The digital revolution is fueling a rapid increase in both data volume and complexity that is fundamentally changing how people work, think and address challenges. Industry leading organizations looking to capitalize on this paradigm shift are reinventing business models and processes using novel data sources and technology (cloud, mobile, data analytics, machine learning, AI and more) in a process known as digital transformation.
A key aspect of digitally transforming a business is the design and implementation of the information technology (IT) necessary to process, store, analyze and generate business intelligence from this huge influx of data. Unfortunately, IT project failure is an all too common phenomenon in organizations, with some estimates putting the failure rate at over 50%. An IT project failure is particularly tragic in health and life science organizations when the intended beneficent of a particular transformation is a patient in need.
The biggest factor contributing to IT project failure is typically not the technology itself, but the people involved in the change. Digital transformation initiatives usually require that teams shift their daily activities and processes to accommodate the introduction of a new technology or tool. While some people seem to thrive on change, they are typically in the minority. For most, change creates anxiety, even when positive. A certain level of resistance to change is just part of being human and can manifest itself along a wide spectrum from hesitation to outright rejection of a new behavior or idea.
Implemented software will not provide any business value if it’s not used as designed – or worse—if users revert to old, paper-based processes post-go-live because of a lack of will or ability to make the transition to a new process. Taking into consideration, the specific messaging and pacing needs of the user groups impacted by a change, effective organizational change management (OCM) offers a systematic approach to promoting large scale user adoption of new processes and technologies.
Effective OCM for a digital transformation project is highly collaborative and integrated with the rest of the project team, from inception. Let’s examine some of the key considerations and best practices for an integrated approach to OCM that will help your organization reduce project risk and improve the return on investment (ROI) of your IT implementations.
What is OCM and how is it structured?
Change management is an important consideration both during and after the implementation of new enterprise software. Any time an organization undertakes an IT project that will change business processes and workflows, OCM strategies should be applied to support the people who are affected by the changes. Obviously, the bigger the project (either in sheer scale or complexity) and the more people who have their daily work affected by it, the more important OCM becomes to ensuring ROI on the new system.
OCM professionals begin their work by seeking to understand both the current state and desired future state of organizational work processes connected to the software being implemented. This exercise helps the OCM team understand the end state goal which they will be helping to facilitate, the reasons that the change is being made, along with aspects of the organizational culture and personnel that will need to be supported to enable the necessary changes.
The job of the OCM team then becomes designing an engagement program to maximize user adoption of the new system and work processes by building consensus and appreciation in company personnel of the business value of the change. This is accomplished utilizing a variety of tools at their disposal (e.g., rewards, learning/training, communication, mentorships, change champions, involvement, counseling, etc.), with the application of these tools being customized to the needs of the stakeholders being supported.
A key aspect of good OCM practice is ongoing assessment of change adoption by the different stakeholder groups and a willingness to adjust the type of support that is being given as needed. OCM work rarely goes as planned due to the complexity and unpredictability of human nature. While an overall Change Management Plan is developed for each distinct stakeholder group by the OCM team prior to beginning consensus-building activities, best practice is a flexible approach that allows for necessary changes to the plan based on measured metrics and open feedback from users of the new system. The work of the OCM team is not complete until the desired future state is fully implemented and adopted by the users of the new system.
An Integrated Approach to OCM
One of the most common mistakes organizations make is to start an OCM effort only after the project team experiences resistance from end users. Whether this is done to keep the project budget down, or simply due to lack of understanding of the importance of OCM, it is a big mistake. In contrast, starting OCM concurrently with the rest of the project offers many collaboration opportunities that serve to improve both the effectiveness and overall efficiency of the OCM effort. A few of these opportunities include:
Collaboration with business analysts.
The first step in any successful digital transformation project will invariably be a comprehensive workflow analysis. Business analysts (BAs) work to document both the current and optimized future state workflows of the organization implementing the new system, along with the system requirements. In the process of developing these deliverables, they conduct extensive interviews with key stakeholders, executive leadership and end users within the organization.
Good BAs seek to engage end users and other key stakeholders in a collaborative discussion as they work to produce the plan for the optimized future state. This collaborative approach ensures the implementation will address user needs, which ultimately helps to facilitate user adoption. Inevitably, however, there will be areas of compromise in the future state workflows between different stakeholder groups. This is especially the case in multi-site implementations where site harmonization is a primary focus.
After completing stakeholder interviews and conducting the collaborative process of developing the optimized future state and system requirements, BAs should have an intimate understanding of any potential areas of resistance within the organization to the new system—for example, teams that were perceived as having to compromise more than others or process decisions that faced a heated debate. As such, collaboration and communication between BAs and OCM professionals is critical to help the OCM team develop a tailored initial Change Management Plan. BAs can also benefit from collaboration with OCM professionals who have extensive experience in navigating difficult personalities and building consensus within organizations.
Finally, BAs can help the OCM team develop a good understanding of the specific details of the changes (i.e., desired future state) that will need to be communicated and sold to the various stakeholder groups within the company. In order to be effective, OCM team members need to be confident in their understanding of the business case so that they can confront skeptics and explain the details as to why a particular approach was selected and alternatives were rejected.
Collaboration with executive leadership.
Company leadership is critical when communicating the need for a change to employees. Executives often assume that users will find the business case for the new system to be so compelling that they will easily accept the new way of working, but the business case that wins in high-level budgeting discussions doesn’t always translate well to the user who may not see the value in daily life. While executives typically excel at communicating the rational, logical case for change, they can fall short in connecting with users on an emotional level.
As with all human beings, users will be energized by visions that capture their hearts as well as their minds and will respond to calls to action that make them feel they are part of something larger than themselves. The OCM team can help sell the importance of OCM to company leadership, select the right person from the executive team to be a part of the communication plan to users, and provide coaching to that person on how to integrate the rational and emotional cases for change into their message. Additionally, securing a compelling message from change from the very beginning helps to create consistency throughout the project and improve stakeholder buy-in over time.
Collaboration with project managers.
Resistance to change can show up in a number of ways that will negatively impact digital transformation projects even before go-live:
- Increase in absence rates due to sickness or other factors
- Recurring discussions about decisions that have already been made
- Solutions and decisions delayed due to excessive wrangling over details
- Assigned tasks not getting done on time
Given their close interaction with key members of both the project team and company stakeholders during the performance of their duties, project managers are in a perfect position to identify hidden change resistance. For best results, the OCM team should be in close communication with project managers, and collaborate and coordinate with them to deliver appropriate change management activities (e.g., training, communications, recognition, etc.) that will effectively shift the knowledge, attitude and behavior of resistant company stakeholders. The bottom line: IT projects are more likely to meet objectives and achieve success when both change management and project management professionals work together in an integrated fashion to address both the technical and the human side of digital transformation.
Collaboration with training professionals.
Effective training for users of new technologies requires strategy to deliver training programs with proper timing and content. Training professionals and change management professionals should communicate frequently and be in close collaboration to develop programs targeted for different groups of users based on what will be most effective for them – workshops, walkthroughs, video tutorials, eLearning, demos, process dress rehearsals, etc. Modular, role-based training materials should be developed that will allow training professionals to easily create/adjust individual trainings that are most appropriate for individual users in both the short and long term.
The process of digital transformation fundamentally changes a company’s core business processes and workflows, ultimately requiring changes in human behavior to realize the full potential of the implemented technology’s ability to generate business value. Yet many companies make the mistake of placing the major emphasis on the technology aspect of an IT project and neglecting to provide adequate support to the people who will be using it.
While properly implemented software solutions can provide much value to organizations looking to capitalize on big data and new technologies to generate actionable insights and remain competitive, these solutions clearly cannot provide significant value for the company if user adoption is low. Effective organizational change management strategies are thus critical for realizing the intended ROI of any strategic project.
As discussed in this blog, best practice is to integrate OCM professionals with the rest of the project team for maximum effectiveness. The ideal scenario in an IT project is to have the business analysts, project managers, change management professionals, testing/validation professionals and training professionals all come from the same consultant, as this allows for a highly integrated effort that will facilitate efficiency and teamwork for the best results.
In recognition of the importance of OCM, a growing number of organizations are embedding change management into their culture by building organizational capabilities and competencies in this area. With dedicated internal change management resources available for all digital transformation and change initiatives, addressing the human side of change becomes the expectation rather than the exception within the organization.