A lesson in organizational change management

by Patti Blackstaffe
Date Published November 22, 2017 - Last Updated August 9, 2018

A business acquaintance was sharing his enthusiasm after purchasing new technology for their company. I listened intently as he passionately described the features, add-ons, and benefits. The solution sounded amazing, so I asked; “What resourcing is applied to your adoption plan?”

He looked at me quizzically, like he was hoping he was giving the right answer, and began to describe the PM, the technical team, and the development team. He extolled the virtues of their technical talent and abilities, saying they were hand-picked as the best of the best for this transformation. 

So I asked, “If this big enterprise implementation goes off the rails, how will you protect this crack-shot team?”

“Why would it?” was his answer. We spoke for quite some time; below is some of the information we discussed.

Good technology is the foundation for efficiency, data analytics, great service, and streamlining work, yes. But if the people using it are ill prepared to adopt it or unsupported to use the new functionality, then there is a high chance it could go off the rails. People being asked to use the technology need to be brought right along with the project team, even during development. Basically, a good people strategy (read organizational change management) can make a difference between success and failure.

Let me dispel a few myths about change management:

  • Organizational change management (OCM) is about smoothing over the impact. False! The study of organizational change and performance began in the 1930s. Since then behavioral motivation, human values, and organizational structure has used science and study to back up key methodologies and activities to support change from the very beginning of a project. It isn’t about “smoothing,” it is about readiness, planning, and sustainability as well as implementation.
  • We already have a technical team, we don’t need a change team. False! In large, complex technical changes affecting the enterprise level, one person is not enough to build a solution for adoption and increased utilization of that technology. A proper change team selected to work alongside the technical team will provide the breadth of change planning necessary to increase awareness, understanding, adoption, and sustainability for the change.
  • Our PM is equipped to do our OCM. False! Pick a job; one person cannot manage schedule, scope, and budget and still have the capacity for complex change planning. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect. Your PM might be trained in OCM skills, but applying them overtop of their already complex role is not a good idea.

Here is a fact, it doesn’t matter how great the technology solution is, if the people using it struggle to adopt it, you might get a shinier tool that doesn’t do what it’s intended to do.

The technology was already purchased, so my friend and I investigated what that meant for the organization.

  • Leadership. The leadership team needs to decide if they are investing in a “slightly better yesterday” or a “really terrific tomorrow.” It takes an aligned leadership (often with conflicting goals) to agree on how change will be managed within an organization, especially if leadership finds operational consistency and project success of high value. Then, identify a key sponsor to own the transformation. He/she needs to understand the load, outside of operational duties, that the responsibilities bear. The PM and Change Lead require ongoing face-time and access to this decision maker.
  • Maturity and Complexity. Understanding the statistics that promote successful change as it applies to the company culture is equally important. Knowing where their organization falls on the change maturity scale and how it applies to the complexity of the specific change determines the activities required. This needs to be understood as an organization and authorized budgetarily. Then building a roadmap for increasing change maturity for the organization will offer guidance, governance, and stability around how change is handled.
  • Readiness and Collaboration. Engaging the Change Lead at the same time as the PM with equal reporting status to the sponsor allows the two specialists to equally manage the technical and people strategies and tactics while applying their unique skills to the project. This means the project and change activities will be budgeted properly from the beginning. Thus, the change lead will have the authority to build the plan, and the project is less-likely to suffer from after-project costs. This commitment to managing change leads to higher adoption and technical proficiency.
  • A True Change Team. A focus on recognizing that no one change person can build or create a proper people strategy when they are single-handedly asked to swoop in and “make it nice for the people.” When a PM is assigned to a project they are never left on their own to make it happen. A team of technical specialists are assigned to the project as well. Yet, in many cases the Change Lead is left to beg for time and borrow resources from training, communications, document management, the business analyst pool, etc. What they need is dedicated time from these people.

When it comes to change management, here is what we know to be true:

  • More than 1 in 3 (34%) of projects have no baseline (Wellingtone).
  • 75% of business and IT executives anticipate their software projects will fail (Geneca).
  • 82% of CEOs identify change management as a priority (Blanchard Group). Few are equipped to lead it.
  • When organizations follow a rigorous approach to transformation and take MORE managed actions, the overall success rate improves from 26% to 79% (McKinsey).
  • For large projects, there is a 6.5 times return on change management spending, and smaller projects can expect at least 2 times the return, according to a whitepaper by changefirst.com.

The end-story is this, when OCM is led, managed, and resourced properly, it has the power to increase adoption rates, improve utilization of the technology, and in many cases, improve the organization’s opinion about the technical group doing the implementation. Wouldn’t you want a “really terrific tomorrow” to include OCM for enhancing the amazing work of the technical group?

When organizational change management is led, managed, and resourced properly, it has the power to increase adoption rates and improve utilization of the technology.
Tweet: When organizational change management is led, managed, and resourced properly, it has the power to increase adoption rates and improve utilization of the technology. @strategicsense @ThinkHDI

Patti Blackstaffe is the CEO of Strategic Sense Inc., which focuses on helping clients build transformation agility through people strategy. A specialist in change and transformation, she focuses on complex technology implementations and change through M&A. Her years of hands-on experience in the automation industry, international business, and large organizational projects goes into her people strategy and programs for clients. She is an industry advisor for the Business Technology, Management and Analytics Program within the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, certified in change management, and a local volunteer. You can follow her on Twitter @StrategicSense and connect with her on LinkedIn.

Tag(s): supportworld, people, organizational change management, service management, change management, technology


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