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From the Sponsor’s Desk – 5 Ways to Sustain a Change

We work our butts off to implement a successful project. We ensure key stakeholders are actively involved. We keep the needs of our customers front and center.

We apply best practices, as appropriate, to deliver better, faster and more cost-effectively. We collaborate with our teammates and others within and outside our organization on whose skills we rely. We communicate widely. Finally, we celebrate those successful implementations to glowing accolades. In the end, we move on to our next assignment with another experience notch on our belts and pride for a job well done. Then six months or a year later, we hear that pride and joy we helped deliver has come unraveled. Something or, more likely someone, has decided, for whatever reason, that our project was not what the organization needed after all. Things have reverted to the old status quo. Here are five ways to sustain a change so that the new way becomes the best way, well loved by all those affected.

This story is a great example of an unraveling, how a well-conceived and well-executed project delivered great short term results that were undone within eighteen months. It turns out the staff affected by the change complied with the new order of things, but they did not internalize the new behaviors. As soon as an opportunity presented itself to go back to the old way, they took it. The organization that had reaped the benefits of the change gave them all back.

Thanks to Y.T. for the details on this story.

The Situation

This medium sized financial services organization with its head office and forty-seven local offices covering clients in the southeast region was experiencing increased competition on all fronts – mortgages, insurance, banking services and investment offerings. Senior management had seen the challenges escalating over the years and had attempted some programs to improve their competitive position, but nothing changed the results significantly. They decided on a different strategy this time – to leverage the free time of the local office staff to sell the company’s products and services.

The Goal

The local office sales program had three key objectives:

  1. Develop and introduce a local office sales program that would help the company combat the efforts of the competition by engaging with their clients and selling the company’s products.
  2. Increase the number of client meetings in the local offices by 40%.
  3. Develop product campaigns to offer through the local office channel.
  4. Achieve a 20% increase in campaign revenues from the new channel within 12 months.

The Project

The key sponsor for the change, the Vice President of Sales, was highly visible, accessible and consistent in his support for the change. He pulled together the key stakeholders needed to introduce the change and see the program through to completion. That included the corporate sales office which supported both strategic concept development and program delivery, the six region executives, areas that supported sales reporting and analytics and product partners from banking, insurance, mortgages, and investments.

The sponsor also brought in a highly experienced and much-praised contract project manager, Isabel, to lead the development and delivery of the program. Isabel had a background in change management and ten years of experience delivering sales and marketing programs. Over the years she had developed an approach that worked. It included:

  • Up front target assessments to understand the real culture and core values she had to deal with. She included the key stakeholders as well as the change recipients in her appraisal.
  • A rapid Conceive->Deliver->Assess->Refine cycle to hit the ground running, gain experience and improve the program as it was rollout out.
  • Staged delivery an office or group of offices at a time to boost the focus and allow local tailoring. Office cultures and capabilities could differ materially. It was important to the success of each stage of the rollout that those local differences were acknowledged and reflected in the program.
  • Checking assumptions. The program would affect over 300 people plus their clients. It was vital that every assumption on which the program was based was identified and its veracity confirmed.

Isabel put together a plan for the local office sales program she believed would deliver maximum impact for the company:

Phase 1 – Preparation

  • Implementation minus 8 weeks: materials and tools development for local staff sales training and communication plan development
  • Implementation minus 6 weeks: region selection and confirmation at executive level
  • Implementation minus 4 weeks: region engagement at the local level and the start of corporate, regional and local communications
  • Implementation minus 2 weeks: region briefing at local leader level

Phase 2 – Iterative Delivery

  • Event week: 1-day local development and collaborative preparation, 1-day training, 1-day monitored application, 1 day debrief and next steps planning
  • Weekly region results measurement
  • Implementation plus 2 weeks: in region follow-up
  • Implementation plus 4 weeks: region post-launch assessment
  • Implementation plus 8 weeks: region final launch assessment and transition to local ownership

Phase 3 – Monitoring and Close

  • Weekly program results measurement and communication
  • Post Program Implementation: program follow-up
  • Post Program Implementation: program post-launch assessment
  • Post Program Implementation: program final launch assessment and close

Isabel reviewed the plan with the VP Sales and other key stakeholders. She received unanimous approval with a couple of minor adjustments, and then the work began.

The target assessments revealed some interesting findings. The VP Sales, the Sales Executive, and the product partners were very entrepreneurial in their outlook. They had an “act now and asked for forgiveness later” mindset. In contrast, the region executives and the local office staff were more inclined to an order-taker mentality – tell me what to do and I will make it happen. Isabel and her team used that information to tailor their program development efforts. They demanded more rigor from the sales and product partners to provide greater specificity for the region executives and local staff. The material seemed to work.

The process of identifying and confirming assumptions uncovered some interesting findings as well. The program they developed assumed the local staff would book meetings with their clients using Outlook, which had been in the offices for some years. They discovered that few local staff knew how to use it to schedule appointments. They also assumed that the staff’s primary client contact times would be late morning through early afternoon and mid to late afternoon. They discovered that those times were also the most active for client drop-ins to carry out their banking activities. These and other findings were used to adjust the program design and materials to accommodate the revised assumptions.

Also, another offshoot of the program was used to support a new local office manager. The original structure was designed primarily to support an existing manager creating a “call to action” or increase in client contact and sales activity. With a new office manager, the tone was adjusted to frame the activity as a “fresh start.” While the basic framework was maintained, the new manager program was given a new title, and the messaging and tone were adjusted to reflect the change in emphasis.

The project largely progressed as planned. Isabel and her team were in frequent contact with the key stakeholders to gauge their levels of comfort and adjust content and plans accordingly. Reception at the local offices was reserved, as expected. The VP Sales, the local region executive and one or more of the product partners were involved in each local office rollout. That certainly helped impress on everyone involved the importance of the program. It was a huge commitment of management time. Moreover, it worked.

The Results

All forty-seven offices were introduced to the new local office sales program over a period of twelve weeks. As planned, local tailoring was done to reflect the market served by each office and the skills and capabilities of the local staff. There was some turnover, mostly in line with what was anticipated. In spite of the recognition programs and the financial incentives offered to all participating staff, some found the increased focus on “sales” and securing “customer meetings” not to their liking. Results also reflected the passion and leadership of the local office managers. Offices with gung-ho managers who worked to create a collaborative team atmosphere, celebrating successes and helping each staff member according to their need were significantly more successful. Remedial help and guidance was provided to the offices that were not performing to plan.

The program was deemed complete after six months, and Isabel departed with accolades for a job well done. At the end of twelve months on the new program, program revenues were up over 30%, well beyond the targeted 20%. The increase in client meetings could not be tracked because there were no baselines to compare.

After eighteen months, the VP of Sales, the program’s original sponsor, departed the company for greener pastures. The new VP of Sales conducted a tour of the local offices shortly after arrival. On one of the visits, he was asked why local staff had to, as the questioner phrased it, “spend all our time selling over the phone and neglecting the clients who come into the branch for assistance?” The new VP of Sales, somewhat startled by the question, asked for more details. On his return to head office, he questioned his staff. A week after that question was asked, he canceled the program, instructing local office managers to discontinue the sales calls. Within six months of that fateful decision, program revenue fell back to pre-program levels. It is unfortunate there was no orientation program for that new VP, to help him understand the culture and practices that were being built by the local sales program.

How a Great Leader Succeeded and the Company Lost

The initiating sponsor, his stakeholder group along with Isabel and her team did some very smart things to achieve the results they did and one thing they missed that was the program’s undoing:

  1. The active involvement of the VP of Sales and the other key stakeholders in all local office rollouts sent a very clear message about the importance of the program.
  2. Isabel’s four-point personal practice was an insightful, professional touch – up front assessments, the rapid development cycle, staged delivery and the continuous assumptions check set the stage for success. The endorsement of the practices by the key stakeholders showed thoughtful leadership.
  3. Including local leaders and staff in the review and customization of the program delivered greater local buy-in and better results.
  4. The program used a few simple metrics to gauge progress and communicated widely about the rollout and the performance of the program.
  5. Unfortunately, the staff did not internalize the new customer service culture. I did a post a while ago called Cultivating Culture, about an organization that was facing rapid growth and wanted to preserve their “whatever it takes” culture. They succeeded wonderfully by helping staff view everything from the client’s perspective. The attitude was internalized by every employee. It was who they were. That message was reinforced at every turn. It is unfortunate that this program’s sponsors did not see the need for and Isabel and her team were not given the opportunity to take that extra step. They delivered compliance, but they did not achieve internalization.

So, be a Great Leader. Put these points on your checklist of things to consider on your next project so you too can achieve great, sustainable results. Remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group (including the key stakeholder roles), the decision management process and Decision Framework best practices right up front, so you do not overlook these key success factors.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First-time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, good, bad and everything in between, send me the details, and we will chat. I will write it up and, when you are happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights.

Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected].

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