If you’re reading these words at the beginning of your journey as a digital transformation leader, you’re off to a great start. The biggest mistake when it comes to IT change management is thinking that we can put it off or ignore it completely.
We get so wrapped up in the planning process and the exciting new technology or functionality we’ll be introducing that we develop tunnel vision. Surely everyone will be as excited as we are when this new thing rolls out. How could they not be?
But for most people, no matter what a workplace change looks like or how much potential it holds for improving their work or the work of the organization, they see only one thing when changes are announced:
And when that change involves new technology?
How, then, to get ahead of this situation so it doesn’t come back to haunt us later in the form of disappointing user adoption or outright hostility?
Here are some guiding principles, based on years spent helping our clients in this area, for making sure you get IT change management right the first time. Trust us, this is one category of mistakes that you do not want to make. People have an elephant’s memory when it comes to change processes gone wrong.
There are five key ingredients that can make the difference between succeeding and failing as a change leader. Here’s a brief guide on how to make sure your bases are covered in each of these key areas.
Continual Stakeholder Involvement
You did a great job pulling together managers from all six departments affected by the upcoming changes to gather their input, but they haven’t heard from you in four months. Oops! You can lose people’s support quickly when they feel they have been engaged and then subsequently left out or worse, forgotten.
When you are creating your digital transformation strategy, identify all of the key stakeholder groups and decide on the right frequency and medium for keeping them in the loop. This should include the typical project updates and actual opportunities to review, validate, and engage on key aspects of the project strategy and system design. That means circling back every time input is gathered with a synthesized version of what you heard, to make sure you got it right and gather any other thinking that arose since then.
Responsive to Past, Present, and Future
Change is a living, breathing process that must reflect the constantly evolving realities of the organization and the world around it. Starting out, it’s important to know about the organization’s recent history with change. And if you’re a long-time veteran, don’t assume you know all the backstories.
Dig deeper and get the story behind the story. Often it's the failed initiatives that get talked about the least. But those failures are seared into the memories of those who experience them and will likely influence how they react to future change.
And since digital transformation initiatives often span multiple years, it will be important to revisit assumptions and plans over time.
Have the operating realities for your organization changed since plans were first produced?
Has there been a change of leadership?
All of these variables must be taken into account and your actions and messaging altered accordingly.
Mission and Message Alignment
Any worthwhile digital transformation effort is inextricably linked to the mission and culture of the organization. While you want the effort itself to have a somewhat distinct identity, don’t go too far with branding the initiative as a totally separate entity. This will only cause some to perceive it as disconnected or apart from the work of the organization, its mission, or strategic goals.
Reinforce in your messaging how the digital transformation effort supports and aligns with the things that matter most to your organization, whether it's bottom-line performance, organizational values or culture, strategic goals, or all of the above. The digital transformation effort should be positioned as a means to achieving these things, not an end in itself.
Champions are arguably the most important tool in your change management arsenal. As much as possible, they should be the face, the eyes and ears, and the voice of your initiative. The less digital transformation is perceived as being led by you and your team the better.
No offense, you all are great, but keep a low profile.
Empower these champions to speak knowledgeably about the upcoming changes and give them plenty of chances to test out and experience early versions of tools. They will be happy to promote and support change among their colleagues in exchange for this important role.
And by all means, make being a champion feel cool - whatever that may look like for your organization.
Branded t-shirts, a theme song, an official meme, no idea is too silly for keeping your champions engaged and excited during even the longest slogs of the initiative.
Frequent, Coordinated Communication
Communication is key to any change initiative. But the specific challenges of IT change management have to do with multiple changes often happening at once, often under the direction of different teams.
Coordination is key here. You don’t want users to hear one set of talking points at the all-staff meeting, only to receive an email from IT the next day saying something different.
Make sure it’s someone’s job (maybe yours?) to maintain a calendar of all planned communications going out about the planned changes and vet the messages so they are well aligned and appropriately timed. Staff should perceive the effort as a single, well-oiled, integrated effort, even if it doesn’t feel that way from where you’re sitting!
Follow these guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to having a blackbelt in change management. After all, what’s there to fear about change except fear itself?