Technology is a major component of every business and has become core to the digital transformation age. Over the last decade most businesses realize the importance of technology and have invested in very bright people who are really good at implementing and running technical systems. Technology on its own is relatively easy in the sense that it either works as expected or doesn’t, and those results can be tested. At the highest level, technology is essentially a one or zero proposition.
An IT leader’s biggest challenge is implementing technology through the process of organization-wide adoption. This is the hard part because of people. Implementing a new tool means changing the way people work. This results in the human response to change, and it can become very easy to undermine these responses when going through a technical implementation. For those who thrive in change their response will likely be enthusiastic. However, every organization has people within their culture who prefer the status quo and may be more resistant to change. The response of, “Hey, I was really comfortable doing this and now you’re going to make me do something different that feels uncomfortable” whether spoken or unspoken is real. You might have even been there, yourself. Sometimes change is good. And sometimes it’s disastrous. Your organizations past relationship to change will either propel you forward or hold you back as you try to adopt new technology.
It’s not enough to simply tell the end users that once your new technology is implemented their world is going to change for the better. However, it is important to let them know how it’s going to change, why it’s going to result in a better process and outcomes, and the big picture difference the new technology will make in the company. This is where organizational change management takes center stage.
Companies often focus on new technology but fail to understand how it’s going to affect the organization and fail to plan for the steps required to achieve full-scale adoption. New technology is a capital expenditure and maximizing ROI on that spend doesn’t happen until the solution is fully adopted, which is the final and possibly the most important step in the value chain. If nobody uses it, you could spend an inordinate amount time, energy and resources on what ends up being nothing more than a science project. Yep. Ouch.
Setting the stage for change
Adoption begins at the executive level. Any organizational change decision obviously starts at the top. Getting buy-in throughout the company requires IT executives to ask and take time to understand the answers to a few key questions:
- What business problem will this change solve? How does it fit into the company’s overall growth, strategy, or plan?
- What is the cost of failure? Through the entire business? Through our employee value chain?
- What does success look like for this transformation? How can it be achieved?
- Who needs to be involved in this transformation for it to be successful? What are their needs? How will this transformation serve them?
Understanding these four elements gives leadership a more complete perspective on the scope of the organizational change. One way to think about the business problem to be solved is to look at it from the perspective of the commonly used “burning platform” analogy.
The analogy comes from the Piper Alpha tragedy. Piper Alpha was a North Sea oil rig that exploded and burned in 1988. The survivors of that disaster were the people who chose to jump 40 feet into a freezing ocean rather than stay on the burning rig. They knew jumping was dangerous, but they also realized it was the only choice with a potential outcome of survival. While organizational change often isn’t quite that dire, there is a place for a sense of urgency and a realistic approach for recognizing the risks of not changing. Understanding your burning platform for your the business, why change is needed, what’s driving that change, and the internal and external factors creates the story and a case for inspiring people and getting them on board with transformational change.
From the burning platform, the focus shifts toward the big picture and the people impacted. It’s important for them to hear how change is going to make a difference. They need to understand the part they will play in the change and why their role is important. It’s just as important for executives to get feedback from their boots-on-the-ground people because they see things the executives and change managers would never see. In fact, these individuals are key stakeholders for the project’s success. Getting them involved early and understanding their needs will prevent many of the blunders I see in adoption.
Change isn’t automatic
Organizational change isn’t automatic. There’s a fallacy around, “If you build it (or buy it), they will come.” Too often companies believe just making a change by deploying a new tool and making it available to its team members will solve a problem and they can just watch the results roll in.
The reality is people don’t just show up – they don’t change without a concerted effort. Just because you build it doesn’t mean it’s going to get used. We call it shelfware for a reason. Organizations often believe, “I’m going to deploy this great new technology, it’s going to be so wonderful that everybody’s going to use it because they see the world the same way I do…(umm, no) so they’ll totally get it just like I do (umm, probably not).
In the aftermath of failure, you get to answer hard questions like, “How much did we spend on this?” or “how many people are using it?” or “how long have you been with the company, again?” And let’s be honest, failure is just part of the game, but when we fail, it is critical that we evaluate the failure for lessons learned. That is often a missed step within organizations that leads to even more failures.
A thorough organizational change management plan allows a company to take on a burning platform challenge, implement a solution, and successfully achieve buy-in and adoption across the entire business.
Clients often hire us when they need help with large scale implementations that require a convergence of their new technology with their existing technology, processes and people. This level of implementation is exciting because it means the organization is implementing a business transformation that will propel the organization forward in a monumental way. And it requires the use of best practices, insight into lessons learned from prior implementations and a deep consideration of the needs of the people in the organization. Done well, the best technology solutions augment the human component within all organizations to create greater levels of productivity, creativity and innovation. Click here to learn more about our overall strategy.
If you would like to get your arms around how to create a successful digital transformation in your organization using cutting edge organizational change management methods, please schedule a meeting with our A-team.
Doug Reece | Client Executive
WINDWARD CONSULTING |Strategic thinking. Real-world results.™