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Change Management: Keeping Employees Motivated During Multiyear Projects

People are naturally resistant to change. Employees facing organizational change that will impact day-to-day operations are no exception, and they can feel threatened or fearful of what that change will bring. Even more challenging are multiyear initiatives where the project’s completion is years away.

How can your agency or organization help employees prepare for change—and stay motivated for an outcome—many years in the making?


Start With the Individual

Organizational change requires individual change. For the change to be successful and lasting, an agency should apply organizational change management strategies that help lead people to your desired outcome.
With any new project or initiative, people need to understand why the project is happening before they support it. Communicate the reasons for the change—and the benefit to the employee (what’s in it for them)—so each individual is more inclined to actively support the project. Clearly communicating the why at the onset of the project can help employees feel vested in, and part of, the change. As Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but building the new.” A clear vision can inspire each employee’s desire for the “new” to succeed.

Shift to Individual Goals

It’s a challenge to maintain your employees’ motivation for an organizational change occurring over the long haul. Below are some suggestions on how to sustain interest and enthusiasm for multi-year projects:

1. Break the project down into smaller, specific milestones. Short-term goals highlight important deadlines and create tangible progress points to reach and celebrate. The master project schedule should be an integration of the organizational change management plan and the project management plan so any resource constraints you identify in the project management plan also become an input when identifying change management resources and activity levels. This integration also highlights the importance of key organizational change management milestones and activities in an effort to ensure they are on a parallel tack as traditional project tasks.

2. Effectively communicate status updates and successes. In large, agency-wide projects, there are often a variety of stakeholders, each with different communication expectations and needs. The methods, content, and frequency of communication will vary accordingly. Develop a communications strategy as part of your organizational change management plan, to identify who will be responsible to send communications, when and how they will be sent, key messages of the communications, and what feedback mechanisms are in place to continue the conversation after initial delivery. For example, the project team needs a different level of detail than the legislature, or the public. Making the content relevant to each stakeholder group is important because it gives each group what they need to know so they don’t drown in a flood of unneeded information.

3. Create buy-in by involving employees. A feeling of ownership naturally results from participation in a project, which helps increase enthusiasm. Often the time to do this is when discussing changes to business processes. Once you determine the mandatory features of the future state, (e.g., financial controls, legal requirements, legislative mandates) consider including stakeholder feedback on decisions more focused on preference. It is important for stakeholders to see their suggestions accepted and implemented, or if not implemented, that there was at least a structured process for thoughtfully considering their feedback, and a business case for why their suggestions didn’t make it into the project.

4. Conduct lessons learned assessments after each major milestone. The purpose of conducting lessons learned activities is to capture what worked and what didn’t. Using surveys or other feedback systems, such as debrief meetings, allows stakeholders to voice their thoughts or concerns. By soliciting feedback after each milestone, leadership can quickly adapt to challenges, address any misunderstandings or concerns, and capitalize on successes.

5. Reinforce how the project meets the goals of the agency or organization. Maintaining enthusiasm and support for a long-term goal takes a constant reminder of the overall organizational goals. It is important for senior leadership to communicate the impact of the project on the agency or organization and to stakeholders and keep the project at the forefront of people’s minds. Project goals may change during the duration of the project, but the project sponsor should continue to be active and visible in communicating the goals and leading the project.

Change is difficult—change that is years in the making is even more challenging. Applying a structured organizational change management process and using these tips can help keep employees energized and help ensure you reach the desired project goals.

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