Making Change Work: Why Utilities Need Change Management

Many times organizations are reluctant to engage change management programs, plans and teams. More often, change management programs are launched too late in the project process, are only moderately funded or are absorbed within the team as part-time responsibilities – all of which we’ve seen happen time and again in the utility industry.

“Making Change Work,” an IBM study done in collaboration with the Center of Evaluation and Methods at Bonn University, analyzed the factors for successful implementation of change. The scope of this study, released in 2007, is now being expanded because the project management and change management professions, formerly aligned, are now at a turning point of differentiation. The reason is simple: too many projects fail to consider both components as critical to success – and therefore lack insight into the day-today impact of a change on members of the organization.

Despite this, many organizations have been reluctant to implement change management programs, plans and teams. And when they have put such programs in place, the programs tend to be launched too late in the project process, are inadequately funded or are perceived as part-time tasks that can be assigned to members of the project management team.

WHAT IS CHANGE MANAGEMENT?

Change management is a structured approach to business transformation that manages the transition from a current state to a desired future state. Far from being static or rigid, change management is an ever-evolving program that varies with the needs of the organization. Effective change management involves people and provides open communication.

Change management is as important as project management. However, whereas project management is a tactical activity, change management represents a strategic initiative. To understand the difference, consider the following

  • Change management is the process of driving corporate strategy by identifying, addressing and managing barriers to change across the organization or enterprise.
  • Project management is the process of implementing the tools needed to enable or mobilize the corporate strategy.

Change management is an ongoing process that works in close concert with project management. At any given time at least one phase of change management should be occurring. More likely, multiple phases will be taking place across various initiatives.

A change management program can be tailored to manage the needs of the organizational culture and relationships. The program must close the gaps among workforce, project team and sponsor leadership during all phases of all projects. It does this by:

  • Ensuring proper alignment of the organization with new technology and process requirements;
  • Preparing people for new processes and technology through training and communication;
  • Identifying and addressing human resource implications such as job definitions, union negotiations and performance measures;
  • Managing the reaction of both individuals and the entire organization to change; and
  • Providing the right level of support for ongoing implementation success.

The three fundamental activities of a change management program are leading, communicating and engaging. These three activities should span the project life cycle to maintain both awareness of the change and its momentum (Figure 1).

KEY ELEMENTS OF A CHANGE PROGRAM

There are three best practice elements that make the difference between successful projects and less successful projects: [1]

Organizational awareness for the challenges inherent in any change. This involves the following:

  • Getting a real understanding of – and leadership buy-in to – the stakeholders and culture;
  • Recognizing the interdependence of strategy and execution;
  • Ensuring an integrated strategy approach linking business strategy, operations, organization design and change and technology strategy; and
  • Educating leadership on change requirements and commitment.

Consistent use of formal methods for change management. This should include:

  • Covering the complete life cycle – from definition to deployment to post-implementation optimization;
  • Allowing for easy customization and flexibility through a modular design;
  • Incorporating change management and value realization components into each phase to increase the likelihood of success; and
  • Providing a published plan with ongoing accountability and sponsorship as well as continuous improvement.

A specified share of the project budget that is invested in change management. This should involve:

  • Investing in change linked to project success. Projects that invest more than 10 percent of the project budget have an average of 45 percent success (Figure 2). [2]
  • Assigning the right resources to support change management early on and maintaining the required support. This also limits the adverse impacts of change on an organization’s productivity (Figure 3). [3]

WHY DO UTILITIES NEED CHANGE MANAGEMENT?

Utilities today face a unique set of challenges. For starters, they’re simultaneously dealing with aging infrastructures and aging workforces. In addition, there are market pressures to improve performance, become more “green” and mitigate rising energy costs. To address these realities, many utilities are seeking mergers and acquisition (M&A) opportunities as well as implementing new technologies.

The cost cutting of the past decade combined with M&As has left utilities with gaps in workforce experience as well as budget challenges. Yet utilities are facing major business disruptions going into the next decade and beyond. To cope with these disruptions, companies are implementing new technologies such as the intelligent grid, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), meter data management (MDM), enterprise asset management (EAM) and work management systems (WMS’s). It’s not uncommon for utilities to be implementing multiple new systems simultaneously that affect the day-to-day activities of people throughout the organization, from frontline workers to senior managers.

A change management program can address a number of challenges specific to the utilities industry.

CULTURAL CLIMATE: ‘BUT WE’RE DIFFERENT’

A utility is a utility is a utility. But a deeper look into individual businesses reveals nuances in their relationships with both internal and external stakeholders that are unique to each company. A change management team must intimately understand these relationships. For example, externally how is the utility perceived by regulators, customers, the community and even analysts? As for internal relationships, how do various operating divisions relate and work together? Some operating divisions work well together on project teams and respect each other and their differences; others do not.

There may be cultural differences, but work is work. Only change management can address these relationships. Knowing the utility’s cultural climate and relationships will help shape each phase of the change management program, and allow change management professionals to customize a project or system implementation to fit a company’s culture.

REGULATORY LANDSCAPE

With M&As and increasing market pressures across the United States, the regulatory landscape confronting utilities is becoming more variable. We’ve seen several types of regulatory-related challenges.

Regulatory pressure. Whether regulators mandate or simply encourage new technology implementations can make a significant difference in how stakeholders in a project behave. In general, there’s more resistance to a new technology when it’s required versus voluntarily implemented. Change management can help work through participant behaviors and mitigate obstacles so that project work can continue as planned.

Multiple regulatory jurisdictions. Many utilities with recently expanded footprints following M&As now have to manage requests from and expectations of multiple regulatory commissions. Often these commissions have different mandates. Change management initiatives are needed to work through the complexity of expectations, manage multiple regulatory relationships and drive utilities toward a unified corporate strategy.

Regulatory evolution. Just as markets evolve, so do regulatory influences and mandates. Often regulators will issue orders that can be interpreted in many ways. They may even do this to get information in the form of reactions from their various constituents. Whatever the reason, the reality is that utilities are managing an ever-changing portfolio of regulations. Change management can better prepare utilities for this constant change.

OPERATIONS MATURITY

When new systems and technologies being implemented encompass multiple operating divisions, it can be difficult for stakeholders to agree on operating standards or processes. Project team members representing the various operating regions can resist compromise for fear of losing control. This often occurs when utilities are attempting to integrate systems across operating regions following an acquisition.

Change management helps ensure that various constituents – for example, the regional operating divisions – are prepared for eminent business transformation. In large organizations, this preparation period can take a year or more. But for organizations to realize the benefits of new systems and technology implementations, they must be ready to receive the benefits. Readiness and preparedness are largely the responsibilities of the change management team.

ORGANIZATIONAL COHESIVENESS

The notion of organizational cohesiveness is that across the organization all constituents are equally committed to the business transformation initiative and have the same understanding of the overarching corporate strategy while also performing their individual roles and responsibilities.

Senior executives must align their visions and common commitment to change. After all, they set the tone for change through their respective organizations. If they are not in sync with each other, their organizations become silos, and business processes are less likely to be fluid across organizational boundaries. Frontline managers and associates must, in turn, be engaged and enthusiastic about the transformations to come.

Organizational cohesiveness is especially critical during large systems implementations involving utility field operations. Leaders at multiple locations must be ready to communicate and support change – and this support must be visible to the workforce. Utilities must understand this requirement at the beginning of a project to make change manageable, realistic and personal enough to sustain momentum. All too often, we’ve heard team members comment, “We had a lot of leadership at the project kickoff, but we really haven’t seen leadership at any of our activities or work locations since then. The project team tells us what to do.”

Moreover, leadership – when removed from the project – usually will not admit that they’re in the dark about what’s going on. Yet their lack of involvement will not escape the attention of frontline employees. Once the supervisor is perceived as lacking information – and therefore power – it’s all over. Improving customer service and quality, cutting costs and adopting new technology-merging operations all require changing employees. [4]

For utilities, the concept of organizational cohesiveness is especially important because just as much technology “lives” outside IT as inside. Yet the engineers who use this non-IT-controlled technology – what Gartner calls “operations technology” – are usually disconnected from the IT world in terms of both practical planning and execution. However, these worlds must act as one for a company to be truly agile. [5]

Change management methods and tools ensure that organization cohesiveness exists through project implementation and beyond.

UNION ENGAGEMENT

Successful change occurs with a sustained partnership among union representatives throughout the project life cycle. Project leadership and union leadership must work together and partner to implement change. Union representation should be on the project team. Representatives can be involved in process reviews, testing and training, or asked to serve as change champions. In addition, communication is critical throughout all phases of a project. Frontline employees must see real evidence of how this change will benefit them. Change is personal: everyone wants to know how his or her job will be impacted.

There should also be union representation in training activities, since workers tend to be more receptive to peer-to-peer support. Utilities should, for example, engage union change champions to help co-workers during training and to be site “go to” representatives. Utilities should also provide advance training and recognize all who participate in it.

Union representatives should also participate in design and/or testing, since they will be able to pinpoint issues that will impact routine daily tasks. It could be something as simple as changing screen labels per their recommendation to increase user understanding.

More than one union workforce may be involved in a project. Location cultures that exist in large service territories or that have resulted from mergers may try to isolate themselves from the project team and resist change. Utilities should assemble a team from various work groups and then do the following to address the history and differences in the workforce:

  • Request ongoing union participation throughout the life of the project.
  • Include union roles as part of the project charter and define these roles with union leadership.
  • Provide a kickoff overview to union leadership.
  • Include union representation in work process development with balanced representation from various areas. Union employees know the job and can quickly identify the pros and cons of work tasks. A structured facilitation process and issue resolution process is required.
  • Assign a corporate human resource or labor relations role to review processes that impact the union workforce.
  • Develop communication campaigns that address union concerns, such as conducting face-to-face presentations at employing locations and educating union leaders prior to each change rollout.
  • Involve union representatives in training and user support.

Change management is necessary to sort through the relationships of multiple union workforces so that projects and systems can be implemented.

AN AGING WORKFORCE

A successful change management program will help mitigate the aging workforce challenges utilities will be facing for many years to come.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A SUCCESSFUL CHANGE MANAGEMENT PROGRAM

The result of a successful change management program is a flexible organization that’s responsive to customer needs, regulatory mandates and market pressures, and readily embraces new technologies and systems. A change-ready organization anticipates, expects and is increasingly comfortable with change and exhibits the following characteristics:

  • The organization is aligned.
  • The leaders are committed.
  • Business processes are developed and defined across all operational units.
  • Associates at all levels have received communications and have continued access to resources.

Facing major business transformations and unique industry challenges, utilities cannot afford not to engage change management programs. This skill set is just as critical as any other role in your organization. Change is a cost. Change should be part of the project budget.

Change is an ongoing, long-term investment. Good change management designed specifically for your culture and challenges minimizes change’s adverse effect on daily productivity and helps you reach and sustain project goals.

ENDNOTES

  1. “Making Change Work” (an IBM study), Center of Evaluation and Methods, Bonn University, 2007; excerpts from “IBM Integrated Strategy and Change Methodology,” 2007.
  2. “Making Change Work,” Center of Evaluation and Methods, Bonn University, 2007.
  3. Ibid.
  4. T.J. Larkin and Sandar Larkin, “Communicating Change: Winning Employee Support for New Business Goals,” McGraw Hill, 1994, p. 31.
  5. K. Steenstrup, B. Williams, Z. Sumic, C. Moore; “Gartner’s Energy and Utilities Summit: Agility on Both Sides of the Divide”; Gartner Industry Research ID Number G00145388; Jan. 30, 2007; p. 2.
  6. P. R. Bruffy and J. Juliano, “Addressing the Aging Utility Workforce Challenge: ACT NOW,” Montgomery Research 2006 journal.