With Organizational Change Management, Timing is (Almost) Everything
What does it take to get ready to run a marathon? Or to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest? What about implementing a new enterprise system that will likely change every part of how you do your work?
It’s (almost) all about timing.
If you want to run a marathon, you start training far in advance. If you are climbing Mt. Everest, there are months of planning and preparation that must be done before you even get to the foot of the mountain. And if you are implementing a new system, organizational change management — the planning and preparation required for people to do their jobs effectively in the new environment — needs to start at the beginning of the project.
Just as your implementation project follows a prescribed set of steps designed to get you from requirements to production, your organizational change management should follow a plan that starts at the beginning of the project and goes through the first few months of system use. Yes, between the project activities and operational responsibilities, there is already a lot to plan! But the longer you put off that marathon conditioning, the longer you put off that strength training to get up the mountain, and the longer you put off your user readiness activities, the less likely you will be to succeed.
The Key Word is “Readiness”
Once you’ve chosen your system vendor and have a reasonable idea of the target model you’re moving toward, it’s time to assess how ready the organization is for the impending business transformation changes. The assessment is an important part of your early planning because it tells you where to begin. If you’re running a marathon in six months and you currently get winded climbing up a flight of stairs, your plan is going to look quite different from someone who can already run 10 miles without breaking a sweat.
Your readiness assessment should be a living document that management refers to and updates often during the project. Just as your readiness to run a marathon improves as you practice regular conditioning, your operational readiness will improve as you work on your organizational change management plan. Reassessing your readiness will help you to keep your plans current along the way.
It’s Never Too Early to Plan
Now that you’ve conducted your assessment and know where you’re starting, you can build your organizational change management plans. Your plans should outline all the organizational change management and readiness activities and, just like the project plan, include contingency and the ability to be flexible. Make sure you have a risk management plan specific to your readiness activities – your backpack strap might break as you’re scaling Mt. Everest or a key subject matter expert on your project might decide to retire early.
Create a Change Impact Inventory to list the changes that will happen with the implementation, determine the impacts to each group in your organization, and manage the activities necessary to be successful in making process changes, and possible organization restructuring or changes in job roles and responsibilities. Develop plans for communication, training, and other readiness activities that you identified as necessary based on your readiness assessment. Assign someone to manage your readiness activities. That’s not to say that person needs to manage the execution of all the activities but manages them in the same way that a project manager manages the project tasks, and your running coach manages your training in preparation for marathon day.
And speaking of managers, don’t forget them!
A manager should never hear about something that impacts their department at the same time their staff hears about it. Make sure your communication plan includes many opportunities for managers to stay informed, and plenty of opportunities for the managers to provide information to their staff. Arm your managers with information and whatever they need to answer questions. Make them part of creating and managing readiness activities for their staff.
Consistency is Important
Regular training is important when preparing for a marathon, and regular communication and preparation activities are important for everyone that will be impacted by the system implementation, not just those on the project team. Use the communication channels you have in place, such as company newsletters, all-staff meetings, and intranet postings to provide regular status updates to staff. If you don’t have any regular communication that is provided to staff, now is a great time to start!
Just as it’s highly possible that you won’t make significant progress every single day toward your goal of running a marathon, there won’t necessarily be project news every week. But regular communication is important, even if you don’t have much to report. And don’t assume that because it doesn’t seem newsworthy to you that your staff won’t want to hear it. Hearing about a little progress is much better than not knowing what’s going on.
System Training isn’t Enough
Are people ready to do their jobs using the new system? How do you know? User training is a big part of readiness, but just learning to use the system – where to click and what the screens contain – is only part of what needs to be done to ensure true readiness. Start planning during system design to make sure your training covers the knowledge and skills necessary for staff to do their work in the new environment, not just use the system.
Give People Time to Get Used to Things
What should users expect from the new system? What are some of the things they might not like? Start the campaign early to point out the advantages of the new system and so users can think about some of the things they might need to do to prepare. Your marathon coach can do many things to prepare you for the race, but only you can determine how you want to use that preparation.
Consider setting up a model office for use during testing and training. Make it as complete as possible so that staff can get used to using the new system in a risk-free environment and figure out how the new processes will work. Make sure you have subject matter experts available to answer questions. Odds are most of the questions that will come up during training and testing won’t be about the system, but about the business processes. How do I do this? What about this situation?
It’s Not Over ‘Til it’s Over
There is a natural “performance dip” that takes place after the system goes live and users start using it to do their work. Planning for this before it happens and recognizing it while doing what you can to minimize it is an important part of system stabilization and reaping the benefits of your business transformation. Evaluate your user training a few times during stabilization and conduct retraining and additional training as needed during the first three to six months of system use, depending on the size of the implementation.
Ready to run that marathon, scale that mountain, begin that system implementation? It’s almost all about timing! And if you’re climbing Mt. Everest, warm socks.