for the organisation is an essential tool for bringing people along the change journey, generating excitement and accelerating “readiness” for change. Making program objectives for transformation clear, aligning milestone outcomes and benefits to target audience groups, and closely governing the plan that sits behind your roadmap for change substantially reduces risks to your investment. It may sound simple, but it’s amazing how often this vital element is missing. 
  • Take time to test the up and downstream impact of even small changes to operations—Even where your change programme only focuses on a targeted part of a process or team, make sure to assess the upstream and downstream implications of a change to prevent adverse impact on speed of adoption or your ability to realise a return on your investment.
  • Employee experience is king—This is more than just a marketing buzz word. A recent report published by Josh Bersin focusses on The Urgent Need for Change Communications. This report recognises that engaging employees through change these days is more than just focus groups and nicely crafted emails. Technology and social channels can help organisations listen to service users and impacted groups as well as tell them what’s happening now and what’s next. Check with your marketing and IT functions as many Talent Acquisition teams don’t realise that they have access to modern tools and technology to support change communications already.


Mistake #2: Assuming everyone “gets it.” Mistake #2: Assuming everyone “gets it.”

Impact:Without a framework to help guide decisions, valuable time and money can be spent simply because individuals thought they understood the direction of the project and the misunderstanding wasn’t caught until it was too late.

Solution: Streamline for decision making—agree to clear, strategy-aligned design principles to ensure your solution architects, project teams, stakeholder groups and steering committees can make faster, guided decisions that adhere to your strategic objectives.

One of our clients, a leading global financial services organisation, has done this very successfully by setting out six succinct design principles that guide all solution and program decision making. These principles directly align to their priorities, strategy and change objectives and has enabled them to maintain consistency in how they make decisions on design, implementation approach, and scope on global and local levels. The best examples of succinct design principles:

  • Can be articulated on a single page with each principle clearly articulated with only a few thoughtfully selected words.
  • Clearly align to your organisation’s aspirations, designed to help decision makers test themselves when choosing between what feels familiar and safe versus what’s needed to move the company forward.
  •  Consistently appear in all programme documentation, communications, conversation and ways of working within the project teams and the business 
Mistake #3: Not backing the business case with hard proof. Mistake #3: Not backing the business case with hard proof.

Impact: A poor business case can mean other projects and business areas get priority. A business case built completely on anecdotal ideas of the impact runs the risk of losing the attention of logical-thinking, results oriented stakeholders and it misses the opportunity to build confidence and trust offered by a business case supported by data-based evidence. 

Solution: Use data to help build an evidence-based case for change, amplify project successes and evaluate lessons for the future.

Let’s acknowledge that you’ll never really be “done.” In an environment where you’re contending with fierce competition for funding and resources across every area of HR and the broader organisation, to get beyond dreaming about what’s next, you need to make a clear, compelling business case for change. This is especially true for investments in technology. Beyond the current request, the ability to demonstrate that previous investments you’ve made have delivered value lends significant credibility to support subsequent business cases and requests for funding. 

Data is the best foundational evidence upon which to build a credible business case for change and measure ROI. In our latest publication of Catalyst, Josh Bersin talks about how the digital transformation in HR that has been building momentum over the last 10 years has come to a head with the pandemic and how organisations need to accelerate their thinking about digitisation as part of what he has termed “the big reset." In this article he highlights the importance of data and how “ongoing data analysis will help leaders make real-time decisions for unprecedented situations.” 

We work with many customers for whom data is a challenge. When commencing on a programme of change, collating an accurate picture of the current state can take some effort, but this exercise pays dividends as it enables you to validate and rank your business priorities, obtain budget for change and then to measure the return on investment. If data remains one of your key challenges today, incorporating this into your design principles and establishing it as one of your core change priorities is the only way to move on to what’s next at pace.

Mistake #4: Using well-intentioned but sub-optimal resources Mistake #4: Using well-intentioned but sub-optimal resources

Impact: The cost of inefficiencies and poor-quality solutions that can result from relying on project teams consisting solely of existing, however specialised resources, however willing and even eager to contribute they may be, far exceeds the cost of bringing in the right expertise at the right time.

Solution: Mobilise the right expertise to protect your investment by getting things right the first time around. 

This is not to say that you have to bring in a team of consultants to complete a successful program, but it pays to assess your weaknesses and capacity constraints and to consider how you address the gaps in your team to protect your overall investment. When building a project team and addressing skills gaps:

  • Capacity is critical. Asking people with day jobs to play a skilled role in your programme off the side of their desks will deliver slower results and will adversely impact their overall productivity. If you’re  fortunate enough to have the right expertise within your organisation, ensure that they can be freed up to give the right amount of time and attention to everything they need to deliver for your project and in their usual role
  • Blend external and internal expertise. Getting the “right” expertise is not divided down internal and external lines. Expertise can be leveraged in many ways—external expertise may be surgical, coming in to focus on an area of speciality, or that specialty expertise may be found internally with externals being added to augment a project team. As you assemble your team, stay focused on finding the best fit for the skills and expertise required—wherever they come from. 
  • Maximize investments in external expertise. Bringing in external resources brings fresh thinking and ways of working into a project, but it can present challenges along the way. Take the time before they start to ensure you have clarity with regards to scope, the process for handover at the close of the project and that you build training opportunities for current employees if you’re using externals to provide capacity or expertise in areas you’re hoping to develop in-house in the future.
Mistake #5: Thinking you can be "done". Mistake #5: Thinking you can be "done".

Impact: Change is like a muscle that needs to be exercised to stay strong. Teams that slow down or stop the good change practices they’ve started run the risk of inertia—having to ramp up or start all over again the next time a change project begins.

Keep planning for what’s next. 

Even if you follow every piece of advice above, there will always be more to do—protect your investment in innovation by structuring your teams in a way that promotes adoption and embraces evolution. As you work to keep your teams well practiced in managing change, consider implementing the following: 

  • Continue with your communication strategy. Maintain a level of momentum behind changes on the horizon through communication. Don’t forget to encourage communication the other direction by collecting feedback on what you’ve already implemented and leverage this insight to identify new opportunities. Make sure to keep people engaged by communicating how their ideas have informed the roadmap.
  • Create accountability for improvement. Make continuous improvement (at least) a part of someone’s formal role, giving them the tools, data, and responsibility they need to actively work with recruitment teams, the hiring community, candidates, supporting functions, and technology partners to identify and quantify opportunities to move things forward. 
  • Invite collaboration. Develop ways of working with the wider support functions and technology partners who will be critical to your continued success. Implement processes for collaborating across HR, Corporate Brand, Learning & Development, Programme Management Office, legal and IT/IT Security, and customer success representatives from your software providers, enabling them to provide relevant, comprehensive support, faster. Your partnership and rapport with these critical supporting functions means that they’ll understand the context of what you do today and what you need to achieve tomorrow—and it allows them to be ready with briefed teams when you need them.

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Many of us have learnt a lot about ourselves and the resilience of our friends, families and colleagues over what has been an unprecedented time of challenge in our lifetime. As we continue to deal with the impacts of COVID-19 in every aspect of our lives, adopting ways of working that enable Talent Acquisition to dexterously navigate a continuously changing environment, while meeting the demands of the evolving businesses who depend on them, will be a significant contributing factor for future success. As you build out your roadmap for the near and medium term, amplifying the swift, but beneficial adaptations you’ve had to make due to the pandemic, we hope our series provides you with some ideas that will enable you to seek alignment on your strategic objectives, build effective business cases for change, and move your organisation forward with assurance.

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