Although they don’t always recognize it, managers can make an enormous impact on the speed and success of important project implementations. Who else besides managers are able to observe daily whether Targets (those people most impacted by the change) are demonstrating the desired behaviors? Who else can provide both formal rewards (pay increases, promotional opportunities) and a whole range of informal rewards? Who else can make the Targets’ work life either “brighter” or “dimmer” through the application of positive and negative consequences? And who else can make the work effort required either easier or harder?
The Power of Consequences
There are three ways that managers directly impact implementation success and can support organizational change management efforts. These strategies and tactics are taught in IMA’s Action Learning Programs, including the Introduction to AIM
First, positive reinforcement is an extremely powerful weapon, and managers must understand how to use it appropriately. Managers can offer positive reinforcement when they catch people doing the right things in the right way—in other words, when they observe behaviors that are aligned with the future state. At the same time, managers must reduce the positive consequences for people who are still behaving in the old ways.
Remember that the range of rewards and reinforcement available to managers extends far beyond formal performance management systems. In fact, informal reinforcements are more powerful, because they can be applied immediately after the manager sees a person behaving in ways consistent with the desired change. Equally important, the manager can reward the person in ways that the individual him or herself values—in their own Frame of Reference.
Negative Consequences Impact Behavior Change
The second way that Managers support change management efforts is through the application of negative consequences to old or undesired behaviors. When a manager observes an undesired behavior, it must be dealt with quickly. At the beginning, the negative consequence can be addressed in small ways, but the strength of the punishment needs to increase with time.
For example, at the initial stages of a change, a manager might simply pull the employee aside as soon as the behavior occurs with a brief discussion. If the behavior continues, the severity of the “punishment” must increase as well, still personalized in the employee’s Frame of Reference.
Work Effort Counts Too
The third, and lesser known way that Managers can affect implementation management of strategic initiatives is by either increasing or decreasing the level of work effort. In a systems change, for instance, the Manager might require an individual to re-do a report that is presented in the old format (often, in an Excel spreadsheet). On the other hand, the work effort needed to complete the same report in the new system may be much easier.
By skillfully applying reinforcements, Managers can help ensure that there is alignment between what the organization says and what the organization does. This alignment is a critical element for accelerating implementation success and Project ROI.