Managing resistances during the implementation of change – a used case from a Large Pharma Company

Recently, while upgrading PMO at a large pharma client, we came across a situation where the existing team resisted the intervention despite the senior management’s keenness in upgrading the PMO. As part of the assessment of the current level, we wanted some necessary information on the functionality being managed by the PMO. The PMO did not provide the information. Resistances were demonstrated in the requirement of changing the language of the organization’s standard Non-Disclosure Agreement, passing incorrect information during discussions and subsequently denying, deflecting – by insisting that the issues. The resistors declared that the PMO is only a victim, and the agencies responsible for delays and cost overruns are not questioned for several reasons. The PMO leadership-controlled communication by not allowing us to interact with other members of the PMO team. It was evident that all responses/efforts of the existing team were to avoid external intervention. The production cycles and normal BAU activities of this aggressive organization kept their top executives too busy to get involved regularly. We followed a professional approach of managing resistances by establishing 2-way communication by (details of the method can be accessed from my book ‘Transform and Thrive – A step-by-step guide for the successful execution of organizational transformation projects and programs ) 1. Identifying key stakeholders, understanding their communication styles and needs, and established required communication to ensure that they can be involved as and when needed. Special attention is paid to the fact that the PMO team is not threatened. 2. Promoting benefits of intervention, allying perceived threats by challenging rumors and speculations, provided used cases with benefits the other companies achieved 3. Using referent and expert leadership styles 4. Giving the PMO team the required time. Understanding the organization’s priorities and delivery cycles of routine production and correct time to intervene 5. We Kept a precise and transparent record of all essential communications so that no key stakeholder was misled. We sent the questionnaire the information required by emails. 6. We maintained continuous follow-up and kept the required leadership informed of the progress from our end. What we did not do 1. Use a corrective leadership style. We were engaged by the top management, two steps above the PMO. We did not use authority through the senior management 2. Used unnecessary time pressure on PMO. Finally, as anticipated, the PMO team started responding. The reasons for initial resistances were 1. Processes for many functions were never developed. The legacy ways of ad-hoc working continued despite phenomenal growth. 2. Where processes existed, they were not updated 3. Investment in Enterprise Project Management Software was made, but never used 4. Documentation/ standards were not developed 5. The skill levels were elementary 6. The existing team was worried about their ignorance being made visible to the management 7. Though the top management did realize that overall production can be increased, but PMO had no roadmap for growth and was defensive by justifying that existing skill levels were adequate. We looked for/created opportunities and took complete advantages 1. To connect with the team members/project managers in the team. We defined the benefits of the intervention at each level. We also determined the benefits PMO will be getting by the response, for example, realignment of PMO organization structure from ‘week matrix’ to ‘strong matrix.’ 2. To address issues of functional managers, who shared responsibility for project delays and were unhappy with firefighting processes, wanted better forecast and resource allocation processes and wanted a definite RACI matrix to be defined 3. To demonstrate the use of tools, ease, and benefit. Showcasing how accurate reports can directly be taken from the tools without waiting for others to provide information. Within three months, we moved PMO status from ‘Startup’ to ‘Functional.’ Approx. 10% increase in efficiency in terms of speed of completion of projects and availability of resources was achieved. The team is now cooperating well, and 2 of the team members are change agents. We are asked to take the PMO to the next level – ‘Mature’ and show another 10% improvement in the next three months. The introduction of every new drug, cost/process optimization of earlier drugs, etc. are handled as projects. The life cycle of one project can range from 6 months to 2 years. Large Pharma companies embark 100s of such projects at one time. A 20% increase in efficiency gives this company a substantial competitive edge in the market, which is worth many times the spent on establishing an active and vibrant PMO. As professional project management consultants, we deal with such situations regularly and are well equipped to handle them effectively. Many organizations get stuck at a level of efficiency based on legacy methods and skill levels. Resistance to change in this VUCA world can be detrimental to organizational growth and can even have a devastating effect.