Change is constant in organizations! Many of these organizational changes, however, can feel like “forced changes” – especially when they’re technology change efforts. The perception can be that the CIO or CFO simply signed a contract to buy a new ERP (enterprise resource planning) package or upgrade outdated systems, and 1000s of employees throughout the organization are forced to accept it.
When we established Plus Delta Consulting, our goal was to create “Positive Change” such that these Digital Transformations could be enjoyable (or “positive”) experiences. That may seem like a lofty and unattainable goal – to make technology change a fun thing – but that is our goal every time we start a new project. We do this because no matter how much an organization invests in technology, it will never deliver the expected ROI if people don’t embrace those changes. By increasing awareness and stakeholder involvement, we get everyone more engaged in and therefore committed to the changes. We want them to learn new skills and feel more valued at work because of these implementations – and if all goes well, like them a little more and hate them a little less!
Senior leaders sometimes ask if every Digital Transformation requires this level of change management discipline. With backgrounds in organization development and psychology, we would argue that any major disruption like this requires a rigorous change management approach to be a success. Our work is scalable though, so the level of effort required depends on the magnitude and complexity of the change as well as the organization’s history and culture for change. If you’re simply implementing a new Finance solution in a small department of five people, for example, then we can dial it back. If you are implementing a new Time & Expense system that affects all 1,000 or maybe 10,000 employees in your organization though, then you need an experienced change management consultant if you don’t have the internal capabilities to handle it yourself.
If you’re wondering why this change management approach is so important, let’s consider a recent project with a medical group of doctors and clinicians that didn’t go very well. We were implementing new Electronic Medical Records technology to eliminate a lot of manual data entry and paper processing between hospitals and the medical group. The project started with a high-energy design session where we brought all of the data processing folks together and asked them how we could streamline their work. At the end of this three-day event, they were so excited by what they accomplished – that is until the Chief Medical Officer reviewed our work. His first comments were priceless. He said, “This is amazing!” Unfortunately, he didn’t stop there, and after a short pause he declared, “If we can accomplish this, we won’t need any of you…” You can imagine what that did to the group’s morale at the very beginning of this 15-month change effort!
So how do we get leaders to champion these complex change efforts so that doesn’t happen? It begins with defining success and being very clear about our intended results right from the start. With this future-focus in mind, we then work with these leaders to help them understand their critical roles in leading the changes. They need to be “adaptive leaders” and visibly demonstrate their commitment to the transformation.
To make these disruptive changes a success, we also need to increase organizational readiness. That means proactively managing any sources of resistance across the organization. Remember, most people naturally resist change. Resistance, however, can be a good thing. It’s just someone’s way of saying he or she feels threatened or confused by what we’re doing. We often take it as an act of sabotage, but if we spend more time with that person who is or group of people who are resisting our changes, we might learn something we haven’t considered yet. Understand their concerns first before trying to sell your solutions, and you might even learn how to improve your solutions so that they better fit everyone’s needs.
So, engage any resistors as if they are there to help and just don’t know how. Don’t create another spreadsheet or send one more email from the CEO or develop one more PowerPoint for a Town Hall meeting hoping that if they understand what the change is all about, that they’ll be OK. It takes more direct individual and small group conversations to understand what they don’t like or what they’re afraid of. Establish 2-way communication channels throughout the implementation and across all impacted groups to keep everyone informed about the changes and what to expect next. If you don’t manage the message with them, they’ll make up their own stories which may not align to your goals and objectives for the project. For example, it’s quite common for people to assume any Digital Transformation effort is a layoff in disguise. This is why our bias has always been to communicate early and communicate often, to communicate what we know when we know it!
In closing, there’s a big difference between “Go Live” and “Adoption” with a Digital Transformation effort. Most Project Managers and project plans focus on Go Live, simply trying to implement these new solutions on time, on budget, and on target – meaning their success is driven by achieving the technical objectives for the new system. As change management consultants, we’re hired to drive real adoption and create lasting, sustainable change with our clients – not just “go live” with the new system. To make it stick, we have to reinforce the transition and make sure everyone actually follows the new processes and uses the new system. That requires us to do much more work after the conversion. We use different incentive strategies and performance management systems to keep everyone from reverting back to their old ways of doing things and make sure these desired behaviors stick.
Are you trying to implement disruptive change in your organization? Need some help engaging your resistors and putting your Digital Transformation project back on track? Give us a call at 310.589.4610 or email us today for specific recommendations on how to get past Go Live and drive real adoption. You might also visit the Change Management page of our website for more information on how we enable our clients to improve performance through Positive ChangeSM or view a short video on Change Management in our ChiefExec Corner.