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When we search the Internet for projects that are supported by change management (hereinafter referred to as CM), we are often dealing with projects in the IT environment that are associated with organisational changes. CM helps organisations to adapt to the changed boundary conditions caused by the IT project. At the same time, we read about difficulties in successfully implementing CM in such projects. In our view, there is too much focus on strategies and processes. And the human factor in change is neglected. Change projects are often met with rejection as soon as the word "change management" is mentioned. From a distance, it seems like a wild dance on a slippery floor. Such ailing projects are often relaunched and sometimes the whole thing looks like the unsuccessful work of Sissiphus.

What went wrong in these projects? Perhaps we can learn from dance sport what is important for successful change management projects. How can a change management project become a beautiful dance and not a Sissiphus' labour?

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of travelling to New York on the Queen Mary 2, a majestic transatlantic liner. Every evening a band played classical dance music. And - there were so-called dance hosts, who mainly gave single women travelling alone the chance to shake a leg at tea dances or at the evening balls. It is a festive setting and a typical classical dance lasts three to four minutes. The couples should have fun and of course not slip on the floor. And if we observe the floor and the dancers closely, we can see a recurring sequence of steps before, during and after the dance, almost a choreography:

  • Preparation for the dance
  • Invitation to dance
  • Positioning and posture of the dancers
  • The dance itself
  • Farewell at the end of the dance

Let's learn from the dance for a good, successful CM.

Preparation of the dance

A successful ballroom evening requires a sense of rhythm, knowledge of the standard dances and appropriate clothing and shoes. This is part of the value system of the classical dance community and emphasises the "why" why the dancers venture onto the dance floor.

Good preparation for an IT project requires attention to the values of change management - we call this MindSet. The people in the organisation should be activated, involved and made participants within the framework of CM. Change should be fun. Because CM does not work on command, by directive or procedural instruction. It is therefore important to look not only at strategies, processes, structures and behaviour, but above all at the people involved! A clear answer to the "why" is important. People want to understand the need for change. If there is no clear answer to the "why" of the change, no logical "why now?", priorities can be set incorrectly in normal day-to-day business. The basis, i.e. the values of change management, must be right, then the dance on the change floor will succeed.

Inviting people to dance

At least the older ones among us certainly remember their first dance lesson. Back then, the man learnt to ask his dance partner to dance, introduce himself to her and then accompany her onto the dance floor. Certainly many things are more equal today, but these three steps are not only very helpful when dancing.

On average, five to ten change projects are running simultaneously in companies in this country. However, only 20 per cent of projects are successful, according to the results of the Mutaree survey "Is change fun?".

And it often fails simply because of the invitation to dance together. It is important to proceed very carefully when selecting the right client or project and the right external change manager. Both sides should be open and transparent when getting to know each other and thoroughly explore the customer's pain points. The potential change manager's wealth of experience should also become apparent. This is where he shows his quality. Does he ask questions? Does he drill down into the "why" and "why now" for the project? Do they also investigate the human hurdles of the project?

The consultants also show a lot about themselves when they accompany the potential customer onto the dance floor of the contract to be concluded. The dance can only unfold its full effect and the team can move in the right direction together if the customer and the consultant are on a stable dance floor.

Positioning and posture of the dance partners

In classical dances, there is always a "second" before the actual dance. The couple touch each other, assume the dance position, build up body tension, decide who will "lead" and pick up the beat of the music. Only then does the adventure of dancing together begin with the first dance step.

And this is exactly how it should be at the start of change management in an IT project: New German "onboarding". The better this phase is planned, the easier the start of the actual work will be. Who are the stakeholders and who are the relevant people in the project? And finally: Who are the silent leaders in the project? Who does the change manager need to liaise with and who can the change manager liaise with? How does the organisation communicate and where is the best place for the change manager? Which IT systems must, should or can he or she master? The attitude to all these questions determines whether change management finds its place in the organisation. Good communication within the project team and the organisation is particularly important.

Allow yourselves this moment to catch your breath. Did we achieve the necessary physical tension and clarity during onboarding? Only then can the next step begin ... the actual change management, the actual dance!

The actual dance

Isn't it impressive that at an opening waltz in Vienna, for example, the countless couples don't "collide"? The secret lies in the direction of the dance, in the clarity of roles, who is leading and in focussing on clear communication within the dancing couple and with the couples in the immediate vicinity.

Regardless of which approach you choose from the large pool of change models, we believe that one motto is very important: "Do the right things and do things right"! Even in a CM project, communication within the management team and with those involved in the project should always be clear and transparent. The actions and direction should always be well coordinated and comprehensible for everyone involved (the dance couples in the environment). Managers in particular, as project participants - often referred to as stakeholders - should bear this in mind. It is not possible without collateral damage if a dancing couple decides to simply dance sideways or change direction. Even in IT projects, it must be clear who is leading and what role each stakeholder has.

Farewell at the end of the dance

Only when the music stops do the dancing couples end their dance together. And of course the partner is led off the dance floor, they say thank you and say goodbye.

This is how it should be in a change management project. Don't stop too early! Especially not for budget reasons! People like to save on CM. The new process should establish itself and become "normal". The change only ends with the successful completion of the IT project, i.e. when the band stops playing. And according to the motto "What goes and what stays", thanks should be expressed in a communicative manner at the end. Change management is successful when everyone involved is in the mood for a da Capo, a "Play again, Sam".

Would you like to find out more about exciting topics from the world of adesso? Then take a look at our previous blog posts..

Also interesting:

Picture Alexandra Windisch

Author Alexandra Windisch

Alexandra Windisch is a Principal Consultant at adesso Austria GesmbH. She has been working in IT projects for many years, including more than 15 years in agile roles and at adesso since 2017. As a passionate agilist and agile team leader, she drives business agility and self-organisation in the development area of adesso Austria as well as in the international guild of agilists at adesso SE. One of her hobbies is ballroom dancing.

Picture Andreas  Honert

Author Andreas Honert

Andreas Honert is a Managing Consultant in the Line of Business Insurance at adesso. As an active member of various communities of practice, he deals with the challenges of establishing an agile setting in organisations and the associated change support.

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