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9th December 2019

Change Management in the Construction Industry

Is it me or is the impact and management of change a topic on everyone's lips, regardless of industry, size of organisation or geographical location. Maybe driven by the conversations I am often asked to be part of but ‘Change Management’ seems to both be simultaneously in favour as the next industry movement (the likes of Agile and Digital Transformation) and yet also be the subject of many conversations where Change Management in dead or at least dying.

But what is change management and why are equal numbers of industry leaders quick to bask in its glory whilst other would happily spit on its grave. Whatever the reason, one thing is certain is that it is quickly being recognised by leaders across the globe as a critical organisational survival tool in these political, economic and regulatory uncertainty.

Change Management in its simplest terms is the set of activities that allow for the coordinated and controlled transition from one business as usual to another, very different, business as usual state. The result is to bring about either greater efficiency or greater productivity – those that do it well sometimes get both. For clarity we should be clear about this type of change management we are talking about as there are two common forms which often get mixed up and lead to some of the mixed opinion from executives about the value it can offer organisations.

The most common form of ‘change management’ is that describe within projects. Here, typically if something of significance changes the planned delivery date, expected cost or the amount of resource required to deliver then the sponsors would assess the impact on the project and determine if it is accepted into the plan. This adjusted plan is the new plan and everyone is onboard. The change decision is the end of the change - it is the new norm. This form is what I call change control but if often referred to as ‘change management’ particularly industries well versed in project management.

The other form of Change Management talks about the beginning and the end of a project. This highly talked about form of change combines the facilitation required in defining strategy (often referred to as Change Vision), the analysis of individual and organisational readiness for success (often referred to as the Change Impact Assessment) and the coaching and mentoring required to change behavioural and psychological norms supported by training and education to implement and sustain the change (often referred to as the Change Plan). There isn't a single decision which results in that change being delivered. The change decision is the start of the change – it is where we want to be.

It requires a deliberate and targeted set of actions to move from the way you work today to the way you want to work at some future point. This coordinated set of activities start before any project is conceived and end well after any project completes - it is a business case on acid and 100% focused on ensuring business benefits are realised, well after the project resources are stood down and moved on to something else. This form is what I would refer to as Change Management.

Some see it as the next big movement because it is radically new thinking and to mature their own knowledge you need to bring in the specialists that know this area well. Others see it as a dead business, not because it isn’t needed, but because it is no longer a segregated function but considered a leadership mindset that the whole organisation should possess. Either way, Change Management is becoming a critical discussion point inside organisations challenged by increased competition, increasing operating costs and the resulting tightening profit margins. When the environmental circumstance have you face the very real possibility of extinction you need to radically rethink your approach to your project investments. Change Management can offer you that life line by applying an approach stronger and more persistent than a point time business case which is focused on guaranteeing the benefits of such investments – something which is often a costly afterthought of most projects when return on investments are significantly delayed.

Construction is dominated by a few major organisations, operating on narrow margins and with complex supply chains. An industry couldn’t be more ripe for application of excellent change management skills combined with technological advances to lift itself into a new period of prosperity but the industry needs to start taking it a bit more seriously. Like our friends the dinosaurs, planet construction has a meteor the size of the LHC on collision course and folk better look up and feel the heat otherwise some will find themselves extinct whilst the rest settle under a dark cloud while the planet reinvents.


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