Tired but true is the statement that we can be sure that change is the only constant. Managing projects for new product development (NPD) is the ultimate in change management. We are intentionally trying to create change in the marketplace by implementing a variety of technologies with new or improved brands and product categories. You might even ask, “Why do a project unless it brings about change?”
Unfortunately, change is difficult, especially for organizations. Individuals often feel threatened by change for a number of reasons. Some barriers to change include:
- Economic security,
- Fear of the unknown,
- Threats to social relationships,
- Habit, and
- Failure to recognize the need for change.
Project managers must help team members overcome these threats to change in order to deliver a successful outcome to a new product or service development project.
Three tips to help manage change in projects are:
- Transparency, and
We’ll cover each of these topics in a three-part series at the Idea Incubator blog.
Listening is perhaps the most important leadership skill any of us can master. Effective listening requires actively engaging in hearing the speaker; understanding his/her point of view; and providing feedback to confirm, clarify, and probe for more information.
Active listening includes making eye contact with the speaker, using gestures (such as nodding or smiling) to encourage the speaker to continue, and paying attention to what the speaker is communicating.
It is tough in today’s busy world to practice active listening. We are distracted by our smartphones, and because we are in a hurry, we spend most of the time while a person is speaking planning what we’ll say next. Frankly, it is not surprising to hear of the breakdown of the family unit when we observe members of families more engaged with their devices over dinner than sharing a conversation.
Because change is threatening to individuals and organizations, the project manager must spend time listening to concerns and issues. Maybe there is a strategic plan designed to handle the question, yet individuals need to express their concerns and need to be heard. For example, a command and control style will result in poor management of project changes. If a team member expresses concern regarding his/her role on the project team, the worst thing a project manager can do is say, “Don’t worry. You’ve always got a job here.” Such a response does not indicate that the speaker has really been heard.
A more effective response is to actively listen to the team member’s concerns. Make inquiries regarding his/her expected role, career plans, and desired learning and growth plans. Even new team members and inexperienced employees have hopes and dreams. They also believe in a set of skills and capabilities that they can bring to the project to enhance its outcomes.
Even when project team members are pre-assigned, the project leader should “interview” all team members individually. In this way, the project manager can learn for himself/herself the capabilities, skills, and motivation of each team member. Of course, a project leader should be aware of the natural human phenomenon to overstate our capabilities and validate skill sets of team members with human resources and subject matter experts.
In some cases, team members will be reluctant to try new things – fear of change! As discussed in a related post, Goal-Setting in Project Management, stretch goals can be motivating for team members. Listening to and understanding team members’ career perspectives can help the project manager to set appropriate goals and objectives for the project work. These are reflected in the project roles and responsibilities documentation (such as the RACI chart showing responsible, accountable, consult, and inform roles). Working toward a stretch goal will inspire individuals to achieve a positive change that is personally rewarding.
Every project has a handful of resistors. These team members prefer the status quo and may resist the change because they fail to recognize the need for change. Many employees with years of experience are jaded – implying that this is just another “flavor of the month”. They resist as they view the change as unnecessary and threatening to their current power and influence in the organization.
Active listening will help the project manager understand the resistor’s point of view. However, in many cases, no amount of understanding and feedback will pacify a strong resistor. It may be necessary in isolated situations to employ the “command and control” management style and tell the resistor that change is coming – like it or not.
On the other hand, resistors often can share valid gaps or insufficiencies in the change management plan. It is important for the project manager to dig deep and listen for the unspoken needs to confirm or deny the validity of a resistor’s negative response to change.
Active Listening for Change Management
Change is the basis for all projects. We are creating a new product or service for the very purpose of initiating change. Yet, project team members may be reluctant to accept the type or pace of change. Project leaders should deploy active listening, transparency, and processes to help smooth the transition. Active listening includes full engagement with the speaker, providing feedback, and validating concerns of resistors.
To learn more about engineering and project management tools for innovation, you can read Chapter 7 of “NPDP Certification Exam Prep” guide available at Amazon.
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