Effective change management

When undertaking a transformation project, whether digital or otherwise, it can be an exciting time for organisations – you may be improving organisational efficiency and productivity, or providing employees with a better working experience.

Yet, it’s also likely to be a daunting one. Fundamentally, you’ll be altering your current business model and disrupting the way people go about their work.

Inevitably, the transition will come with its fair share of challenges, including any number of practical or technical problems. But the biggest and most common will always be change in itself. As much as people may recognise this as an issue, the need to carefully manage this process is often overlooked.

The benefit of a change project can be a difficult message to get across – especially when we are asking people to adopt new ways of behaving and even new ways of thinking. We shouldn’t ignore the need to get that message across, however, as fear of the unknown can weigh heavy on the minds of employees. Change management has to be an essential element intertwined within any transformation process. It’s not something that should be bolted-on later or outsourced to an outside agency.

The challenges

Before embarking on this journey though, it helps if an organisation first understands where potential problems might arise. Change management touches on multiple areas, and knowing where issues are likely to rear their head allows you to be proactive and deal with them before they have a chance to jeopardise the mission at hand.

One major factor many organisations will come across is the cultural shift. It’s inevitable that someone who has been working within the business for a long time, who has always been used to one particular system or technology, will be more resistant to change than newer employees who are not yet so set in their ways.

Longer serving employees hold enormous value to organisations, due to their wealth of experience and the understanding of the business they possess. So, ensuring they embrace this transformation and don’t baulk at the change is crucial. It is extremely valuable to ensure these people are sought out and actively engaged within projects, as being seen to be able to turn sceptics into advocates sends a very powerful message to the organisation.

We also need to consider the IT department. They may have spent years, and vast amounts of money, customising the organisation’s core systems – and it can be very hard to just let that go. This tendency to hang on to legacy systems can be dangerous however, as businesses can become landlocked on old technology – meaning it’s almost impossible to update software.

These are just some of the practical issues which can occur during a transformation project. But these are not insurmountable obstacles – we can navigate our way around them.

The benefit of a change project can be a difficult message to get across – especially when we are asking people to adopt new ways of behaving and even new ways of thinking

Making it a success

Business leaders will want to execute a change management strategy and apply three key principles:

Clear communication – What steps are being taken to communicate with employees and ensure that they see the change in a positive light? Clear communication will play an important role in preparing employees for the change and removing any worrying uncertainty. Highlighting the practical benefits can also help employees focus on the positives – and limit the potential for negativity.

Early exposure – It can be immensely helpful to have early exposure to a new system. If you wait until a new system is fully implemented it will be harder to make fundamental changes if problems are discovered. Early exposure will also allow you to introduce end users to new apps, for example, in a phased and easily-consumable fashion, which significantly aids end user engagement, buy-in, and adoption. This avoids overwhelming them with huge amounts of new functionality all at once. It also makes it easier for the IT team to conduct tests as they can isolate and iron out issues.

Ongoing support – Although most modern tech is designed to be intuitive in use, it doesn’t mean training and support isn’t needed. It’s important that end users fully understand the potential they have been given. Otherwise, fundamental features and functions, designed to facilitate new ways of working, will be missed. This will result in employees resorting to their old behaviours and ignoring the advantages the new system provides to them.

This need to manage change is not going to disappear – if anything it’s going to become ever more important as the pace of change in business gets faster and faster. After all, a digital transformation project is often just the start, the catalyst for further changes – enabling organisations to bring in even more technologies and ways of working, but the technology is only an enabler and is only as good as the people using it. It’s vital, therefore, that we embed change management strategies into every digital transformation project and we don’t just rely on others to come in later and solve the problem for us.

Andy Bell, CTO of Edenhouse Solutions


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