Change Management Results – Five Steps to Avoiding the Tangibles Trap

Change initiatives that focus only on tangible delivery are very likely to fail. The five steps below will help your change programme to avoid this trap.

Most change initiatives concentrate on delivering tangible outcomes: things like new computer systems, or training programmes, or vehicles for communication (such as posters and blogs). Yet the value of such initiatives often comes from deliverables that are intangible. The value of a customer relationship management system, for example, is not in the technology, but in users’ ability to gather data accurately and use it effectively. The value of a culture change training programme is not in the number of workshops delivered, but in changes to people’s language and behaviour.

While we can see the delivery of tangible things, value is often hidden invisibly in the intangibles. Such focus on tangibles at the expense of intangibles is why, despite companies initiating relentless streams of change, people often feel that nothing really changes – and why many change initiatives fail.

If you genuinely want your initiatives to deliver visible, valuable and sustainable change, approach them differently. Here are five tips to increase the value of your change efforts.

Make the intangibles visible What do you want to able to do as a result of this change? Answering this question forces you to articulate the primary outcomes that you are seeking. Many will be intangible, such as, for example, changes in behaviour. Write these outcomes down and share them with those involved in the success of your project: let everyone aim at the same set of targets.
Design your work packages to deliver the intangibles While “people trained” is a perfectly reasonable deliverable, it is not enough. If the intangible outcome you seek is “people willing and able to work differently,” then you need to deliver more than training. Changing the workflow, altering feedback processes, adjusting people’s goals, and/or refining metrics: any or all of these may be necessary work packages for this change to succeed.
Manage work tightly If, for example, you have an intangible work package, such as, for instance, “refine metrics,” then define and manage it as explicitly as you would the introduction of tangible deliverables, such as new hardware or the removal of furniture in an office move. This means, for example, setting performance standards, assigning resources, estimating work effort, and setting and sticking to delivery deadlines.
Notice the difference Intangibles are supposed to make a difference, so you need to know quickly if your efforts are actually having the desired effect. If, for example, you are training front-line staff to reduce complaints, it’s a good idea to track not only the quality of the training, but the volume of complaints as well.
Move fast Because the goals of change are often intangible, it can be hard to tell if you are on track until the end. Of course, then it’s a bit late to find out that you are off-track… It’s very important to try to see early if your initiative is working. The best way is to deliver quickly, see what is working and then adjust things: it’s not rocket science.

Many change initiatives fail because they don’t deliver the intangibles that make the difference between success and failure. The five tips set out here can help make sure that your change initiative avoids this trap.