The Best Laid Plans, Why Technology Change is So Hard
You carefully researched and purchased a best in breed system, hired an experienced and well-referred solutions integrator, invested months of careful planning, go-live went off without a hitch and – half of the organization isn’t using the system properly and the other half isn’t using it at all and demanding the old system back. What happened?
One of these funny things may have happened on the way to go-live:
- Underestimated the impact on the employee
Technology implementations can be minor (a new interface to input customer information) or major (swapping out multiple legacy systems and processes). One persons’ minor is another person’s major though. When a manufacturing organization streamlined its supplier system, it took away the power of personal relationships that employees had with their existing contacts, leaving many feeling uneasy, less valuable and anxious about the future state. A strong change management approach brings eyes and ears to how a technology change might impact employees. That’s the starting point for creating clear actions to address those impacts.
- Viewed change management as “just communication” or “just training”
Communication and training are the bookends of a change management plan, and there are other critical chapters in between. The plan may need to include new job designs, revised policies, additional KPI’s or new behaviour change in the culture, etc.Which doesn’t mean we’re underestimating the power of a compelling communications strategy with consistent messages, relevant information targeted to specific employee groups, opportunities for two-way dialogue and a variety of channels for communicating. An occasional Townhall, a plethora of emails and a newsletter may not be sufficient.
And a well-crafted training strategy is essential to enable your employees to adopt new technology. A consumer goods manufacturing company made training attendance optional in a misguided attempt to get ‘buy-in’ from employees. The strategy backfired – employees thought the optional part meant the training wasn’t important and so stayed away from classrooms in droves. When go-live happened, those employees didn’t know how to do their jobs anymore and the company had to spend a year in a do-over. Your training strategy should include learning on new processes, systems and skills required to adopt the technology.
- No plan for the robust reporting offered by the system
New technology systems can provide a whole new level of reporting metrics to the organization, and often people are either not made aware of the reporting capabilities, or don’t understand how it can improve their business. In a recent example, a retailer introduced perpetual inventory with a brand new level of visibility to metrics; however, the business case hadn’t planned for increased headcount to plan inventory at a category level – so elected not to. The Chief Merchant said somewhat sadly: “I feel like someone gave me a brand new top of the line hot tub but told me we can’t afford to put water in it.”To support a recent project, we developed a full role-playing meeting with leadership where potential reports were mocked up with sample data and presented. The team members were able to experience how the features of the new system could help them make decisions, run presentations and work with all the tools.
- The tyranny of the go-live
A system goes live with relentless and often all-consuming activity. Training can create a backlog of work due to system restrictions during the training period, and trainees being less available to complete their regular daily work. Last minute preparation can result in putting tasks and decisions unrelated to the go-live on hold. And post go-live, the learning curve slows work down.Leadership teams who insist on ‘business as usual during the go live phase’ are often in denial. Firms that are successful create a thoughtful business interruption plan as part the change management, with actions as simple yet effective as sending “We’re under construction temporarily” messages to customers, for a smoother transition into the future state.
- A habit of system workarounds
Employees will try to do things the way they always have even if the system isn’t set up that way. When they encounter barriers, they find a way to work around the system. This behaviour may have been supported by a company culture that has indirectly rewarded employees who get the job done no matter what the internal barriers, particularly in service of a company’s success or its customers.CRM’s for example are notorious for non-compliance – because sales reps can still go out and sell without using the system – and they’re rewarded for sales not for using the system to track and manage their territories and their pipelines. CRM functionality is often so complicated that sales reps claim they are far better off spending their time in the field than pushing buttons. Leaders who role-model use of the system have a far easier time encouraging deep learning, understanding of the greater benefits and adherence to the tool. For any system that requires behavioural change from employees, the change management plan needs to include tangible and intangible to support that change in behaviour.
- Ghosts of implementations past
If there’s been a past tech implementation that’s failed, or even just hit bumpy spots, these linger long in the collective memories of employees. If not, it seems that everyone’s heard of notorious failures at big companies (e.g.: Hershey, Nike, HP) or has a neighbour whose company had a poor implementation. These stories hit the rumour mill as soon as a project is announced and can have a tremendous negative impact on the confidence employees have on project success.Manager support is the key to managing the whispers in the halls. A wholesaler with a legacy of ERP missteps began an implementation by holding manager meetings and freely encouraging frank discussion of the past false starts, providing answers to questions before they came up and then a frank explanation of why leadership anticipated success this time. This bolstered confidence in the project among managers who were then able to present an authentic and engaged front to employees.
- Fear of automation
Employees fear automation for a few reasons – it may remove work they enjoy doing, they may lack confidence in their computer literacy, or they are uncomfortable with the transparency new systems can bring. Most often, this fear stems from concerns over job loss – real or perceived. You need to address this fear head on – either let them know there won’t be any head count loss or that there will be losses, with redeployment of employees or support to move into a future outside the company.
Five roads to travel down instead
- Early, active and visible leadership beyond the town hall.
Support should come from the business sponsor and reach any and all parts of the business impacted. Demonstrate and explain why it is a business priority, and present a united team available to respond to questions.
- Engage your best and brightest
Look within to engage subject matter experts to act in an advisory capacity in every phase of the project, and feature them in your change communications.
- Deliver realistic messages about the system
Systems are often disappointing because no matter how well they deliver on the promise to change the life of an employee, the system always lacks a feature or two that employees expect and may take some things away that will be missed. Identify early: “this is what you’re going to love about the system; this is what you’re going to find more challenging – and here’s what we going to do about it”.
- Demo early, demo often
Provide demonstrations of the system as early as possible and repeat regularly during the lifecycle of the project – well in advance of training. Employees can become familiar with the interface over time.
- Start planning for training early
The amount of training required for a major technology implementation can be a shock – in terms of effort to create, the price tag and the time employees will need to spend in classroom. The vendor often says they have training in the box – which is accurate unless you’ve customized, as you usually do, and now you need to create training from scratch. Don’t skimp on it – there’s no point building something no one knows how to use. PowerPoint’s and job aids are not enough when you’re implementing a new forecasting process or finance analytics.