As a management consultant, I often get to work on the implementation of new strategies, processes and technologies. These are generally “big ideas” that represent significant, compelling changes for the organization. As much as organizational leaders would like to say “Presto Change-o!” and make all the changes required to ensure the success of big projects, change takes time. And I can tell you from experience that for big changes to be successful, executives must employ good change management practices. Here are 5 tips to help you increase the success of large-scale change initiatives.
1. Make sure your organization’s leaders demonstrate their vision and commitment. One of the biggest barriers to effective change is that the workforce as a whole does not see the vision and understand the reason the change is being made. Why is it so important that we implement this new system or reengineer these processes? Why will this help us succeed in the future? Who wants this to happen? What will happen if we are not successful? All large scale initiatives need a summary-level vision statement that answers these questions. Executives, leaders, and managers all must be able to share the vision statement in a consistent fashion. And sharing the vision means more than just saying it is important. It means making decisions such as funding and project staffing that demonstrate ongoing leadership support.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate (and then communicate some more)! Marketing professionals know that it takes more than one exposure to an idea for it to “stick”. Some say it takes 3 to 5 exposures for a recipient to get and understand the message. Yet many project sponsors have the mistaken belief that they just need to give one presentation to their staff to communicate about the project and its importance. It’s no surprise, then, that insufficient communication is one of the key reasons large-scale change initiatives fail. We help our clients maintain a focus on communications throughout the life of the project, not just at rollout. This starts with a thorough, effective communications strategy that identifies multiple ways of getting the message out: town hall meetings, online webinars, small group “lunch and learn” sessions, email, and even bulletin boards. And we advocate using a tool like Microsoft SharePoint to enable collaboration and communicate ongoing project progress.
3. Anticipate and actively address resistance at all levels. We’re all trying to do more with less, and people have more than enough work on their plates. So it’s not surprising when project teams encounter resistance to a new system or reengineered processes. In fact, for most change initiatives, only 10% will openly advocate for the change, 70% will sit on the fence with a “wait and see” attitude, 10% will openly resist the change, and 10% will act as ‘underground’ saboteurs. The reasons for resistance include a belief that the initiative is a temporary fad and will go away, a loss of control, loss of status, a feeling of change overload, and a lack of trust in management. To manage resistance, try to identify the source. One tool to help you do this is a force field analysis. A similar approach is to conduct stakeholder analysis. You may not be able to manage and convert all resistance to support. But you can identify the key stakeholders and analyze their current and desired level of support. Armed with this knowledge, you can devise plans and actions to strengthen stakeholder support and lessen resistance.
4. Plan for and implement the retirement of legacy systems. One reason large-scale initiatives fail is that there was little motivation for the user community to accept the new system. If you implement a new system or application, but fail to retire the old one, people will just keep using what they already know. To improve your acceptance and usage rates, retire the legacy system. If this makes people nervous, consider deploying in a modular fashion. Incremental change can ease fears. Rather than rolling out everything all at once, plan, communicate, and implement in stages. And make sure you train users on the new system to ensure they have the skills to succeed. Then retire the legacy system. Sure, you want to minimize exposure in case the implementation doesn’t go well, but you can accomplish this with a good implementation and risk management plan.
5. Use a realistic change management methodology to guide you through the transition. Don’t make it up as you go—employ a proven methodology. We use a methodology we developed called EASE (Envision, Arm, Support, Ensure) to help our clients manage the transition to new systems and processes. EASE is a user-friendly, four-stage methodology that incorporates best practices from the field of change management. It includes a practical model with guides and templates that change leaders find easy to apply. We use the EASE methodology because it is flexible, enabling project teams to select and apply as many or as few of the activities suggested, to ensure that their transition goes well.
Don’t let resistance to a strategic change catch you by surprise and limit your opportunities for success. Implement these 5 tips and you’re on your way to more positive results!
Dr. Karen L. McGraw is the founder and CEO of Cognitive Technologies a consulting firm specializing in projects, collaborative processes, and organizational effectiveness.