We had the privilege of sitting down with Louise Gibson, a seasoned project manager and change manager, to delve into her journey of transformation, and her experiences in navigating the landscape of change management.
Louise, could you start by sharing your current role and the journey of change you’ve embarked on?
Of course! My journey to this point has been quite the rollercoaster. I started my career as a police officer back in 2005 and gradually transitioned into project roles. In these roles, I found myself managing projects spanning personnel uplift, accommodation, fleet management and even changing the way we responded to emergency incidents.
Then, in 2021, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) initiated an Oracle implementation, which prompted my transition into a full-fledged change management role. This transition was pivotal because, unlike “headmaster” approach of a project manager, change management brought warmth and a listening ear to the forefront.
It’s interesting how you made that transition from the structured world of project management to the more people-centric realm of change management. What were some initial challenges you encountered when you started your journey in change management?
One of the biggest challenges we faced was the lack of a clear roadmap for change. We struggled to understand the full impacts of change and lacked essential tools like impact assessments, change plans, communication strategies, and training plans. It felt like we were navigating in the dark.
We were working closely with an external supplier who was primarily focused on driving the implementation, while we were responsible for driving the change within the organisation. But we didn’t have any knowledge or experience in this, so, I quickly recognised the need for proper training to bridge this gap and went forward to find a training company.
I took the time to research and read reviews extensively to find the right training company that would support me to gain a change management qualification. I chose ChangeQuest because the reviews and the expertise they offered stood out to me.
We already had access to the change managers handbook, but we were getting overwhelmed by it. We had people trying to help us to gain more information, they were recommending books like ‘who moved my cheese’, which is a great book, but not when you’re very first trying to understand change management and do a transformation on this scale. You really need experienced people to guide you through the change with their experience.
So how did this then shape your approach to change management and impact your work as a change manager?
The training was a game-changer. It provided us with the confidence and tools we needed to navigate our way through change. We began creating templates, communication strategies, training plans, and change impact assessments. We put together swim lanes of what was going to be done and when. The training really gave us the confidence to be able to run with it and think, well we might not know 100% what we’re doing, but we know enough to make this work.
One of the big things that I took away from learning about change management, and what made it different to what I had done in project management, is that I have to empower other people to take the change forward. A really useful thing from the course, was how to consider the change journey for someone else, to step into their shoes, and ‘meet them at their bus stop’ as you say Ranjit, to see what it is that will motivate them and make the change land with them.
Our change team consisted of various roles, including our Chief Inspector, who played a crucial role in engaging senior officers. We had an inspector, who liaised between the Chief Inspector and our team. We had a communications officer, and another person led the training efforts. This diverse team helped us manage change effectively.
Your approach seems well-structured. Could you share how your change management approach impacted the overall outcome of the project?
Well for starters, the transformation received commendations and was deemed a success by our stakeholders and sponsor, who highlighted the pivotal role of change management in many of the interviews he was asked to do following the implementation. He started off being interviewed by ERP Today and that just snowballed into more communications and articles on the success of the transformation. Also, balancing the programme manager’s drive for project delivery with our focus on bringing people along with us was essential and what I think drove the overall outcome and success.
We also set up a change agent network, initially targeting those interested in career development by using the change agent role as an opportunity for our stakeholder community to use the role to gain a path to promotion. We put the vacancy notice out and we promoted it as a development opportunity. Letting people know that it was a new implementation, how they could support people and we made that a connection to their desire to get promoted because you could use this as evidence for the promotion board. And that’s when it started to really expand as more people saw the opportunity to develop.
As word spread, more people joined, and we used different communication channels to engage them effectively. We went from around 45 change agents to about 170 without a lot of effort, just by having the right communications in place and sticking to our five key messages.
The end to end transformation journey spanned about a year and a half. Proper governance and effective communication also played significant roles in this change, allowing us to adapt and succeed.
Finally, Louise, what advice would you offer to those considering a career in change management and contemplating change management training?
I believe change management skills are essential. This sets you apart and equips you with the essential tools and knowledge to handle change effectively. Even having the qualification badge beneath your signature can make a difference in how others perceive your expertise.
I’ve come to realise that giving space and value to change is paramount as it runs in parallel with project delivery. What the change management training has given me is a powerful dual approach to transformation. I am confident enough with the change side now and can integrate this with project plans. I have a combined role now – I am doing project management and change management, so it’s a very useful skill to have and I believe change management is helpful for all project managers.
Louise’s journey from policing to change management is a testament to the power of adaptability and the importance of proper training in managing change effectively. Her insights into balancing project delivery with people-centric change management are helpful for anyone considering a career in this field.
Thank you, Louise, for sharing your valuable insights and experiences in the field of project and change management. We appreciate your time and expertise.