For Successful Digital Transformation, People Matter Most

One of the most unpredictable and difficult parts of an enterprise software rollout is driving end-user adoption in the face of massive amounts of change. There is a litany of case studies about enterprise software rollouts that caused massive business disruption at go-live, poor return on investment, or reversion to old tools or bad habits. However, the good news is that success is possible if you are willing to make the effort.  

There are several keys to successfully driving change. First, understand that, despite common misconceptions, people are NOT afraid of change. In fact, people opt for change all the time. They change jobs, relationship statuses, homes, etc. What about that winning Powerball lottery ticket? That comes with massive life-changing implications. You don’t see people saying, no to that type of life change. So, what’s the difference between these changes and having change imposed from elsewhere? The recipient of change understands its impacts, and they have made the decision that the good effects outweigh the bad. Because of that, they want the change.

The number one thing to have in mind when driving change is people are NOT afraid of change, but they do have a healthy fear of the unknown.  When inflicting change upon others, your job is to remove the unknowns and provide answers as to why the change is needed. Then provide them the tools and support that enables a successful transformation—and you will drive adoption. 

At CSS, we combine the Prosci ADKAR Change Management model with our proprietary tools, templates, and process to facilitate the adoption of transformation, but you have options. The most important thing to know before running headlong into a change management effort is that you need a healthy dose of empathy, excellent communications skills, and an ability to organize chaos. It helps a great deal if you are an experienced change management practitioner or, at the very least, have been through change management training like Prosci offers. But above all, remember this, end-users do not need IT speak and project status reports.

Make Organizational Change Management an integral piece of your transformation. By paying attention to your users during the implementation process, you can help them prepare and adapt to the changes. In doing so you’ll see a much faster and higher return on your investment.  

 Here are five keys to drive change successfully:

All projects need executive sponsorship. 

For a project to be successful, change must come from the top-down, from the middle out, and from the bottom up. But it all starts at the top.  Each functional area of an enterprise software rollout needs its own “functional sponsor” from the business that everyone knows, trusts, and is willing to follow their lead (we hope).  At the top of this leadership, sponsorship is our business or executive sponsor who should carry a C-level title.  All these people need to support the project, provide guidance, remove roadblocks, communicate the change and why it is needed and, above all, walk the talk.  The signals from leadership flow down to the project team and eventually to all the stakeholders within and external to the organization. In addition to a champion at the top, your implementation partners should also focus on training the core project team beginning at the project start. This gives the team ownership over the project. The project evangelists have to be inside the building—you can’t rely on an implementation partner to drive the change alone.

Understand your audience’s fears and address their assumptions.

Successful change management is about putting fears to rest and helping people understand why they’re making the change and what they’ll get out of it. For these reasons, it’s essential to understand the concerns and assumptions of your target audiences and address them with specific information about the forthcoming change and its impacts on them. This information should be easily accessible and provided prior to any release of training.  Additionally, think beyond the applications to the processes and how roles may change. Be careful to communicate openly and honestly. If there are changes that lead to assumptions about things like job security, get in front of those assumptions and discuss them. Remember empathy? Understanding the many impacts to different audiences associated with a single change and then communicating all that information clearly and efficiently is a heavy lift activity of OCM. But doing so yields amazing results. Think of each change and assess who—by audience—is impacted and then communicate these five things:

  1. What is changing?
  2. What is not changing?
  3. Why is this change necessary?
  4. How will this change impact the audience?
  5. What do you need from audience?

Evaluate whether processes need to be unique.

Everyone wants to be special and one-of-kind. But when it comes to business processes and software workflow, being unique is sometimes just a nicer way of saying that you’re inefficient. The critical question organization leaders need to be asking: Does a specific process have to be unique to your organization? And is there a best business process that already works with the system and provides the data and results that you need?  Your product may be unique, but how your organization accounts for things in your ERP shouldn’t be. Often customized processes create a lot of work without a lot of benefit. Utilizing best business processes makes everything more efficient and provides the data that really matters when it comes to making decisions. 

Keep communication honest and constant. 

Digital transformation projects often take several months or longer. Honest and open communication throughout the process is essential. Companies need to work with their partners to set expectations from the beginning and continue to update those expectations throughout the process. Communications need to be constructed from the recipient’s point of view.  Remember, most end users do not know or care about the intricacies of the project or IT speak. They care about their jobs and doing them well.  Keep communications clear, concise, and all about them. Additionally, it’s best to assume that when you send a message out, most people won’t read it or receive it. There is a rule in the advertising business called the rule of sevens. This tells us that a recipient needs to receive a message seven times, seven different ways before they get it. Get creative here and ask people who communicate for a living to craft your messaging.

Provide the foundations of success of the recipients of change.

This means proper training and preparation for the go-live experience. Do not let end-user training be an afterthought. The process of developing a strategy, identifying and building content, and deploying a training program that engages and supports users before, during, and after go-live is time-consuming, resource intense, and expensive. But it’s also worth it. Inadequate training will cost your organization far more. Do not assume that providing scripts and a quick show-and-tell will get the job done. Instead, build something sustainable that provides in-app guidance after the initial training and rollout and make original training content accessible and current. In addition to training and in-application support, consider ways to move first-level support closer to your users at go-live.  A well-executed plan for deploying Super Users provides faster answers to your end-users, reduces load on your help desk, and ensures a better go-live experience for all. 

Determine your organization’s bandwidth for change. 

Many companies are eager to benefit from cloud applications and ready to make the shift. That said, company leaders need to be aware of what their employees can handle and when the change is too much. You want to be thoughtful about the changes and spread them out over a reasonable amount of time. For instance, you may shift your ERP to the cloud—it’s a smart move that will pay off for the company. That said, moving your timecards to the cloud at the same time might just make your employees’ heads explode. Consider when the best time is to make changes and implement them across the organization with an eye toward reducing complexity. You’ll keep your employees enthused about the transformation instead of overwhelmed. 

Transformation by its very nature is a challenge. However, you can make the whole process easier and more successful by addressing people’s concerns, keeping the lines of communication open, and strategically implementing changes at a pace that works for your organization. The bottom line: Focus on the people as much as the technology. When your employees are prepared and onboard with the changes, then you’ll drive adoption that much quicker.

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