In the four decades I have spent in the public sector – yes it really is that long – there is one big thing that I have learned about how we make our property portfolios perform better and how we align the shape, form and performance of those portfolios to deliver on organisational priorities. It is that we need to embrace change. When property asset management stalls it is because of a failure to embrace the changes that are needed to make things happen.
I know from my work providing strategic asset management support to many local authorities over a number of years, that whilst the principles are fairly straightforward, making the change and sustaining the change is really difficult.
Change through strategic asset management can of course take many forms, and depends on local challenges and priorities. In my experience, change can generally be categorised into three distinct areas:
· For some, there is a need to change process, governance or decision making, such as in the implementation of a corporate landlord model.
· For others, the change is around principles and policies for the wider management of the property portfolio, such as a performance management framework or disposal policies.
· And for others, the change priority will be around the property portfolio itself, moving it from its current form into something else, for example through rationalisation, development, construction, refurbishment, disposal or acquisition.
For some, there may be a need to bring about change in all three areas.
When I have worked with authorities to support them in their strategic asset management journey it is important to identify where they have been able to make progress so far, and to understand what the key ingredients were that enabled that change to work for them.
It is equally important to identify the areas where progress on the desired change has not happened, and to work alongside them to fully understand why that might have been, and devise an approach where we can together unblock those obstacles to success.
There can be a number of reasons why the change process has stalled. It can be that there is low awareness of the change that is needed, and people are not identifying with the need to change. Sometimes whilst the need to change might be there, it is not consistent across the organisation, and not everyone shares the desire to embark upon the change journey. They are the change resistors.
On occasions, some people lack the knowledge of what is truly needed to bring about the change, and there is a need to develop skills, knowledge and abilities, to enable things to get moving.
All too often I observe change has started to happen and progress has been made, but the change process has not been sufficiently reinforced during the change process. People have lost focus and taken their eye off the ball. They become distracted by other projects or priorities, sometimes thinking that the strategic asset management change has been sorted. But where change has happened and process and behaviours are new, the change process needs to be fed and watered. Every now and then it needs to be given a little boost of energy.
Change is not an event, but a process. And being a process, it can be difficult and complex to understand. Breaking down change into distinct elements helps us to understand the process of change and how we can devote our resources in managing it.
When you next contemplate developing your strategic asset management approach, and are thinking about how to go about it, then consider it in terms of change management. Change management is often described in the following terms:
· Preparing, equipping and supporting our people through change so benefits are realised
· Mobilising our people around a change to deliver expected results and outcomes
· Responding to the facts that a) change ultimately happens one person at a time, and b) collective outcomes depend on individual transitions
· Ensuring that solutions, however they are designed and delivered, are ultimately embraced, adopted and used by everyone
This is no less true in strategic asset management of our property portfolios.
Now pause to reflect upon the strategic asset management ‘failures’ (or poorly implemented change) in your organisation. My betting is that you can name quite a few. On my travels through the world of strategic asset management I have certainly come across far too many to even remember!
Some changes end up behind schedule. Others run over budget. Some face tremendous resistance from staff, senior managers or elected members. Some are implemented, but the expected results never materialise. In some cases, changes fail completely and are abandoned. Many of the reasons your projects have not fully realised the expected benefits in the past could be tied to mismanaging the human side of change.
Now consider the cost of these ‘failed’ changes.
· How much time and money were spent on initiatives that were not fully implemented?
· What was the impact to the organisation from these changes not being implemented?
In local government these days, change is the only constant. We have to be ready for the changes that are coming our way. Our people need to be flexible and adapt to change. They need to be supported through that change, and that has to be planned.
Our property portfolios need to be flexible to adapt to the change that is brought about by different operating models, resource availability and social trends and expectations.
With local authority budgets under severe strain, it is quite possible that the current ways of doing things are simply not sustainable. It is therefore vital that we change both our people and our portfolios. We can ill afford the cost of failure to implement or respond to change.
So, as you move forward in developing your strategic asset management approach, think about it as managing change. Plan for it. Think about the change it will make to people, their lives and how they do things. Think about the impact, and what that might mean to them. Take those people with you, by explaining what you are trying to achieve or deliver.
Try to identify the reasons why change might be resisted, and what you can do to mitigate that and ease concerns. Look for that buy-in, creating an awareness amongst everyone of the need for change, and do your best to get everyone desiring that change.
Equip people for the change, by showing them how it will happen, developing their knowledge, skills and behaviours.
And finally, keep working on your change, reinforcing it as you go, reminding everyone of your shared ultimate destination. If you do that will you avoid failures? Well, not entirely, but you will hopefully minimise failures, and you might also minimise the impact of failures. One thing is for certain, if you do not embrace asset management as change management, you will continue to experience the sort of failures you reflected upon earlier in this article.
Any strategic asset management approach should, if it is to be effective, involve:
· taking stock of where we are now,
· establishing where we would like to be, and,
· developing and embarking upon a journey to get us to our desired destination
This is not rocket science. But it requires thinking about. It is all too easy to develop a model for strategic asset management that looks great on paper. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Asset management models are so often developed, written down and then never implemented or delivered. I see it happening all the time. If that feels like it is you, then perhaps you have failed to treat asset management as change management.
The three distinct phases of change has roots in numerous works and research over the last century, from anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep in 1909 to Kurt Lewin in 1948 and William Bridges in 1980. More recently, it has been developed as a basis for the ADKAR model, which describes the three stages as current state, future state and transition state. In strategic asset management terminology, these is our where are we now? Where do we want to be? And how are we going to get there?
If you think about asset management in terms of change management, you will be a step ahead of the rest, as many do not think of asset management in those terms.
It is widely accepted that change management relies on 5 inputs: vision, skills, incentives, resources and action plan. If any one of these inputs is missing then there are consequences, which are likely to jeopardise the change you are attempting to bring about. They include confusion, anxiety, resistance, frustration and false starts. How many of you can recognise those consequences in your failed attempts to instil strategic asset management in your organisation?
The 5 inputs model was developed by someone called Timothy Knoster. For many people, seeing the visual version of this model is almost like an aha moment. If you would like to see this visual, then I have placed a copy on my web site. Just click on this link: https://www.chrisbrainassociates.com/managing-change.
If you are previously unaware of it, then it could literally change your world. It could be the trigger that makes you think about strategic asset management in a whole new way. Believe me, it could be the difference between strategic asset management stalling or blossoming in your organisation.