“Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame”. There’s a reason why some companies have a gag reflex to the term organizational change management. It’s because most change initiatives fail.
Inference to Bon Jovi lyrics aside, organizational change management is one of the most misunderstood, nebulous, and ignored terms in the world of digital transformation and ERP implementation initiatives. For some:
- It describes “touchy feely” activities that don’t deliver measurable business value;
- Others have no idea what the term means, or maybe it’s nebulous at best;
- It’s deemed noncritical, thus the choice to ignore it becomes an option;
- Understand it, but don’t realize the direct correlation to ERP implementation success;
- Chop it out of an ERP plan, with the goal of saving time or money;
- Confuse it with new software training (it’s much bigger than just training).
Additionally, most ERP consultants have very myopic views of organizational change. Most are more comfortable with activities like software selection etc., it’s little wonder that organizational change has a severe perception problem, too many incomplete, mismanaged, or missing change management initiatives have led to implementation delays or failures, which has resulted in the aforementioned severe perception problem.
I was having trouble reconciling perception with reality, so I recently posed a hotly debated question on LinkedIn: since the term organizational change management leaves a bad taste in many people’s mouths, what are some alternative, more descriptive terms? I received some good suggestions in the comment thread, such as workflow alignment, people enablement, and stakeholder management. Others suggested that the name shouldn’t be changed since resistance to the term is a form of resistance to change in and of itself. Others called me out for allegedly not being enough of a supporter of organizational change. Check out the LinkedIn conversation here: Linkedin Conversation
After engaging in this online discourse, I realized that I was missing the bigger picture. Rather than trying to find a better name for organizational change, I realized that I needed to focus on defining what organizational change management is and should be – rather than relying on people’s perceptions.
There’s usually someone at the executive or management level who isn’t on board with the changes. You may not win over everyone, but you should be able to convert most. For extreme resistors, your focus should be on neutralizing their negative impact on the change initiative(s). This can be accomplished by identifying key stakeholders and implementing a targeted plan to engage and “sell” them on the importance of the changes. Ensure there are solid lines of two-way communication with the key players within your organization. This might include the need to get your CIO to buy in. Some CIOs may be focused intently on the technical vision for the ERP project, to the detriment of the path that must happen to ensure success.
Business process management and change efforts are arguably the most important part of any digital transformation. I’m not talking about the way employees enter information into the system. Instead, I’m referring to the higher-level business process changes, as well as changes to people’s roles and responsibilities. How well do your newly defined processes meld with the new software? These changes can add up to death by a thousand cuts, so it’s important to ensure that the change impacts have been clearly defined and repeatedly vetted with employees. It’s harder and more time consuming than it sounds.
Everyone wants to know what the new system will mean to them personally. They want to know how their jobs are going to change. Some may fear being laid off, so address this early and spot on. They want to know what’s going to happen to that set of spreadsheets that only they understand, because they created them. Once specific processes and job changes have been identified, it is important to roll them out through a series of multi-channel employee communications. And these communications shouldn’t wait until training – they should start months before. A best practice is to vary your types of communication. Don’t rely on any one communication method, e.g. anticipate that some employees won’t read the emails.
Organizational change management shouldn’t just be a “touchy feely” work stream in your project. It should instead deliver measurable business value. Otherwise, it will always be perceived by some as a nice-to-have rather than a critical component of your project. Make sure that your organizational change activities all tie back to measurable business benefits, performance metrics, and key performance indicators. This is the best way to get executive attention and ensure that the entire project delivers a positive return on investment.
- You and your team will probably feel ready for the changes well before the rest of your employee base. Rather than relying on your gut to gauge whether or not your people are accepting the necessary changes, you need objective and quantifiable means of measuring employee readiness. This should be done via a series of online surveys and focus groups multiple times throughout your project so you can evaluate how the organizational change needle is moving. It will also identify ongoing pockets of resistance that should be addressed before going-live. Only flip the switch on the new system once the organization is ready for the changes.
Misunderstood perceptions of organizational change management won’t change overnight, but doing it and doing it right will ensure that it is well received within your organization.
If all of this sounds overwhelming, there are independent consultants like Panorama that know how to execute and facilitate comprehensive organizational change management efforts. An outside consultant can also be an effective way at getting employees to open up about their true feelings about the upcoming changes.