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Is there ever a ‘right’ time for organisational change?

Right time for organisational change

There may never be a ‘best’ time to implement change of any size at an organisation, and business thought leaders will often say that starting in the first place is better than taking months to plan for a perfect approach. 

But there are some quite obvious right and wrong times for organisational change to take place too. For example, you wouldn’t want to launch a new payroll system the day before payroll needs to be done! 

When we think about the timing of change, it’s first worth noting that not all events are foreseen. Often, the most important change management takes place when an outside factor forces an organisation to quickly react and mitigate against a new threat, changing market conditions or legislative updates. 

Reactive change management relies on pre-imposed procedures and strong leadership to successfully overcome. But when change is intentionally implemented and long-strategised, timing forms a core element of the discussion. 

Why timing matters in change management planning

Timing matters when it comes to planning organisational change as it can severely impact the success or failure of the project. 

For complex, large-scale structural changes to an organisation’s set-up, longer lead times are needed for effective planning, communication, resourcing and implementation. The final go-live date also needs enough headroom around it to allow for delays. 

Even for smaller changes, like switching to a new piece of business software, properly planning a research phase, followed by enough time to focus on implementation, is also important. 

The longer lead time you can give your teams to implement change allows more time to assess business readiness, to formulate a plan, assess any project threats and also gain buy-in from staff. 

Read more: Managing change in the workplace: 8 steps for success

But too long a project can lead to project apathy, and delays which roll into other planned projects can cause change fatigue as well. 

There are some clear good and bad times to implement change though, depending on what that change may be. 

Bad times to implement change

Is there ever a bad time to implement change? The answer is yes, depending on the circumstances. 

Examples could include:

  • Signing up for a new piece of HR software before a new HRD joins the company
  • Moving offices during your busiest operational periods, such as Christmas or the summer
  • Trying to upgrade business systems when most of your tech and networking department is away from the office 
  • As noted before, implementing new software only a few days before you need to use it for a business-critical operation, leaving no time for testing or room for delays 
  • Launching a new change initiative whilst other projects are still ongoing or are facing delays 
  • Any project that requires additional input from already overstrained or disengaged staff 

Bad timing when it comes to implementing change is an issue as it can cause project delays, or even total failure. 

For example, launching a new piece of departmental software before a new senior starter joins may lead to that new system being scrapped and a preferred option then needing to be sourced. 

Delays also equate to lost money, too, especially in an organisation where staff focus on a change project is directly pulling them away from efforts that would otherwise be supporting sales, customer satisfaction and overall profitability. 

Good times to implement change

There are, of course, good and even required times to implement change too. These can include:

  • Pivoting to a new business model when market forces dictate, such as the switch to e-commerce for many businesses during the pandemic
  • Changes to ways of working in alignment with staff and candidate expectations 
  • Office upgrades taking place at a time that minimises disruption for staff, such as over the Christmas holidays 
  • Implementing a new finance system in alignment with your organisation’s financial tax year start dates

Key here is to assess ‘good’ rather than ‘best’. Yes, for some projects, there may be an optimum time to either begin discussions or indeed implement the change itself. But waiting for the perfect time can often get in the way of progress and development. 

Making a success of organisational change

Whether planned or reactive, the success of any change initiative encompasses a few critical aspects, including timing as we’ve been discussing, internal or hired expertise and resource to implement the change, and critically, your internal leadership networks too. 

Internal leadership networks are critical as they help to properly understand the impact of any scheme or initiative on the wider organisation on a more granular level, including individual teams or employees. They’re also crucial in gaining employee buy-in, without which your project will take longer to achieve, and will have less of an immediate positive impact when launched. 

CML is a change management consultancy that enables organisations to be better prepared for tomorrow’s challenges. And, critically, we do that by helping businesses to bring diversity and inclusion to the forefront of change and transformational decision making. 

Learn more about developing future change leaders from ethnic backgrounds within your organisation right here

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