10 Must-Have Conversations for Leading IT Organizational Change

Organizational Change Management - Patricia Shull - Leadership and Performance CompanyNo, that caption is not meant to besmirch the good people of France. It’s the monotone greeting of the affable, alien “Coneheads” (played by original cast members Dan Akroyd and Jane Curtin) in the early episodes of Saturday Night Live.

Those lines always made us laugh because …c’mon, man; we knew they weren’t from France!

Yet, as much as we were laughing at them, we were laughing at ourselves since the idea that “we fear change” is not at all alien to most homo sapiens. And if there’s one change most of us fear—or at least dread—it’s technology change. Upgrades, updates, uploads, downloads, patching, batching, on and on it goes. We barely master the last tech challenge before — “meep!” — the next one is already invading. Now multiply those frustrations times the population of your work group, department, regional offices, entire enterprise, and customers. You’ve just entered a new dimension of angst.

Forbes reports 54% of IT projects fail due to poor management.

If you’ve been reading trade journals tracking large IT transformations, you’re aware of the bleak statistics about implementing technology change on time, on budget and without major breakdowns. According to Gartner, the leading research and advisory company, the odds of capturing your intended ROI fall between 50/50 and 70/30 in favor of failed change. Marr1 (2016) indicated in Forbes online that 25 percent of technology projects fail outright while 20–25 percent yield no ROI. Almost 50 percent “need massive reworking by the time they’re finished.” Yet, Marr asserts that only 3 percent of IT projects fail due to technological issues. In fact, the culprit that accounts for 54 percent of IT project failures is poor management.

In the world of change management, successful leaders anticipate and address proactively the concerns of stakeholders, project leaders and employees who are facing disruptive change. They also empower an expert Organizational Change Management (OCM) team to facilitate the people side of the change as a project in and of itself. With an empowered OCM team of subject matter experts, work team conflicts are greatly reduced, projects are delivered on time and within budget, and ROI is realized because the new behaviors are adopted with authentic teaming and enthusiasm. That’s right: enthusiasm!

Incorporate the following 10 conversations, and you will find yourself on the fast track to becoming a recognized leader of effective technology transformations.

  1. Identify the change using “from/to” change messages, a target date and benefit. “We are changing from X to Y beginning September 1, 2018, to address customer requests for real-time status reports.” This may sound obvious, but specific language matters. Sloppy language creates confusion and delays. Repeat the from/to change, the date and the benefit over and over until it becomes a regular conversation within the informal network of departmental conversations. NOTE: It’s not a crime to miss your go-live date. Customers will be more forgiving of a late go-live than a problematic or failed go-live because quality matters.
  2. Emphasize the external drivers of change over and over. Shift the myopic technology change conversation to include conversations about customer and user satisfaction. Assist your technical teams to identify themselves as part of end game experience team. They are! Continually talk about how the change will benefit the customer experience, the salesperson’s role, the industry and most importantly, the world. For example, “The state of New York has mandated electronic prescriptions of controlled substances as a way to prevent illegal drug use and sales to minors. We are all super hero’s, helping to stop the opiate crisis in America by implementing the electronic prescription systems.” Putting the change in these contexts helps people see that their role is forwarding a larger community or global resolution. This shift in leadership conversations enhances dignity and creates an intrinsic reward for changing. We are people assisting other people. Technology serves us as we serve others.
  3. Emphasize small-step accomplishments continuously and specifically. Consider how a dieter feels encouraged to see a 5-pound weight loss. Similarly, your team will feel enthusiastic to see evidence of progress. Presenting measurable progress serves as acknowledgement, demonstrating how far the team has advanced toward the goal since the start. During large-scale, multi-year change, people often lose sight of how much has already been accomplished. By posting specific wins you indirectly evoke team confidence. So don’t wait for post-project, lessons-learned discussions to talk about success. Instead, talk about what’s working in real time. Publicize small wins, including facts or photos, throughout the progression of the project. Dr. David McClelland, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University, revealed that the highest-performing teams reinforce positive actions seven times more frequently than typical teams.Team learning exercise: Start every team meeting with a 5-minute discussion of what’s working and why; focus on quantifiable, demonstrable facts. For example, “Eight supervisors told me the new shift-change meetings at 7 a.m. are effective. They requested that we continue publishing the email blasts because it keeps them current and able to communicate specifics to their teams.” This is an evidence-based acknowledgment of effectiveness. “We are doing a great job” is non-specific: no learning is revealed.Talk about what’s NOT changing – what is staying constant. If people’s roles, performance plans and compensation will stay the same, say that. If people’s reporting relationships will stay the same, say that. When you shift people’s attention onto processes, procedures and/or experiences that will remain constant, you mitigate their potential to feel overwhelmed, and to think that “everything’s changing,” which is inaccurate. Emotionally, big change can feel like the whole world is topsy-turvy. Reminding people of a factual reality can be comforting, especially on go-live day or when chaos breaks out. Have an agenda item that reads, “What’s staying the same?” Reinforce familiar activities during change.
  4. Acknowledge the current challenges created by the change. For example, you might say, “Most people have concerns about the extra work hours required to make this change, such as time away from family, friends, the health club, etc. We understand and appreciate the sacrifices you are making.” Pause. Then remind people why we are working hard. Remind them of the benefits the change will provide for internal and external customers, the community, etc. (See #2 above.) The fundamental why gives meaning to the change and enhances dignity, an intrinsic motivator. “Doctors and nurses will have 15% more face time with patients. Patients will be offered more face time with their care team.”
  5. Accurately and specifically name the sources of support and help available that will make a difference to people personally. Under-promise and over-deliver resources to support people throughout the change project. People tend to overlook the many resources available to them during transition. Examples might be visits to other sites that went live previously, professional groups, human resources, online resources and courses, guest speakers, etc. The #1 source of support can be your own team, especially if you are taking time to speak honestly and collaborate effectively.
  6. Speak honestly about what YOU don’t know so that others can speak honestly about what THEY don’t know. People often feel ashamed about being incompetent at a new task. Consider saying, “All of us have blind spots. That’s normal and expected. If you don’t know or understand something, say so; we will help you get the answers you need.” Leaders might also say, “We’re all going to be beginners and go through a learning curve on our way to becoming competent. Don’t put pressure on yourself to change alone. We will work as a team to grow and learn together. Ask for help.” This expectation relieves stress and speeds adoption of the change.
  7. Tell staff you want to be available to address their concerns throughout the change process. One chief medical technology officer said to his staff, “I know it can be difficult to get my attention. If you need to follow me to my car or walk with me to the O.R. to get your question answered, do so! Leave me a note; wave a flag; just get in front of me!”
  8. Schedule or encourage informal networking opportunities. Tell people, “We will have bi-weekly breakfasts or lunches to provide time for informal discussions about the project.” Cater food in, ask people to bring in their lunch, or organize potluck meals. Creating informal gatherings for co-workers can easily produce the most time-saving or creative solutions to challenges. People will learn from each other, re-energize, and become more resourceful, even if it’s a 30-minute gathering. Famed psychologist, Dr. Charles Spielberger, author of “Anxiety and Behavior,” found that the most successful air traffic control teams made jokes, talked freely and relaxed their attention away from their stressful jobs several times a day. As a result, unproductive stress was mitigated, creative solutions emerged, and top performance was achieved. Teams who engaged in humor and un-structured team time outdistanced all other teams.
  9. Sponsor your organizational change management experts to operate as enterprise coaches and facilitators. Remove departmental and C-suite conversation barriers. Enterprise change requires enterprise facilitation. If you don’t trust the diplomacy skills of your change facilitators, train them, get them a mentor, or hire a top-performing consultant. IT transformations break down where you have weak links in the matrix of teamwork. Provide formal and informal conflict resolution diplomats with coaching skills. (See #6 above.)
We’re from France.
We LOVE change!

In conclusion, incorporating these 10 change management conversations to proactively address staff concerns and manage their stressors will go a long way to fool-proofing the most challenging, disruptive IT transformations.

Nevertheless, humans can be emotional and technology can be unpredictable. So, don’t be a Conehead; don’t fear the change. Hire a skilled team of enterprise change management experts to assure your ROI…and meep on.

Patricia L. “Patty” Shull is an enterprise Organizational Change Management (“OCM”) consultant / executive coach / transformation strategist. For a limited time, contact Patty for a complimentary assessment of your change management project @713-446-8700.

1 Marr, Bernard, “Are These The 7 Real Reasons Why Tech Projects Fail?” Forbes, (Sep. 13, 2016).

Patty Shull

Patty Shull is an organizational change consultant and talent manager who develops key competencies in others to achieve business results. She uses creative and leading edge approaches to mentor leaders in making effective transitions. Her extensive experience includes global Fortune 100, non-profit, entrepreneurial, and government organizations. She is known for designing programs to develop leadership talent, speed organizational changes, mitigate risks, and turn employee resistance to employee commitment.

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