In a typical organization, it is not uncommon for an employee to be able to quickly rattle off a list of things he or she wishes would change. Many times these changes involve current systems and processes. The employee would probably further be able to provide a somewhat logical rationale for why such change is needed and a detailed description of the desired future state. However for most people, actual change is met with fear and confusion because the path and implications to the ‘ideal’ future is typically forgotten about or not clear. The overall change forces the individual outside of his or her comfort zone.

A very common perception during many solution implementation initiatives is that the new system will fix all past problems, frustrations and issues. For example, if you were to propose to a group that an impending system change would reduce manual efforts and human errors, more than likely you would get overwhelming consensus to initiated the change. However, if you continued to explain that the change would also mean giving up the control of information flow, automating certain tasks and having to share information with other business areas, the response will probably be different.  In reality, a new system can bring a new set of difficulties, but these can be mitigated when aligned to a strong change management program. From my previous system implementation and organizational change management experience, here are a couple of elements to remember:

Realistic Expectations and Goals
This may seem pretty straightforward, but still can be clumsily executed. Unrealistic timetables, resources and support will sabotage an initiative before it even begins. Additionally, the project’s goals will more than likely include financial and technical milestones, but omit the people and process component. It is important to not only define business requirements, but to also validate them and identify what processes will change and how people are expected to execute them in the future. This may mean in the short-term, people are expected to provide more data and information than they have in the past, which translates into more time and energy. However, if these are one-time asks, the long-term the benefit could be much greater than the upfront costs.

Visibility and Communication
For any organization that is implementing change, it is important to not only provide realistic expectations, but to also quickly address questions and concerns, regardless of the level of role or priority. This action can go a long way throughout the change management program; people are more likely to stick it out even during the uncomfortable and bumpy times if they know and are comfortable with the overall objective.

Sometimes even the most innocuous communication can incite internal rumblings. Ideally, you should be prepared with a high-level communication plan to address these concerns. Without clear, transparent communication, people are apt to formulate their own “truths” and unwittingly (or not) sabotage the change. This communication has to be provided through multiple channels, be consistent, timely and impactful. This means being upfront with expectations and expected contributions. The most successful communication methods are typically conducted through a tiered, top-down approach.

Stakeholders and Advocates
It is important to have senior leadership onboard and on the same page of the change. Many times we have seen executives within the same organization deliver conflicting messages or unwittingly sabotage change management efforts. Along with senior leadership, it is important to have key stakeholders serve as active representatives for all areas that are impacted by the change. Sometimes these individuals can be difficult to identify at first because “impact” can be a very subjective exercise. Additionally, these individuals must not only have the appropriate knowledge set and willing to share it, but also must also be respected by his or her peers and supported by his or her supervisor.

Some of the most successful projects are those that have dedicated business resources. This means taking individuals out of their full-time, daily role and making them a full-time member of the project team. This enables fully focused resources on the initiative as opposed to splitting their efforts and quality slipping on both fronts. This is the ideal scenario, but can prove difficult. There is no guarantee there will be comparable or higher position available at the end of the project and many retailers run too lean to sacrifice a full-time position.

Finally, the defined “best practices” for your implementation should still be tailored for your particular organization and initiative. Knowing what you know or believe about the organization you have to first define the overall best approach and secondly realize there will be bumps in the road, regardless of how close you stayed to the best practice. Effective change management leaders are able to help an organization adapt and change by being able to adapt and change themselves.

– Courtney