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Turn and face the change

Change Management is a relatively new discipline both in Hong Kong and the wider world. Like anything new though, it’s often treated as a luxury – a nice to have. But with so much invested into projects in Hong Kong, is it the one discipline we cannot afford to be without? - Sophia Khimji

The Hong Kong government says it will be investing 70 billion HKD into public projects each year for the foreseeable future. That’s a lot, and while there’s no straightforward estimate of the number of privately funded projects that I could find, what is clear from the data is that the scale of ambition and cost in the Hong Kong private sector is tremendous. What takes me back is that very few of these projects will have their benefits professionally managed.

I’ve worked in Hong Kong for four years and in all that time I’ve only come across one client that had a professional change manager on the project’s payroll – and that includes a lot of companies headquartered overseas as well as locally.

So why in a world where only 37% of companies can point to a tangible financial impact for their change projects[*] are we not taking change management more seriously? And what actual impact would it have on the billions being spent on projects?

What is change management and why should I care?

There are two definitions of change management. The one that most people are familiar with is unexciting and purely functional: change management is about transitioning individuals, teams and organisations to a desired future state. It’s easy to see why this gets confused with project management. Allow me to create some clear water by giving you a more insightful definition:  change management is about managing a project’s benefits. Change Management in other words is all about delivering results.

It’s possible for a project manager to achieve all of their deliverables to budget, quality and time but for the overall change to be a failure – the old medical analogy runs, “The operation was a success but the patient died.” This is what we see time and again in projects. It’s not enough for a project team to deliver a new system, define new processes and create new organisational structures – people actually have to use them. In order to succeed, the affected employees need to take over, “own” the change, embrace it, run with it and make it work in reality – this is the “transitioning” element and it’s what a good change manager will ensure happens, measurably.

Change management in Hong Kong

Even if there is not budget for a dedicated change manager, there should at least be a separate workstream for it with clear accountability for its measurement and success.

Hong Kong has a proud tradition of meeting hard problems head on. After all, we took a mountain and turned it into an island for an airport. However, we also tend to focus on the “hard problems” in a completely different sense, i.e. those problems that are well defined and commonly understood. Where we have proven less strong as a region is with the “soft” unbounded problems, the problems that are highly dependent on how they are perceived or which might appear ambiguous to senior management. Sadly, there is often a culture here that believes it’s better to do nothing than be seen to make a mistake and this can create paralysis around change. This is not helped by our otherwise commendable politeness, we like to say “yes” when we really mean “no” which could imply support for changes, even if we won’t really give it.

It is for the same reasons that change management is ignored that it also becomes so vital. When management avoid the soft challenges and your affected stakeholders are paying the project lip service, your project is facing risks that only professional change management can solve. It’s a safeguard for your investment and the earlier you apply it, the more certain your targeted results will become.

Issue 37 of the British Chamber of Commerce Magazine can be downloaded here (page 38-39):

[*] Boston Consulting Group

Sophia Khimji Profile Thumb

Sophia Khimji
Programme and Change Manager

Sophia is a result orientated, dynamic, committed management consultant with experience in successfully driving change and managing complex programmes.