Perception is nine-tenths of the law. Okay, that is not exactly how the adage goes, but it does ring true: You only get one chance at a first impression.
Considering that IT organizations spend more than $3 trillion a year investing in new and upgraded technologies, the impact of change management in ensuring that the improvements are soundly adopted should be immeasurably valuable, right? However, 70 percent of change management initiatives fail. This is a critical indicator that while organizations continue to implement new software, hardware, security, cloud, and communications platforms to improve efficiencies, the way we are implementing change management results in negative user adoption rates. What use is all that new software if no one uses it or, even worse, it is used improperly?
While the world continues to present uncertainties, improving corporate infrastructures and investments in the technology arena will remain an issue and the need for proper change management standards is critical. While the tenets of change management are sound, how we implement and communicate change is in dire need of a new perspective. Without fully considering and understanding how technology is adopted by users, those initiatives will continue to show lackluster results.
Organizational culture is the largest impediment to change management. Organizations are by nature built with processes to maximize efficiency and emphasize standards. These are designed by management and reinforced with policies and procedures that trickle down through the ranks and are implemented as a routine. As a result, an inherent conflict grows up between those repetitive standards and a desire to re-engineer processes for improvements. When organizations are not designed to be adaptable, the culture of routine becomes a detractor for change and a breeding ground for complacency.
This leads to a perception that management does not support change, and therefore, team members become resistant to change. The feeling is often compounded by numerous personal factors for each team member. Over time, teams learn to view change with negativity, and you begin to see the common objections: “It is a temporary trend.” “No one consulted me.” “Why do we need more change?” Or the dreaded, “we have always done it this way.” Depending on the organization and initiatives undertaken, teams also may feel change saturation. Pushing more change than what they can properly understand, digest and implement in a specific time frame can be detrimental to its adoption.
If the team doesn’t understand why the change needs to occur, members begin to question if the new plan is just for the sake of change. If left unchecked, they begin to manifest their own fears into reality and broadcast concerns to other team members. While we are unable to always make people feel comfortable with change, good leaders can minimize anxiety and energize teams to embrace the new. Understanding the causes of resistance is the first step toward making change management work.
Grasping some common pitfalls for why change management fails will help you ensure that your team can plan ahead and be prepared. Assessing risks and their likelihood to occur will allow you to develop change management and risk plans to mitigate those potential issues. Here are some tips for handling concerns you will likely face.
Not developing and executing your change management plans early enough.
You want your planning to happen early enough to ensure that you have given proper consideration to what to communicate and when. You don’t want teams finding out about a project before you have had a chance to set the standard on how you want them to view it. If they do, they will begin to form their own opinions, and it is harder to change expectations than to set them yourself.
Pomp and circumstance.
Announce the program with a big bang, so that people take notice and it promotes excitement. Don’t stop there, though. You should be communicating exciting news and benefits to the teams throughout the project. An initial promotion for a long project won’t carry the excitement to the end.
Change starts at the top.
Ensure that you are engaging with management and involving them in the communications process. They should be reinforcing the need for and benefits of the project. Most importantly, they will have to lead by example. No one wants to find out that the people in charge are promoting the change, but won’t be adopting it.
Engage early and often.
Reach out to team members to get them to share their experiences and struggles. Take note of their wish lists and try to implement those in the project. Not only will they be grateful that you listened, but they can also be champions and conduct grassroots promotion of the project because they see the value and feel ownership!
Educate users on the need for change.
Often users don’t understand why a change is taking place, and see it as another in a long line of projects with no demonstrable value. Share the feedback from those you engaged, and let them know that you listened and took action on their behalf. If they feel that the project is a direct result of their labors, they will find it in their best interest to adopt the changes.
Be prepared to deal with naysayers.
Do not take the approach that if you ignore them, they will go away. You already know some people will resist, so anticipate what that may involve and develop strategies to deal with it. If you know groups of people will be a challenge, include them in the process to make them allies and not enemies.
Communicate, communicate, communicate—but in a meaningful way.
Make sure you are engaging with the teams on all levels and in all forms. However, what you are saying needs to be useful. Provide benefits, day-in-the-life impacts, schedules and what to expect. If you communicate often, it is important that the audience feels engaged and that the time they spent reading a blog or watching a video was beneficial.
Take the time to assess these areas and develop a set of foundational and discovery questions.
These will help you meet the goals of your project and understand your risks and how to mitigate them during your planning phases.
- Why are we changing? Is this a technical requirement or business requirement? What compelling reasons can we communicate to our users about why the change is needed?
- What are our strategy and vision for the change? What is our goal for the ultimate outcome?
- What are the specific parameters that will make this initiative successful?
- What are the specifics of the user impact? Does the change add or remove elements that the users have adopted?
- What skills do we need to provide for our users to adopt the change smoothly?
- How do we prepare our users for the change?
- How do we make this change a part of day-to-day functions so that it seems routine?
- How can we leverage current expertise and practices to our advantage?
- Who are our ideal champions? Do we have a vocal group of users? What part do we want management to play?
- How will our organizational culture perceive the change? What obstacles might we face?
Implementing change management successfully requires overcoming many roadblocks, and it can seem overwhelming at the beginning. Focusing on the culture in a way that engages team members, educates them and eases them into the new environment is key. With so many paths to success, you should hone in on the cultural challenges and understand them. A collaborative approach will be better received than a change that is only executed from the top down. Those who are leading change management initiatives should consider the risks and pitfalls and plan on how to deal with them in advance. You will be more than likely to encounter these issues, and if you do, you already have a method in place to deal with them.
About the Author
Laura LiVecchi is a senior project manager at Adaptive Solutions, a leading national provider of enterprise content management services, and writes frequently on project management and information governance.