Avoiding Avoidable Problems Through Change Management

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Avoidable Mistakes

Today’s global workforce is expansive,but companies are finding that talent with the skills they need are in high demand. That means competing for talent requires the utmost in awareness for finding great workers, and maximum responsiveness for ensuring candidate and employee satisfaction. Technology is a big part of the equation.

From tools to augment applicant tracking systems to larger ERP platforms, innovative and flexible solutions are now being implemented that bring talent processes together across the enterprise. But here’s the challenge: a talent technology solution is only as good as its ability to make life better for every user and stakeholder, right out of the gate.

So, what stands between a great technology platform and an implementation that puts everyone on edge? Years of experience have taught me a simple, yet oddly elusive, answer: avoid avoidable problems.

Change Management Avoids Problems

Working with global clients on enterprise-wide technology implementations, I’ve been struck by the common factors that caused unwanted and avoidable impacts to project outcomes. 

Invariably, organizations put new technology in place with the best intentions. Of course, there are benefits to the company in having a global team operate using a single global platform. But global technology projects are inherently complex and costly.  Add regional differences in processes, languages, and legal (e.g. Data Privacy) requirements, and the complexity grows exponentially. 

Then, add resistance to change common among stakeholders, and the issues mount. The issues typically grow dire enough to leave any innovation project stuck in the mud. This is an avoidable problem.

The good news is that while the complexity is unavoidable and pushback is almost a certainty, these issues can be managed with an effective change management strategy.  The goal is to avoid schedule and cost setbacks and rework. There are four keys to achieving that goal: (1) stakeholder involvement throughout the project lifecycle, (2) communication, (3) accurate requirements gathering, and (4) thorough testing.

Stakeholder Involvement

Everyone affected by the project will have a different perspective on its impact, and if they feel they are being overlooked, they can resist adoption and threaten project success. Be forewarned: unrecognized regional requirements and end-user needs are sure to impact progress.  While it’s never possible to please everyone all the time, bringing relevant parties into the effort early in the implementation will help ensure their most critical needs are met and that they are willing to adjust expectations to accommodate the good of the larger group. 

Stakeholders from all regions and organization levels must be included in the project, from the decision making phases through final testing and activation. While most organizations recognize the need to include their leaders and technical team members on the project team, many exclude regional and junior level and support services staff (Legal, etc.) in the project activities until it’s too late.  Senior leaders should provide vision and direction, but the regional management and end-users know the details necessary in their areas of operation.

Communication

The most successful project teams are aware of the project charter, understand the overall plan, and know where the team members are with regard to completing tasks.  An initial review of the project charter, plan and stakeholder activity can bring “big picture” clarity to everyone involved.  Regular announcements regarding project goals, progress and accomplishments should be shared with all team members and stakeholders. This might be communicated through email or a project newsletter.

General periodic communications are best complemented by more detailed status meetings with core team members in which participants review task status and completions, issues, and risks.  Leading the effort begins with establishing a detailed plan. That plan assigns communication requirements and responsibilities as well as targets for each plan component. By documenting expectations, the plan eliminates confusion about who needs to communicate what and when.

Requirements

Requirements gathering across multiple organizational levels, departments and regions can be a daunting task. It is a subject that could, in itself, be the topic of several articles. For the sake of brevity, suffice it to say process definition, a clear understanding of regional regulatory requirements and process alignment are key components of a successful project. 

There will undoubtedly be concerns raised about perceived differences in requirements, but this is where the first two elements, stakeholder involvement and communication, can lend immeasurable benefits to the project. When stakeholders are engaged, diplomacy is possible, and most concerns about requirements can be mitigated as they arise. There will be differences among different users, but in my experience, they are small in number and easy to solve for if everyone is on board with the process.

Testing

Testing is an essential part of ensuring that a newly implemented system or solution accurately and efficiently supports business processes, but testing is also an effective change management component.  We frequently suggest including an array of user types with varying levels of competence to achieve the optimal result.  Subject matter experts who quickly adapt to new processes and systems are needed, but just as important are new team members and some who sometimes struggle with change. It is these users who are likely to get frustrated by change, and through their early participation, planners can facilitate their thorough review and achieve wide-scale buy-in.  

The recommended approach is to have multiple layers of testing – all with detailed test scripts that capture every process step along with expected inputs and outputs.  With this approach, the core team would perform initial testing to ensure the documented requirements have been met before beginning testing at the functional and regional levels. 

Each testing phase should be planned and managed by a test lead who develops the plan, manages the test team activities, documents issues and corrective actions, and reports test results to the project team. When the testing is complete, functional and regional testers are prime candidates to act as subject matter experts who can train other team members and champion the new tools to improve adoption.

Bang for the Buck: Resist the Temptation to Short-Cut Change Management

I suspect many readers are thinking change management is a lot of work.  Well, it is.  And, unfortunately, it’s an area of project execution where many organizations are tempted to cut cost. I would argue it should be the last place to cut if one seeks successful adoption of a new technology. 

In my experience, a project is most likely to succeed with an effective change management plan in place; without one, it will almost certainly become a candidate for post-launch optimization in a second, more costly launch. With that in mind, companies would do well to make change management a priority. After all, it’s much easier to avoid avoidable problems than to repair them. That’s the value that well-executed change management brings.

Ernie Nunez

Ernie is a seasoned talent management program manager, skilled in helping clients successfully complete large scale global talent management transformation and technology implementation projects. He has lead teams on a variety of initiatives that include talent management program management, strategic assessments, requirements definition, system selection and system implementation.

Topics: Change Management, HR Technology, Talent Management, Project Management