Change Management: Do You Need an Expensive Program?
Many software consulting firms love to sell their clients big expensive change management programs during an ERP or any other business software implementation. Probably next to “readiness assessments,” change management is the mother-load of all “add on” work for the software consulting industry.
In many ways, readiness assessments are used as a tool to convince their clients they need a big expensive change management program. Therefore, consulting firms get a double add-on beyond the normal tasks of helping to implement the software.
Some consulting firms focus entirely on change management and get their foot in the door at the very beginning of the project. While some organizations need help in this endeavor, personally I am a little baffled… for three reasons.
- What secrets are consultants telling their clients about change management that the client should not already know? Managing change is about understanding human behavior. We should all know something about it… because we are all human. It is not as mysterious as many consultants want you to believe.
- Do we need a separate program? Change management activities should be just another part of any large scale software implementation process. It is what client management and existing consultants on the project should already be doing. If your software consultants do not add value in this area, the question is… why not? In this case, you might have the wrong consultants. In addition, many typical project activities and responsibilities to implement the software have major change management implications, when the value is recognized and when done correctly. So do you really need a separate approach?
- Why so many change management consultants? A consultant should coach, but the client should do most tasks associated with managing change. In fact, a lot of consultants running around doing change management may ignite more resistance to change!
Whenever a major change is brewing, it is human nature to assume the worse until you hear differently. Think about it, if some huge nebulous change were heading your way at work, what are the important questions you might have?
If one cannot get clear answers from those initiating the change, you turn to another source were information flows freely. This pipeline of information is the informal “grapevine” and every organization has one.
Of course, the grapevine is full of half-truths, “naysayers” and even lies, but really heats up when a change like ERP, CRM or a SCM project is underway. Never underestimate the power of the negativity coming from the grapevine. The groundswell of resistance can get so intense it can literally bring down a project.
Even if the grapevine does not derail the project, it wrecks havoc in terms of additional time, costs, and can affect the quality of the implementation. Why? With many employees fighting the project and others running away from it, there are not many employees left that are eager to help!
Worse yet, over time even the project team can turn sour. When this occurs, the project manager is hung out to dry…on the grapevine.
Controlling the Communication Agenda is the First Step
If the ERP project manager fails to control communication to the masses, the grapevine will. This means we must stay one-step ahead of the naysayers to defuse the negativity, so it does not spread like wildfire. We need to get out the project facts (early and often) to dispel the fiction by answering the basic questions any affected employee will have.
- What specifically is the change?
- Why is the change important to the organization?
- How will the change affect my department?
- When will the change occur?
- Who is working on the change?
- How will the change affect the way I do my job?
- Will I have input or be involved with the change?
- When will I be trained?
All of the communication above should be completed by the executive steering team or the client project team. In fact, failure to answer these basic questions is a disservice to employees. Most want to meet new expectations because they want to do a good job.
Pushing the Change
Managing change is much more than timely communication. There are three additional key elements. First, if senior management does not “push the change”, it probably will not happen. For starters, most employees have plenty of things to do other than attend project meetings. Second, some employees will not easily give up the current ways of doing business (not matter how bad it is) to embrace a new system and set procedures that are yet to be completely defined. Others simply resist any type of change.
In order to push the change, senior management must do more than just attend steering team meetings or write the checks to pay for project expenses. It requires “demonstrated” commitment (not just lip service).
Executives must get out of the executive suite and get involved. If the project is not perceived as important to senior management, it will not be important to anyone else. New performance measurements for process owners and other employees go a long way in pushing the change along faster. By implementing new expectations, the message is clear… senior management is serious about the project.
Pulling for Change
We must get the majority of employees “pulling for the change” because they see the real benefit in performing their daily jobs. This is not just attempting to sell software as the solution. It is hard to sell a bald man a comb, but it does not hurt to try!
That is, most employees will pull for the change when solutions are actually better than what they do today. The solutions work for them and the organization. The solution then is not just software, but also improved work flows, policies, and procedures. What many fail to understand is most employees want to be more effective and make their jobs easier.
In order to develop truly better solutions we must get key stakeholders (not directly assigned to the project team) educated on the software and heavily involved with decisions that directly affect them. This is the only way any solution will fly in the real world since it creates more ownership.In fact, employee stakeholders are the only ones that can make the change stick after system go-live and the project team disbands.
In addition, where there is ownership these same employees will probably sell the change to other employees (who might otherwise resist it). What a major twist, the grapevine is now filled with good news!
Address the Naysayers
The final component of change management is to deal with the perpetual naysayers (one way or another). However, it is worth noting, when other components of change management are implemented correctly, the great majority of employees will support project.
At the same time, it is very important to recognize there is a difference between a naysayer and someone with legitimate business concerns. As a project manager, legitimate issues should be welcome, because the project cannot be successful by simply ignoring the real issues.
On the other hand, the last thing we want are employees (particularly managers) openly or subtly attempting to sabotage the project, erecting unnecessary roadblocks, or spooking other employees. If these naysayers are not addressed early, they can quickly turn other employees into naysayers. In fact, removing a few “people barriers” that stand in the way, will silence other naysayers, and make those on the fence think twice about becoming one.
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