Change. You can run from it. You can dodge it, fight it, deny it, or sprint headfirst into it. Whatever the case — love it or hate it — it’s coming. It is, as they say, inevitable.
But, you know that. You’ve been through it a thousand times. And the assumption, at least in business, is that change is inherently “good.” It’s that shift in strategic direction that finally gets you where you need to be. It’s new leadership that comes in and blows the dust off things. It’s the introduction of a new technology that’s sure to absolutely, positively make life easier.
However, what people don’t always realize is that change is hard even when it’s for the better. And not for the obvious reasons. The actual implementation of it — the software rollout or the project management of it all— isn’t usually where teams get tripped up. It’s the people side of change where the struggle tends to happen. And the reason? Organizations too often neglect what’s called change management.
What is change management?
Change management, also known as adoption management, is a people-centric approach to transitioning individuals or teams within an organization, business, or industry to a desired (presumably more beneficial) future state. Change management uses strategies and tactics that aim to connect value to everyone affected by the change. It’s not about “converting” people or forcing change. Rather, it’s about infusing empathy, communication, and support into the entire process. The outcome? Less resistance. Greater adoption. And, ultimately, better results.
Why is change management crucial to success?
Without effective change management, the change you’re trying to bring about will fall flat. You can’t just push a button and expect change to take hold.
Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.
James Belasco and Ralph Stayer
Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead
Without a people-first approach, your workforce won’t support it. They won’t believe in it. And, while they might go along with it, they won’t adopt it in a way that maximizes its potential. Also, the next time a big change rolls around, they’ll be even more reluctant to tag along for the ride (much less enjoy it).
There’s even data to support this connection between change management and success. Prosci, a global leader in change management, has studied project sponsorship over the last two decades. Research from their 2018 Benchmarketing Report shows that with “poor” change management, you only have a 15% chance of meeting or exceeding your goals. However, with “excellent” change management, you have a 93% chance or a six-times greater probability of success.
Where does change management fit?
So as you can see, change management works. But where does it fit? How does a successful change management strategy work alongside all the other processes and plans surrounding a big organizational change? Because as we all know, there are always a lot of moving pieces.
Here’s what we’ve found. Organizations, as we alluded to earlier, typically do OK with the technical part of change. They know what steps need to happen to make a change, such as the implementation of a new technology, a tangible reality. They’re accustomed to managing timelines, resources, and pulling in the right people at the right time to design, develop, and deliver what needs to happen. But to really succeed with change, organizations need to marry these technical processes with those aimed at getting actual people to embrace and adopt the change at hand.
In other words, you can’t devalue the people piece of the puzzle as “soft” or less important. You need people-first processes to glide right alongside those more technical processes. Otherwise, your intended results will go unrealized. And that’s unfortunate for you, your team, and likely your bottom line.
How to navigate change management?
Change can be scary for those affected by it. The marketer told to abandon the software he’s relied on for the past decade will feel drastically different from the CEO who’s pushing change as part of a larger “digital transformation” strategy. As a result, organizations need to approach change management carefully. They need to ensure that each and every person impacted by the change feels like they have a voice in the matter and that they are heard, and have the support they need to navigate it. This will look different for every role, and likely every person, so while organizations need a macro-level strategy, they also need a micro-level focus.
The businesses that typically come out on top with change management tackle it with tact, patience, and empathy. They listen to feedback, help people connect value to their individual roles, and provide the support and training necessary to make the transition a success. They don’t just wing it. They have a change management strategy that takes into account risk factors, anticipates areas of resistance, and ultimately lays out what’s needed to succeed.
Also, just like with any big project, they typically have a point person in place. Depending on the scope of the project, or impact of the change, this might be a higher-level executive who is then supported by other leaders throughout the organization, such as managers or supervisors. By appointing someone with the authority, capacity, and drive to lead the project (and then allocating the right support teams), they can establish a better position from the onset of the project. Where we see organizations fall short is in situations where companies minimize the importance of solid leadership, training, and communication during times of change.
What does DAM have to do with change management?
At Widen, we live and breathe digital asset management (DAM), so naturally, we can find a few parallels between the wonderful world of DAM and change management. Here are a few handy lessons that apply to managing both digital assets and change:
- Before making decisions, understand the organization-wide impact. What are you asking your people to do differently?
- Be flexible and willing to pivot from the original plan.
- Educate, communicate, and support your teams every step of the way.
- Create a channel and structure for feedback and two-way communication.
- Appoint a dedicated person on your project team to own change management and represent the perspective of your users.
- Recognize that this is not a “one-and-done” approach, but an ongoing effort. Coaching and reinforcement should be part of your project plan.
- Listen to feedback, adjust, and repeat.
- Make it fun and collaborative.
- Focus on driving long-term adoption.
- Identify influencers and advocates to help garner support along the way.
- Connect value to individuals in the language, voice, and context they understand — think “what’s in it for me?”.
- Document your strategy so there’s no question as to what needs to happen.
- Learn what works and doesn’t work, so you can improve moving forward.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from someone that’s been through it before.
Change management is both an art and a science. However, the right technology can help you successfully transition your team from its current state to a more desired place. And the topper? You’ll do it with less resistance, more support, and greater results.
Getting your team on board with change management
You’d be hard-pressed to find an organization that doesn’t see the value in putting its people first. However, too often this philosophy only permeates bits and pieces of an organization. And not out of ill intent. Lunch-hour yoga, Taco Tuesday, ongoing employee education, and a supportive culture are all people-centric initiatives that can fuel a thriving workplace. But to really live up to that people-first reputation, you need to infuse the same level of dedication that you have for Taco Tuesday into how you manage change.
It might feel like a big undertaking, but the key is to start early. Don’t wait until the late-project stages to begin thinking about or convincing stakeholders that a change management approach is necessary. Prioritize it at step one, so you have the opportunity to bring your teams along on the journey.
Change isn’t always met with a standing ovation. It’s hard for everyone involved, even the folks responsible for implementing it. But to be successful with any change (no matter the size), you need to take a holistic approach that involves both the technical and the people sides of change. Without this, you’ll be less likely to win the attention, support, and adoption from your people.
Preparing for change
Change doesn’t have to be a solo mission, especially when it comes to implementing software. When looking for a new vendor, ask about how they can help support the successful adoption of your new systems.
At Widen, we’re committed to your success. That is why we incorporate strong change management principles into every implementation and have Prosci-certified change management practitioners on our team. You will be in good hands as you work with our Professional Services team who have the experience of helping other customers roll out new systems successfully. We look forward to navigating your next project with you.
Note: This article was originally published in October 2019 and has been updated to remain current.