What are the key success factors for change programs?

What are the consequences and requirements for Change Managers?

Summary: There are Seven Key Success Factors which should be considered when you want to implement change initiatives. Change programs require strong Change Managers to act as the driving force and this role requires specific knowledge and capabilities which are summarized in this article.Based on past intensive project work and project experience I would summarize 7 key success factors for sustainable implemented change programs as follows:

  1. Urgency: Everybody within the scope of a change program has to feel, see and sense the need for change. But urgency needs arguments, the stakeholder has to understand and hopefully accept this urgency as well as the need for change. Urgency has to be transparently communicated: clear constraints and goals; required resources, assets, time and capabilities; ‘see/feel’ presentations by top-management are strong supporting instruments
  2. Clear Targets: Use the KISS-principle for your targets (Keep It Simple and Stupid). Change targets have to be clear, measurable and understandable as well as reachable. Clearly understandable means one single definition for the whole company for each target. Simple goals like costs per unit sold; cash-flow per unit sold or at least an exact definition like how to measure productivity are facilitators. Feedback systems like balanced score-cards are common controlling instruments
  3. Communication: A reliable, consistent and open communication is important. All information has to be real time, authentic and consistent and formulated taking into account the nature of the target audience.
    • External communication is as important as internal communication. Successful external communication has a positive impact on the employees’ attitude towards change.
    • A pro-active communication prevents rumours and does not interfere with the internal change process.
    • Problems and corresponding emergency measures have to be communicated
    • Internal communication should include all internally used media (face-to-face, intranet, whiteboard, emails, service desk, ACD telephone systems are the main vehicles)
  4. Commitment starts with the Change Manager him/herself. Leadership/guidance and communication are essential prerequisites to create the willingness for change within the organization. A meaningful selection of the media, which should respect and be ‘tuned to’ the target groups (‘expectation management’). Commitment is based on trust and belief in a personal advantage. If employees are persuaded that the change is to their own advantage, they will contribute. The local, more consensus oriented culture, is asking for a high degree of flair and amount of sensitivity without ‘assaulting’ or ‘dictating’ change. This means that the circumstances (emergency situation with no time) could also be a constraint
  5. Leadership: Support from top management and from the Project Management Office (PMO) has to be shown. Change programs with high political impact need the support of the managing directors (visible support, e.g. by participating in the steering committee). Important projects should be led by a full time project manager. Most crises become reality because of the loss of trust! Only a straightforward and clear behaviour by the upper management can minimize this risk, constant troublemakers should be separated
  6. Cultural Fit: Internal key-people have to be involved in the change project.  Cost reduction programs and strong change programs are very tough to fit to the company culture; strong, authenticable leadership can facilitate this task. A mixture between objectivity, emotions and flexibility is an important part of the change-program (centralized versus de-centralized responsibility, top-down goals and de-centralized implementation). Local implementation of change should be preferred wherever possible. The project team should be mixed in terms of professional experience and know-how of the team-members
  7. Monitoring: obviously you can only monitor what you are measuring. A transparent, controlling and reporting ensures an ongoing, milestone-driven implementation. Monitoring should include a strict budget-control. Cash-flow and turnover changes should be linked directly with the corresponding budget. Monitoring tools enable the status-control of the project at any point in time and reporting should be done regularly to the top management to keep constant pressure on the change program. Over-administration could impact the change project negatively and slow down progress.

What are the consequences and requirements for Change Managers?

Change Managers for important projects should be recruited in close collaboration with top management. The Change Manager has to understand, feel, and sense his ‘client’.

This is why leaders of company core-projects have to understand the strategic framework of the company and the derived long term strategic and operational goals. The project has to fit the overall direction.

The understanding of the existing company culture and structure as well as of the strategic orientation of the company enables the Change Manager to recognise the social/cultural implications of a change initiative. Based on this understanding, he/she should be capable to design a change roadmap together with the responsible stakeholders, as well as to decide on a suitable communication style.

Empathy, sensibility, as well as antennas for potential political and ‘power’ battles as well as a broad multi-cultural understanding (which includes the values of other cultures) help to anticipate potential implementation hurdles.

Change Managers are sensitive to ‘vibrations’. A sensible but honest communication facilitates this. This all needs skills in terms of analytical abilities, the capability to understand complex social situations as well as the anticipation of potential developments and of how these developments could be ‘re-directed’ or ‘manipulated’ in the ‘right’ direction.

A Change Manager must be engaged and involved. The role demands that conflicts be handled constructively (this pre-supposes knowledge of conflict management techniques and conflict experience). The Change Manager has to be encouraged to put his own mark on the role.

He/she has to know the basic functions of project management (mile stone driven, reporting, risk-management, cost consciousness, planning abilities) and should be able to handle workshops and presentations. His/her communication style has to be fact-oriented, objective, clear and simple (KISS). This all needs courage, leadership and a kind of entrepreneurship.

In terms of personality, he/she has to have the ability to sustain management pressure, social pressure and strong emotions. Conflicts should not be taken personally. On-going reflective experience (he/she should know where negative experience changes his/her own behaviour) as well as the necessary know-how to react to failures support such Change Managers.

Some of these skills (psychological, project-management, economical, technical, industry-related) can be learnt; some depend on the personality and the match with the company culture, but most come with time and a lot of experience.

All of Aims International Switzerland’s Senior Partners are experienced project and line Managers who understand their client companies’ situations and management and are thus able to select the right profile for a specific change program.


Thomas Lingner