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7 change management lessons for successful IT implementations 

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Your favourite department store is under renovation. A friendly customer rep greets you at the front door and directs you to the right section. Helpful signs further guide your way. Happy after your successful visit, you stop at your local grocery store, also under renovation. With no signage and an unfamiliar floor layout, it takes 10 frustrating minutes for you to find milk – and less time than that to vow to shop somewhere else.

There’s a learning here for companies implementing or updating their IT systems too. Just as with a bricks-and-mortar reno, a significant IT implementation will interrupt your business. How you proactively plan for the business interruption with ongoing communication and support can make the difference between customers and employees finding what they need or giving up in frustration.

Over the last 15 years, HR Transformations has developed practical change management strategies for dozens of IT system implementations, such as SAP, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Salesforce and JD Edwards, at organizations ranging from growing tech companies to conservative financial services giants to dynamic international retailers. While these diverse organizations have different cultures and challenges, we’ve identified common factors in their successful IT implementations.

Now, we’ve distilled our learnings into 7 change management lessons for you to consider at the start of every IT implementation:

  1. Plan for business interruption

Develop concrete plans to help your customers or employees to complete tasks or find what they need during your IT implementation.

  1. Don’t underestimate the impact of a technology change

Maybe you’ve been told that it’s just a simple technology upgrade with a few steps or buttons changing. Drill down further and you’ll learn which underlying processes and tasks are changing too. Tasks are the building bricks of organizational design. Change tasks and you’re adding – or subtracting—from the employees’ roles and accountabilities. Depending on how many tasks you’re changing, this can affect job design or the number of people you need in a job or team organizational structures.

Implementing organization-wide master data to create “one source of truth” can be another under-estimated impact. For our grocery chain client this meant making thousands of decisions to standardize food categories and labels. Should Rice Crispies be consistently labelled as “RC” or “Kellogg’s”? Should tofu be classified with the fresh produce or vegan food? Now you’ll need a centralized function and governance structure to make and manage those decisions.

  1. Help senior leaders be active – and not just visible

The Executive team is excited about the power of an upgraded IT system. They’ve signed off on the budget and the all-employee message. Yet do they fully understand the business implications of the technology change? We counsel our clients to be upfront with the Executive team on the ripple effects of the IT system on business processes, roles and reporting. Be open with the risks, potential business interruptions and the steps you’re taking to mitigate and minimize issues.

Ongoing leadership engagement may help you avoid this nightmare scenario. After a year of planning, the CEO at a financial services client halted an SAP implementation when he became aware of potential disruptions and stress on the business that he didn’t believe the project team had adequately scoped and planned for.

  1. Accept and plan for employee anxiety

It’s human nature. Employees hear words like technology change, automation and standardization and worry about changes to their roles or even losing their jobs. So, what do you tell them? We encourage clients to focus on the why and the need for change. Be upfront that there may be changes to roles and skillsets as we learn more about the changes in how we work today and how we’ll work with the new system. Commit to sharing the details once they’re known, starting with leaders and any impacted teams.

Keep in mind you’re sending a message when you don’t communicate with employees too. They’ll fill in the information gaps, often with worst case scenarios.

  1. Successful change management encompasses more than one-way communication and training

Talk change management strategy and most leaders focus on communication messages and training. These are key components of our change management model we call BluePrint for Change. In addition, consider other change drivers, such as the role of leaders, ongoing two-way engagement with users and knowledge sharing, when building effective strategies for lasting change.

  1. That being said, training is the greatest risk point for change management

Training is the main area where clients look for shortcuts. In our experience, training is where we should add extra resources, not hunt for budget savings.

We encourage clients to look at training this way: the number one thing you want is for employees to be able to do their jobs and in turn, keep your business running. Just as we wouldn’t expect a new forklift operator to gain needed knowledge and ability from a short online course or manual, neither should we take risks with vital financial systems or customer service support by shortchanging training budgets and resources. If there are changes to the tool, process or other aspect of their role, employees need hands-on training or they may not be able to serve your customers or support each other.

  1. Agile implementations need more – not less—change management support

There’s a lot of buzz about agile implementations or delivering IT changes a little at a time. From the employee perspective, an agile approach can feel like being hit by wave after wave of change.

Keep in mind that an agile implementation requires an agile change management plan. Each sprint, or wave of change, should be matched with a customized mini change plan, including training, communication and engagement.

Learn more about how to successfully manage IT implementations or HR Transformations’ approach to creating change that endures.

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