Selling Change Management to the Project Team

I spend a lot of time working with construction professionals. As a change manager within the corporate real estate space, it’s pretty much unavoidable that a fair proportion of my time will be spent with engineers, builders and facilities managers. Of these people, 95% of them will initially be merely tolerating my presence…

suspecting that as a soft and fluffy service provider I’m going to chew their ear off about the importance of ‘engagement’ or hand out bribes in the form of baked goods. No-one’s really sure what I’m there to do. These are my tips for getting suspicious naysayers on side, lowering eyebrows and wiping away smirks:

1. Make it Easy for Them
Construction project managers are often the toughest to win round – they have deadlines, budgets and stakeholders to deal with by the bucket load and frankly, they don’t have time to humour an unnecessary cog in the wheel. Change management is rapidly being adopted and recognised as a best practice aspect of any project, but it’s taking a little while for that to be championed on all fronts.

Keep in mind what they need to achieve and make sure the tasks and activities you’re seeking to involve them in are both beneficial and useful. Someone somewhere within your organisation understands the value of your work and chance are, they construction team  wants to impress them as much as you do. When seeking their involvement, make sure you outline the benefits to them and make it as easy as possible for them to say yes. OK – you don’t want to be spoon feeding everyone forever, but make it easy for them to realise the benefits the first time round and next time they’re more likely to take action under their own steam.

2. Dispel the myth of the Fluffy Change Manager
Now I’m coming at change management from a slightly different angle to most. My projects generally revolve around a change in accommodation and I therefore partner the change management with the logistical planning. This gives me a bit of a kudos uplift in the eyes of the practical people. I can distract them with my logical processes and proven methodologies, before sneaking in a quick ‘one-two’ of change management technique. BOOM. They barely noticed…

However, even if you’re not coming to the role with a specific and tangible practical deliverable, you need to find a way to anchor your role in the dynamic of the project team. Build a project plan, list your milestones – demonstrate to the practical people that your role is structured and focussed. You may well be working with a team with limited exposure to your type of role. Use this as an opportunity to educate and deliver.

3. Speak their language
An obvious point perhaps, but generally speaking project teams respect straight talkers. Whilst I love the opportunity to rattle on about workplace transition and change in the jargon and euphemism of my peers, there is no point in pushing florid terminology down the throats of those who just want to get things done. Start waffling on about ‘change visioning’ and you’ll lose people. Stick with a ‘what the organisation wants to look like in 5 years time’ and you’ll have a far fewer eyeball rolls. Gradually introduce terminology to the sceptics and before you know it, they may even start using it themselves.

4. Stealth Engagement
This is my favourite bit as it’s where I get to ironically use the very weapons against which they are resisting, to change their attitudes. It’s about as close as I’m ever going to get to Jedi mind-tricks. Work with the unbelievers to help identify exactly where their misgivings lie. Nine times out of ten, the primary issue will be that they don’t understand what you’re really going to be doing. The best way to tackle this is to ensure you are fully embedded in the project team itself. Make sure you are at every regular meeting, providing reports and feeding activity into the master programme. Share key documents that you’re working on and allow the team to be educated through witnessing your process.

5. Grin and Bear It
It’s a universal truth that in every job (not just the job of the change manager) there will be an individual with whom it’s virtually impossible to build an effective relationship. In my experience, being warm, friendly and employing some of the tactics above will win over the vast majority of people to a point where you can work well together. However, there is always the risk that someone will not want to play the game. I think you have to be pretty unlucky for it to be someone who is critical to your role, but it does happen. An important thing to remember is that if you’re working effectively with everyone else, the chances are that your Patrick Batemanalike is a wild card, a rogue, a maverick irritation – someone who probably does not have a history of wild popularity within the organisation.

Obviously, if required you should use your finely tuned communication skills to escalate the problem in relation to very specific, demonstrable matters. But sometimes, you just have to roll with the punches and accept that the universe has conspired against you to make you spend more on Sav Blanc. The joy of project work is that there’s always an end date – my advice is to suck it up until you’re firmly over the finish line and try not to require a liver transplant at the end.

About Michelle Morss
Michelle has been managing moves and workplace transition projects for the past twelve years and is still not really sure how that happened. Friends and family generally consider it the result of extreme masochism. Having graduated from the University of Oxford with an MA in Modern History, Michelle has a fire in her belly for feminist issues, independent travel, modern literature and the value of a well-crafted knitting pattern. Currently working in a regional consulting role based out of Hong Kong, but ex London, via Sydney.