Article: Benefits Management

Benefits Management is the most talked about topic when organisations are undergoing change initiatives, unfortunately, it is an area that is executed most ineffectively. 

There is still considerable confusion about the term ‘benefits’, some organisations refer to them as ‘impacts’ while others as ‘outcomes’. Benefits are defined as a ‘measurable improvements’ as a result of transitioning from an old way of working to a new one. A benefit must pass several validation tests which include the notion that they must be measurable (SMART) and it must be possible to demonstrate a verifiable difference between pre and post implementation. Therefore, the phrase that ‘we will be more efficient’, is not a benefit, it is a high-level definition of the end goal of a change initiative. Benefits should be closely linked to this end goal and are the way in which we will measure it has been achieved.

Although, teams need to think widely, where possible, benefits should link to an organisation’s strategic objectives and its key performance indicators. There are three advantages to this: firstly, there would already be a mechanism to measure the improvement; secondly, it should be possible to demonstrate a difference between pre and post; and finally, initiatives that support an organisation’s performance matrix will get approval and support from its senior management team. And most importantly if the defined benefits are linked to strategic objectives and KPIs then this provides assurance that the programme is in line with what the organisation needs to deliver and ensures it is focused on the right things to support the direction of the organisation.

Furthermore, there is a widespread view that initiatives being managed either as programmes and projects, do not finish until all the benefits have been realised and therefore the responsibility for reviewing benefits is that of programme and project managers. Unfortunately, this is not the case, although some benefits may be delivered during development, majority of benefits are achieved some time after the desired solution is implemented. Therefore, the responsibility of reviewing benefits should be delegated to those individuals who are in-charge of the business areas undergoing change. These individuals should also be closely involved in the identification and definition of benefits to make sure they are valid, measurable and realistic.

In order to identify issues and challenges and subsequent improvements, staff working in the business areas must be actively engaged in the beginning and throughout a change initiative. This must not be tasked to external consultancy firms, who have little or no experience of working in these areas, to come up with respective improvement plans. In an episode of Holby City on BBC Television, a nurse attending an interview for a Nursing Director post said in her interview, ‘In order to demonstrate improvements in nursing area, you must engage with nurses and similarly in a kitchen with the catering staff. There is no point paying £500k on external consultants who only tell you what you already know’. Although she did not get the job, her points were very valid.

In summary, in our opinion, the first challenge that each organisation must overcome is to develop an organisational approach to benefits management, including common terminology and roles responsible for identifying and reviewing benefits. Additionally, similar to Health and Safety Manager, Human Resources and Training Manager roles in an organisation, a Benefits Manager should also be appointed. Benefits Managers do not need to have a specific qualification, they need to understand the corporate approach and be able to provide support and guidance on benefits management to all change initiatives.