Schiphol turns to Prosci to facilitate the human side of change

Merging business units can be quite a challenge, as Schiphol Group discovered. After a trepedatious start, however, the transition process took off with the help of the Prosci method. Still: “There’s more to it than just ticking the box and being done.”

“It gives you tools that you can immediately put into practice”

In 2022, two of Schiphol’s business units, IT Project Delivery and Schiphol Projects, underwent a robust integration process. This integration followed a major reorganization (‘Reset’) at the airport in response to the corona pandemic. This led to an unprecedented shrinkage of the Schiphol organization: more than a quarter of the FTEs were made redundant. Once that pain had passed, however, it was time for the planned (and previously postponed) integration of the two business units in question to resume.

“That merger wasn’t an austerity measure,” emphasizes Esther Kollen. She was the Transition Manager representing IT Project Delivery (60 employees) in the integration with Schiphol Projects (200 employees), which was represented by her counterpart Niels Bouwmeester.

Organic process

So, no cutbacks – why, then? Esther: “The idea was that the two units would be able to combine the best of both worlds, bringing out the best in each other. The merger should lead to greater efficiency and synergy.” But she learned that explaining this reasoning was not as easy as it seemed, especially after the project had been postponed. “When people asked about it, I couldn’t point to a pressing problem that needed to be fixed.”

But, Esther says, an answer just presented itself. “In May we brought the two departments together for a co-working session, to get to know each other better and to brainstorm about what we wanted to achieve together. That left everyone so enthusiastic that the why question faded into the background.” This was a special experience for Esther. “Really an eye-opener. As a control freak, I always believed that change projects must be planned thoroughly. In practice, it doesn’t seem to work that way – it’s a much more organic process. As a transition manager you can facilitate that process, but it has to come from the people themselves.”

In addition, Schiphol can call on the centralized expertise and support of the Culture & Change team. There, Wim Steenbergen acts as a Culture & Change Agent. Part of his role is supervising major change processes within the airport. Sometimes he is the “owner” of a change process, and other times he supports integration and transition managers who could use some extra tools and techniques. “Our department supervises the human side of change,” explains Wim. “In many organizations, including sometimes ours, that side is reduced to mere communication. A newsletter here, a website there, and that’s it.”

Empowering employees

When Wim found Prosci, he discovered that this method goes much deeper. “With Prosci, right from the start, you never lose sight of the significance of a change for the employees involved. That focus helps you prevent the entire process from being reduced to a communication thing.”

Based on a previous relationship, Schiphol chose The People Side of Change to provide their Prosci training. Wim, with a few others, went first – and quickly saw opportunities to empower his colleagues at work. “In February 2022, I shared some slides from from Prosci training I’d just completed with Esther and Niels, who were enthusiastic. It struck me as relevant to the change process they were going through.” This immediately piqued Esther’s interest, who attended a Prosci training the following summer.

“That was very good timing,” she looks back, “because the training gives you tools that you can immediately put into practice. As an economist, I find it interesting to think in terms of methods and models. In that context, Prosci’s ADKAR method and triangle of success especially appealed to me.” The first two letters of the acronym ADKAR stand for Awareness and Desire. First you work on awareness of the need for change, followed by the desire to participate in that change, after which the cycle has three more steps. By “the triangle of success,” Esther means the Prosci Change Triangle; the triangle of sponsorship, project management, and change management that determines the success of a change process. Esther: “It’s essential for good project governance that the triangle functions optimally. When it does, then the assignment is clear and the scope remains focused.”

A fairly long radio silence

Wim says this is why it was also important that the two directors involved were fully behind the integration of their departments. “They really wanted to bring the two groups together, they believed in it, and they have continuously let that show. That’s been a significant strength during this change process.”

This doesn’t mean, however, that the transition has been completely trouble-free. “The Desire scores were noticeably lower during the summer of 2022,” explains Wim. “That was caused by a fairly long radio silence from the transition team to the employees in those departments. This was partly due to the operational challenges Schiphol experienced that summer. Also, when the plans were submitted to the works council for feedback, we had nothing to report for a while.” Plus, Esther says: “You want to be transparent, but you also want to avoid talking out of turn. But if I ended up in the same situation, I would communicate the state of affairs every week, even if it is exactly the same as the week before.”

According to Wim, continuous attention to the Desire part of ADKAR is crucial. “As an organization, we often tend to send someone who is experiencing a change to training, and that’s it. You have to constantly check whether the Desire is still there for the employee involved. There’s more to it than just ticking the box and being done.”

Built on research

Esther says the Prosci training has significantly expanded her change toolbox. “Before the Prosci training, we made changes mainly based on common sense. Of course you know that it’s important to get people on board and drum up support, but beyond that? What I find very powerful about Prosci is that it’s based on applied research. In practice, you see that Prosci’s insights are just right.”

That is also Wim’s experience: “The fact that the methodology is properly substantiated helps to avoid a lot of discussions.” He also points to another aspect: “The way this method is structured was a real eye-opener for me. Prosci isn’t prescriptive or mandating. You have the freedom not to use some parts, to just pick out what you need. And we certainly did.” Wim sees a bright future for Prosci at Schiphol, partly for this reason. “Our intention is to train employees who play an important role in change processes and to integrate Prosci into those change processes. Prosci will become the standard for Change Management in our organization.”

That sounds like music to Esther’s ears. She and her colleague Niels Bouwmeester got the chance to experience personally how the Prosci method could help them successfully integrate two business units in a year’s time. “I am really proud of how Niels and Esther handled it,” Wim says. “They made sure everyone involved got the attention they needed, and were constantly visible and approachable. They just pulled out all the stops to make it a success.”