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Sustainment Plan: Getting the Change to Stick

The ultimate measure in assessing the success of your change management plan is simple – have people adopted the change and are they actively owning its continued practice? You can do all the stakeholder/impact analyses and communicating/training you want, but in the end, if your teams don’t adopt and continue to do whatever new behaviors are required, then your change management efforts have failed.

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Recognizing Progress

Change is hard work.  And people should be recognized for making progress on the journey to behaviors that are new to them.

We’d spoken about the move from awareness to understanding to adoption to ownership.  More important is the emotional journey that individuals take from shock, confusion, fear, anger, whatever (depending on how the message is delivered and the type of preparation they’ve been able to do) to understanding, belonging, possibility and optimism.  Change managers and organizational development specialists can support employees along the way and minimize unproductive downtime in what a colleague of mine has called the “valley of despair.”

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Measuring the Success of Your Change Efforts

We’ve spoken before about the balance of art and science in change management, and it’s impossible for me to land on one being more important than the other. Intuition and the ability to read people (as individuals and groups) are paramount to success in this work. When I interview people with great process/program management experience but few “soft skills” or an appreciation for how culture plays into change, I generally recommend them for a project manager rather than a change manager role.

That said, a comprehensive change management plan requires rigor and structure if you want to give your initiative the greatest chance of delivering the business benefits it’s meant to have. In a LinkedIn post (, I wrote about the different phases of change management and now would like to dive a bit deeper into monitoring organizational progress activities of that middle phase. Through surveys (with both quantitative and qualitative elements), you’ll be able to provide executive leaders with tangible benefits that demonstrate the value that change management has had on impacted stakeholders and the adoption of new processes, systems or organizational structure that are being implemented.

Supporting a broad range of process and systems changes that my former company actioned over the past year, I fielded a brief survey three times to help me understand better where our employees were on the journey from awareness to understanding to adoption to ownership. I kept the survey short (ten questions with a 1-5 rating and three open ended questions) to ensure better response and was able to report findings based on business unit, department, location and position in company. (Tenure with company was a dimension I missed.) The objective was not so much to place blame on teams that were moving slower than others but to engage in conversation with their managers to understand the conditions that might be impeding understanding or adoption. By conducting regular surveys, I could not only see rates of progress within departments but areas where “backsliding” had occurred to have a better understanding of sustainment issues as we went through the changes.

My greatest learnings were three-fold:

• Many business leaders like to lead with facts – and quantifiable data can build more effective arguments for action. Additionally, reports with charts/graphs make the value of change management more concrete, as they seem less subjective than mere “coffee conversations.”

• Quantitative surveys helped focus my follow-up conversations because I could see from the results which departments’ issues were of greater magnitude than others and how they were tracking over time. That data led me to immediate action in terms of holding additional “focus groups” with those teams or one-on-one conversations with those leaders. Because the survey itself was purposefully short, I couldn’t get all the answers from the data roll-up. Nonetheless, I had enough information to direct additional inquiries and help employees get unstuck.

• Graphic representation of progress is a very effective way to summarize how an initiative is landing for senior executives. They can see at a glance how the organization is progressing as a whole and where there might be problems.

My final advice to share on this topic: be conscious of the workload of your employees and other survey activities that are going on when you field yours. We know that many of our employees already feel stretched in their day-to-day work. Long surveys that come at the wrong time or “yet another” in a stream of questionnaires can lead to a low response rate. Without a robust sample, your data and the conclusions you draw from them will be limited in value.

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Stakeholder Analysis: the Cornerstone of Change Management

My colleagues and I have recently been working on a large project to revamp a core process for the company. In that work, I am reminded of how critical stakeholder analysis is to the success of any change initiative. It is so important to think broadly and thoroughly identify all the functions and people who will be impacted by the proposed change – so you are not caught off guard when an overlooked stakeholder torpedoes the project with a question about how they’re supposed to complete their work now that xy&z has changed. (We witnessed that in a separate project a few months ago and lost time doubling back to retrofit a solution and incorporate the forgotten interdependency.)

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A Trifecta for Effective Change Management

I started up the Change Readiness & Sustainment department at my former company in December 2014, and I thought that sharing my experiences and thoughts on the subject of change management might be valuable to others.

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Context Always: Sage Advice in Change Management

So often, project teams are so deep in the work of the system or process they’re designing that they forget about the path they traveled to get to where they are. As a result, when it comes time to roll out the program, their definition of “the beginning” may not be at all where someone with less information may need to start.

In consulting with colleagues about communication regarding whatever program they’re rolling out (as well as training that’s in development), the most frequent advice I give is to provide more context.

Give the bigger picture of how this project came to be.

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Engaging Your Stakeholders in Change Management

This article is short, and it focuses on engagement. Getting stakeholders to participate in conversation and the work of incorporating change into the business.

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It’s More Than Just Having Coffee

An important distinction between project management and change management* is that change management requires a keen sense of what’s going on in the organization – what people are experiencing and feeling that will affect how receptive they are to learn about and adopt a proposed process, systems or organizational change. As a result, it’s important to have built vehicles to sense “vibrations” in your company before you embark on any major change initiatives. Conversation over coffee can be one such vehicle.

Beyond sensing, however, is a whole range of additional programs that are needed to ensure the successful movement of an organization from awareness to understanding to adoption to ownership.

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The Value of Repetition

As I note in my first blog post on change management (, I continue to discover simple truisms as I work in change management. One of the most important to remember is “people only hear when they’re ready to hear” which is why it’s important to practice patience as a Change Leader and repeat key messages many times to ensure that they stick.

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Change Agents: Engaging the Organization from Top to Bottom

“Ask the right people… my manager doesn’t know what I do.”

That was probably the most important response we got from a baseline survey we fielded soon after I started in the change management role in my former company. While I had planned to initiate a change agent strategy to support the implementation of our initiatives (as most change management theories recommend), I had targeted influential “middle managers” as the primary lever to facilitate change in the organization.

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The Importance of Sponsorship in Change Management

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past several weeks about the importance of executive sponsorship in project implementation and coincidentally, in a Prosci certification course that I attended this week, it was cited as the single most critical factor in successful change management. Effective executive sponsorship can increase a project’s chance of achieving its intended business benefits from 25% to 85%.1

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Where Should Change Management Sit in Your Organization?

It’s an interesting question. Where should Change Management sit within an organization? The short answer is: where it can be most effective.

At my former company, we asked that question a lot and contemplated different organizational models. While I’m glad that the value my team has provided in supporting the implementation of key business initiatives resulted in a “play” for our services, it’s not easy to determine the best place for change management to reside, organizationally, to serve a company optimally. Because we work with many cross-functional partners and support a range of change initiatives, there are a number of adjacencies that make sense and could work. Below is a quick list of pros and cons for each.

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Leading in the Moment – “What’s Needed Now?”

As outlined on our homepage, there many tools that can help teams plan, execute and measure the impact, implementation and success of a specific initiative. And while there may be a logical sequence in working through these tools, the process, when executed properly, is far from linear.

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You Can’t Go It Alone – Partnership with Sponsor and Project Management

I opened this series back in January referring to a trifecta for change management – the close coordination of content, training and change management to ensure the successful implementation of a project.

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How Do You Show Up in the Face of Change?

One of my goals in posting these articles is to stimulate conversation around specific topics and build community with other thought leaders in change management.

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Planned vs Unplanned Change

Most of what I’ve written about so far speaks to change initiatives for which the impact can be planned – largely in the area of process improvements or systems upgrades. In those instances, a change manager can deploy a range of tools to prepare for change, lead through it and sustain a new norm.

But sometimes change just happens. In life, it can take the form of an earthquake or tornado or even the death of a loved one – where you’re forced to pick up the pieces and find a way forward. In business, the most common unplanned changes happen in organizational shifts – small changes like an individual employee’s resignation or large-scale reorganizations. Even if you know it’s coming, if you don’t know the details ahead of time, the change can be shocking and disruptive.

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