Change is happening all the time. For many it can be a transformative process that is ongoing for a long duration and sometimes it is quick and immediate but may have long lasting impacts. In project or business terms a successful change means that employees are able to adapt to and work effectively with the new technology or in the new environment, and the change is now embedded in the organization as business as usual.
If the change is not monitored and reinforcement on a regular and ongoing basis there will be a preference to revert to the ‘old way’ and the change will not deliver the intended business value.
There are six primary reasons why the reinforcement of changes, after a project ends, does not happen or is not done well:
Lack of proper Sponsorship or Governance post-Launch
Leadership and Management are not properly armed; They lack skillset or information to drive behaviour change
Uncertainty of roles, owners, or what is to be Reinforced – i.e. Silo’d business functions regardless of enterprise implementation
Poorly understood business benefits and business case
Project expertise – including the Sponsor – is heavily focused on project delivery rather than ongoing business operations
Not enough foresight and planning for knowledge management or training support
But with proper planning and oversight change reinforcement can be systematic, measurable, and successful.
“Reinforcement is critical to the success of all initiatives because people have a natural tendency to revert back to what they know and are comfortable with.” – Prosci
Reinforcement is the fifth and final building block in the Prosci ADKAR® (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement) Change Management model. All the stages or building blocks of ADKAR are equally important; however, Reinforcement is often the least likely to be planned and implemented as part of the overall project delivery strategy, because it is often not clear who is responsible for it or when it should begin.
It is crucial to plan and be ready to execute the reinforcement activities to help embed the changes; the timing and nature of these activities will vary but ongoing communication, governance and support between staff and management is essential.
I recently had discussions with some former clients as well as a Project Managers and Change and Learning professionals where I asked five questions to get their thoughts on Reinforcement. The responses below are a compilation of all the discussions:
What are some key things required to reinforce behaviour change (how do we get it to stick)?
Reminders are important. Continually reminding stakeholder that a change is coming, what the change is, why it is happening etc. Validation is also important and effective. Generally, just checking in with people, asking them how they feel and getting a sense for what they know and understand. Recognizing that people had questions, feelings and fears and allowing them to voice them or giving them a controlled outlet to express their feelings makes them feel heard and helps them move on. When this is done during a change, it makes a big difference in peoples’ perceptions but also their willingness to change and continue doing things the new way.
Evidence is key. People are skeptical. Being able to show them that something works or is better, is important. Not just through anecdotal “best practice” or some benchmark report, but real tangible proof from within their organization, from their peers. Running a pilot group can make this possible showing that change worked here, with their peers.
Leadership involvement but more specific, leaders as champions. Negative comments or apathetic behaviour from the leadership team is a killer. Not only will people resist the change, but building the behaviours to reinforce the new way of working is almost impossible. The Leadership team is also going through a change, so they too need to be engaged and supported so that they can put their best face forward and be champions for the change and their people.
Being able to tie the change back to a business case or business benefits. Many projects start to deviate or wander from the original plan or purpose. Changes in sponsor or key stakeholders can impact the purpose and direction. If we are unable to connect the change to something tangible, we will lose our credibility and ultimately lose user buy-in and adoption. At that point, it is impossible to reinforce new positive behviours because the purpose of the change was not understood.
Do different Stakeholders need different reinforcement models or activities?
Yes, one-size does not fit all. For example, customer facing employees will need to learn different behaviours and will need different reinforcement tactics than administrative or internal employees. Both are equally important but need very different things to succeed. It is also important to recognize and provide reinforcement tactics to both groups or teams as well as individuals. In fact, most change happens at the individual level.
What if people are not performing in the new way, should there be consequences?
Bad, disruptive or incorrect behaviour needs to be corrected, quickly. When possible, the correction should be done in a positive and supportive manner, but there are situations when the consequence of not changing needs to be severe, even to the point of being fired. Of course, if there is a good reinforcement plan in place, and the proper coaching and support is employed, someone losing their job should be a rare and extreme occurrence.
That is a great point, “…if there is a good reinforcement plan in place…”;when should Reinforcement start?
At the beginning! Reinforcement should be planned at the early stages of project planning. The Sponsor and the leadership team need to start it right away – model the new behaviours as much as possible from the beginning. Planning for reinforcement at the beginning also helps determine who will be accountable for it once the project ends and the project team leaves. Knowing this up-front means the project can engage with them early on, so the reinforcement activities are not just dumped on the business at the end of the project.
Should Reinforcement be measured?
Peter Drucker said something like, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Having good KPIs and metrics through all stages of change is important and should not be ignored during the monitoring/reinforcement/sustainment stage. Monitoring the use of a new technology you can measure if the new process is being followed and even identify the business units or individuals who are not following the process. There were some very tangible things that can be measured for a business change project like moving form a traditional office to a flexible workplace, like desk utilization, number of people booking a desk in the booking system, number of Auto-bumps etc.
Being able to measure the productivity against historical data helps provide support to individuals who were struggling with the change in process or even physical location. For example, when the change is a move form a traditional office space to a flexible workplace where people work at different desk locations, open concept collaboration tables or even at home offices, it was expected that the first couple of weeks there might be a decrease in productivity for some individuals or even business units but that should level out and eventually productivity will again increase.
Measuring productivity can even identify issues in other areas of the business, beyond the project scope, such as with connectivity technology which could provide information to get employees the support they needed and indirectly support adoption and reinforce the new behaviour.
Change is an ongoing process and as one Executive so wisely pointed out, the measurement of key milestones is not the primary determinant of success in a change management initiative. A successful change means that employees can adapt to and work effectively in the new environment and the change is embedded in the organization as usual practice; reinforcing and sustaining the change is the most crucial step to successful change management. If an organization is going to invest time and money in imple