Being able to realise the full benefit from a portfolio of business change programmes is critical to organisational success. Yet, despite extensive literature on benefits realisation and the plethora of tools and processes developed to aid benefits delivery, you may struggle to achieve the benefits set out in the original business case.
This is because successful benefits realisation needs more than theory. It also requires you to understand the political context, to harness emotion, and to balance these two with rational analysis. We have identified five critical success factors that will help you move beyond process and make successful benefits realisation a reality.
Individuals with a deeply felt sense of what needs to be done to protect and nurture the business can create a very powerful catalyst for change. Harness their passion, creativity and energy to create a compelling vision that inspires others and generates the momentum required for business change.
It is important to ensure that one individual’s passion for a project doesn’t distort the reality of the business case. The changes required for successful benefits realisation usually involve many parts of the organisation and cannot be delivered by a single individual.
So individuals who are passionate about a project need to engage with the rest of the business to ensure buy-in across the organisation. They must confront head on the inevitable resistance associated with business change and benefits realisation. Canvassing a range of views also provides a vital reality check on the business case and draws on the experience and wisdom of key stakeholders.
There may be some quick wins, but many benefits can only be released after the business change is complete. Building enduring support for benefits realisation beyond the life of the programme is essential.
To get senior stakeholders to develop real and sustained commitment, you need to understand what drives them politically and show them how targeted benefits align with their agendas. Creating a vivid picture of the future organisation can help bring the programme vision to life for people and align their ambitions with programme goals.
We have seen business change programmes deliver the right operational capability but fail to sustain the benefits of the change over time. Often, this is because the teams affected lack the skills or capacity to embed change or are not given time to do this. Recognising this need at the start of the programme will help you get the right resource in place, either on the programme or in the wider organisation.
To give a well-rounded view of the change, use a mix of intangible metrics (eg staff surveys, customer satisfaction) and hard qualitative and financial indicators. Make sure the processes, tools and metrics you use to measure benefits actually support the delivery of business change and avoid unintended consequences such as people 'gaming the system'. You should also steer clear of overly bureaucratic measures.
These critical factors for successful benefits realisation were a feature of our work with the NHS in North West London. Here, we were tasked with constructing a compelling and robust business case for the reconfiguration of health services for two million people. We used the passion of key clinical stakeholders around the benefits of the proposed reconfiguration to generate the momentum needed to make it happen. We also used the combination of a compelling vision and rational analysis to gain support throughout the NHS system and to sustain momentum into the delivery of the programme.
Benefits realisation can be a bit of a rollercoaster ride – high on the agenda when the business case needs to be justified, forgotten about during the programme’s delivery, and then panicked about at the end when people are reminded which benefits they were made accountable for but don’t have the means to deliver. Yet, handled well, benefits realisation will help you drive delivery, maintain alignment and manage senior stakeholders. The key is to move beyond management process and harness passionate emotion, rational analysis and political astuteness to achieve success.