As a change management consultant, I’ve noticed a clear trend in how large-scale business transformation projects roll out. They typically start with a strategic need on the technology side or within business operations. Then the initiatives are planned with success factors solely focused on delivering the scope of the technical solution on time and on budget with a possible mention of successful business adoption. While being on time and on budget are critical, the business adoption part of the equation doesn’t get nearly enough attention, often leading to adverse residual effects after the project completes.
Core business user representation is often a missing piece in upfront planning for business transformation projects. Unfortunately, that missing piece often results in limited funding for the change management effort, reducing this all-important component to minimal communications and training. As a result, the people who need to understand the new processes and tools the most are left ill-equipped and uninformed.
Once the safety net of the project team is gone, the business has to own its new processes and tools. Unfortunately, despite our pleas for ownership from the beginning, many organizations just don’t prioritize the importance of change management, and typically, only provide resources and funding when it becomes too late, and then they are stuck.
Keys to Owning the Change
If I could wave a magic wand across each of the projects we consult on and change one thing, it would be this — to have the solution ownership process start earlier. Helping us help you with a smooth transition requires recognition of and earlier engagement in what will happen after the project is live. But, alas, I don’t have a magic wand. Therefore, if you’re ready to jump in and take on this challenge on your existing or next transformation project, here are key practices you can use to own the change up front.
#1: Include a Change Management Lead in the Core Project Team
Change management shouldn’t be an afterthought that waits until after the deployment of a new system. It should be a full-time, core part of the team from the beginning.
Giving the change management team a voice at an earlier stage shines a light on how the end experience will look and feel for all of those impacted. It lets them weigh in on what the processes will mean at a ground level and what needs to happen to ensure the new large-scale systems are adopted. After all, when you invest this heavily in time, money, and resources to bring a new solution to life, you want your team to engage with it rather than fall back to old work patterns.
#2: Enable and Model Strong Sponsorship at All Levels
It’s not enough to hand over a system on a silver platter and expect a team to use it. Getting change into motion requires various levels of sponsorship.
The main sponsor is first up. This person signs off the funding for the change. They’re often the most hands-off when implementing the change, but their leadership messaging is crucial in communicating why the change is happening and the risks of not changing. The sponsor must form a strong coalition of key allies. Main sponsors are typically at senior leadership levels. The change affects their departments, so they need to show support.
Next up are the people manager sponsors. These sponsors are often stuck in the middle of the key allies and those most impacted by the changes. They have to understand the project’s transformational purpose and how to lead their team through the change. Because the change is often being forced from above and implemented below, these managers are stuck in the middle of both levels, making them more resistant. Still, they must model support down to the employee level.
Change champions are next up and may be thought of as the sponsors of the sponsors. These resources are not usually on the project but instead, are highly effective serving as vocal cheerleaders for what’s taking place.
The final sponsors are the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) assigned to the project. SMEs have the most in-depth knowledge and serve as key content providers to help guide direct communications and help the organization determine how the new processes and tools will work in the future. They will bring first-hand knowledge of the solution’s specific impacts to each individual user and will be responsible for each user’s adoption of the new solution.
#3: Start Early and Engage Often
To enable and model strong sponsorship at all levels, you must start providing the tools to the appropriate sponsors early on. This leadership requires you to understand the various stages of the change. We like to leverage the Prosci ADKAR™️ model and its components:
- Awareness of the need for change
- Desire to participate and support the change
- Knowledge of how to change
- Ability to implement the desired behaviors and skills
- Reinforcement to sustain the change
To do this effectively, you must identify the impacted groups and then map and communicate their change journeys – not all groups are affected similarly. Identifying where processes, technology, and more will shift allows us to provide clear communications to the sponsors in order to drive engagement. A simple newsletter just doesn’t suffice. You must continuously share the message about the individual changes and why it matters throughout that journey. Studies have shown that people need to hear a message approximately seven times before they can absorb how it’ll impact their daily lives. The same is true for organizational change and business transformation. Your team needs to hear about it continuously and engage often throughout the change process.
#4: Identify Adoption Milestones
Adopting the new solution doesn’t technically start until the go-live date when the business starts using it in their day-to-day operations. But how do you know if and when the adoption is successful? Identifying key milestones early on helps you measure the progress towards full adoption.
The key with this approach is that we don’t want to see people start to slip back into old patterns. You’ve invested too much time and resources into advancing your organization that it’s crucial to see the adoption through. Monitoring these adoption milestones and ensuring you hit them will help you avoid falling back into old patterns that could put a damper on the new processes.
#5: Take Accountability AND Responsibility
We’ve all heard Stephen R. Covey’s prescribed habit of “Begin with the end in mind.” Ultimately, you own the new processes and tools, and identifying people who will own the sustainment of the change going forward is essential. They will monitor those adoption milestones and champion the transition plan.
Whenever we work with clients on a change management plan, we work from the beginning until this point to give them the tools to make the change happen. Because we cannot control process elements inside of an organization, such as rewards, incentives, and daily usage of the system, the risk of slipping back into old patterns is out of our hands. Still, we help by offering specific tactical advice on engaging teams from the very beginning of the project. We provide the foreshadowing for what’s coming from day one. Even though this transitionary period is far in advance, we make every effort to frequently shine a light on the need for a transition plan. In other words, we act as your guide to the future, helping you to focus on the right things to stay accountable for success and responsible for implementation.
You Must Own the Change
People use the term “organizational change,” but the reality is that organizations don’t change. People do. You must own the change that’s taking place in your organization for success. Actual organizational results come from the aggregated outcome of individual change. Everyone is set up for success when leadership recognizes and takes ownership of those results before a project gets off the ground.