People Hate Change?
People generally like the idea of change, but they really hate the effort that goes along with it. The idea of change brings with it feelings of hope, opportunity and the promise that things can get better. But sometimes it can be hard work and require a lot of perseverance.
The challenge to any organization is to get good at change – because as your company grows, change is going to have to happen, whether you like it or not. You might as well get used to it, and get good at it.
I’m probably like most people in that sometimes I can be good with change and sometimes I’m pretty crap at it. I recently, for example, had to get a new laptop. I was avoiding making the change for a long time because:
- I was dreading having to reload applications and transfer all the data from my old laptop
- I hate shopping
So, I suffered with my ancient laptop (4-yrs old) as it gradually fell apart. I could visualize that day in the future when I had that shiny new machine that was fast and clean, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go through the hassle of making the transition. The defining moment came when the cooling system broke down and it overheated. Disaster. After that, I could only run it for ½ hour at a time before having to shut it off for 20 minutes while it cooled down. You could say I left it a bit too long. It started seriously affecting my work and life.
Most organizations behave pretty similarly. They know they need to upgrade their technology, systems and processes, but they delay it and delay it – mostly because of the fear of disruption. They can visualize that day in the future when their employees are given all the right tools, and they’re humming along at peak productivity; but the fear of the upheaval paralyzes them from acting. That is, until a defining moment or trigger event forces them to take action.
If I’m going to provide any sage advice here, I should probably suggest that it’s a good idea to make business technology and process improvements as early as possible – long before some trigger event forces you to have to do it in a panic. The problem, of course, is that there’s never a good time to introduce change. “We’re just too busy right now. As soon as we get through this patch, we’ll change things up.” Things don’t slow down, however, and it never seems like there’s a good opportunity to take the plunge. The reality is, you eventually have to, so the sooner the better; because the longer you leave it, the more complicated it gets.
To help you get through this, I’ve thrown together some tips and advice on how to make these change transitions go as smoothly and painlessly as possible. The underlying theme in almost all of the tips in this article has to do with getting your people on board. One of the biggest challenges you’ll have to overcome is getting buy-in from your employees. Honestly, if you can get your staff to believe and to execute, your job is virtually done.
Here’s the list of the top 6 things you can do to make these changes go well. I’ll talk about them in detail further down:
- Define and Articulate Your Objectives
- Find your internal champions
- Get an Early Victory
- Don’t try to do too much at once
- Choose Wisely: It has to be easy to use
- It comes down to Leadership
Define and Articulate
Make sure you know what you’re trying to achieve. Take a snapshot of where you are and where you want to be. This doesn’t have to be a complex business analysis process that takes ages to complete. Just take a step back and make sure you can succinctly articulate your objectives. Make sure these objectives are transparent to your teams and employees so that everyone is aware of the changes coming and the purpose behind them. For example, maybe your overarching goals are to:
- Improve efficiency and communication
- Differentiate the business: get a competitive edge
- Improve the quality of the product/service you produce
- Give your staff better tools to do their jobs
- Give management better reporting and analytics to make better strategic and financial decisions
These are just examples, but when you lay them out simply and can articulate them to your organization, you’ll get improved uptake of the coming changes. People need to understand WHY. They then need to see the value of what you’re doing. People can be amazingly supportive and willing to put in the extra effort if it makes sense to them. Don’t assume people at the lowest levels of the organization don’t need an explanation – tell them why. Keep the messages clear and pitch it to them as if you’re pitching a proposal to a customer.
Find Your Internal Champions
Not everyone in your organization is going to immediately latch on to the upgrades you’re implementing. Some people may need time to absorb the ideas, and others will be outright critics. To achieve success, you need to find the early-adopter types in your organization and empower them as internal champions. They will help you shepherd the needed changes to a successful outcome.
Get an Early Victory
When bringing in something new, you need quick proof that it’s going to work and that it’s going to bring value to your organization. If you can coordinate your implementation so that you pilot the change on a smaller project, this will give you a quick win to show that it will actually work. This is called the “Early Victory”. It serves multiple purposes:
- A proof of concept to allay any fears and to validate the technology
- To iron out any kinks & gaps that may need to be addressed early on with a controlled group
- To act as a platform for further growth within the organization
- It will give you a chance to measure the results, and arm you with statistical credibility
Don’t Try to do Too Much at Once
Many organizations attempt wholesale changes with ambitious plans; and end up with a multi-year implementation that is expensive and extremely disruptive. This happens when companies leave it too long, and then when they finally decide to act, they want to fix everything. Big ERP systems prey on this scenario. The newer technology model is more specialized than the older SAP solution that gets its hooks into the whole organization. Leaner software solutions that solve a much more specific problem in the enterprise are becoming more attractive in today’s forward-thinking company. This model of “What’s good for the finance department is good for everyone” is dated and has shown years of expensive failures. Technology needs to target a specific problem and integrate well with other related solutions that target a connected enterprise challenge.
Solve achievable problems one at a time. Target. Plan. Execute. Repeat. Until all your business units have the tools they need. Don’t rely on one vendor to solve your entire business. If you think you’re confused, your software vendor knows way less about your business than you do.
Choose Wisely: It Has to be Easy to Use
Whatever technology solution you decide to go with, you will face a decision around which is the best fit for your organization. A common mistake that’s made when choosing software, is to get into feature debate about which software package meets the highest percentage of “must haves” out of the box. Be very careful here! Remember: feature gaps are easy to overcome. Usability gaps are monumental to overcome.
The biggest challenge you’ll face is with your staff’s willingness to abandon their old ways and make the switch to use the new system. If the new system is difficult to figure out, or it looks old & complicated, they will fire-up resistance all over the place. That is the last thing you need. If the new technology brings value and it’s easy for them to use, things will go far smoother for you and your team. Your employees have to see that it’s beneficial to them, makes their job easier and it brings value to the organization.
It Comes Down to Leadership
Part 1: Bringing about needed change in your organization is one of the toughest challenges any business leader has to face. The more I read about it and the more I experiment with it, the more I realize that it’s best to make continuous incremental improvements rather than waiting it out for the big change. The risk, cost and disruption are minimized if you just stay on top of it and address it as a part of your corporate strategy. Make constant measured upgrades. You have to accept that ongoing technology advancements will be part of your leadership team’s strategic agenda.
Part 2: Communication and transparency are essential for a smooth change transition. Communicate the need, the objectives and the plan to your valued staff and you’ll win their trust and cooperation. I’m not saying you have to ask for their approval. Democracy isn’t always an option. But you do need to ask for their input and their participation. Enable them and empower them with trust and responsibility; and they will give that right back to you.