Claire Abbott

The Importance of Expectations and Alignment During Change

It is an ingrained practice for the majority of change management consultants, client expectation alignment. The process of having the client express their expectations of change management and the continuous communication and alignment with the client to promote shared understanding.

Drawing from experience, this is usually well managed with leaders of projects by initiating and maintaining sponsor updates. Along with the standard project status update, delivery against contract is discussed and expectations are aligned, ensuring the client can see the fruits of their investment, should they not already have done so.

Over time though, what has become glaringly obvious, is the fact that a fair number of resources that make up project teams may not have that same understanding around what to expect from change management. In addition to this, the change management consultant may also have set expectations of what project teams need to have in place in order for delivery to occur. From experience, expectations between these two parties are often grossly misaligned.

From a change management consultant’s perspective, the inclination or rather the expectation is:

  • To start the project off with a project team that has a high-level understanding of what change management is and what it can offer in terms of value. There is an expectation that the project team has had a discussion regarding the introduction of the change management role into the project space, there was a need, team members were engaged, and a resource was onboarded.
  • Change Management Consultants have high expectations of project governance and artefacts being in place.
  • Project resources have been duly allocated to the project.
  • Project team members have worked in projects before and are aware of project methodologies.
  • Project team members all have the same goal and shared understanding.

Likewise, the project team members have their own expectations of the role that change management should fulfil. I have seen this misalignment manifest in the following ways within the project space:

  • Speculations around the presence and role of the consultant. This can create unspoken tension.
  • Team members being hesitant to share project related information or any other information that may possibly be helpful.
  • Members being protective of the relationships built with key stakeholders and cautious to allow the change manager "in".
  • Scope creep.
  • Request for work outside of agreed responsibilities.

A cauldron for "hit and miss" change management strategies.

As discussed above, we tend to make sure that the sponsor and leaders of the project are always well aligned. The key, however, also lies in the alignment of the project team.

So how do change managers keep expectations in check between the project team and the change function and why is it even important?

Initiate introductions

A key point of departure when entering the client site is for the change manager to introduce themselves to the team and to socialise the change strategy they foresee working best within the client’s space. From personal experience, an important step to take but sometimes taken when the change consultants understanding of the project is in its infancy. So much can evolve from this point on.

Appreciate different perspectives

From a behavioural psychology perspective, it is important that the change consultant is aware of their own constructed reality, recognising the fact that others will construct their own version of reality based on their lived experiences and narratives. Bringing it back to project speak, project team members may have their own pre-conceived ideas of what change management is, stemming from what they have previously experienced (or not) or what they have been told. We need to recognise this and change the narrative should it be misrepresented. We also need to be aware that not all project resources have worked on projects before and may not understand project methodologies and terminology.

Keeping Expectations in Check Between Project Team and Change Function Infographic

Educate for alignment

A lot of misalignment exists out of pure misunderstanding. Change consultants need to educate their project team about change management. Using engagement sessions to educate the change network may also aid in clearing up some of the misunderstanding.

Be resourceful

In terms of project artefacts not being in place (i.e.: Project plans, Business scoping documents etc…), resourcefulness is key. Change Managers need to source information in different ways, influence people to obtain snippets of information, engage to overcome passive resistance and build rapport, enlist collaborators and try and bring value to the client without needing to stop delivery as a result of these items not being available for use.

In certain instances, some crucial conversations might need to take place. These tend to be the most difficult as it requires a face to face discussion with the individual to try and resolve issues. Vitalsmarts: Crucial Conversations course teaches you to ‘’start with heart’’. The key here is to be genuine in one’s communication approach. Understand before engaging exactly what one wants, not only from the conversation but with one’s relationship with the person post the discussion. More likely than not, both parties want to resolve the matter.

In summary:

  • Change management introductory sessions are important but may need to evolve as the change consultant becomes clearer on project structures, stakeholders, intent and objectives.
  • Recognise that everyone operates from their own reality and not necessarily someone else’s. Change the narrative that project team members may experience.
  • Find ways to educate project team members and the change network on change management.
  • Be resourceful. Source your information through different mediums and stakeholders. Don’t rely solely on project artefacts whether in place or not.
  • Crucial conversations may be necessary, keep in mind to "start with heart".