Change Management

The online revolution and its effect on corporate America has proved that you can teach an old dog new tricks, but don't expect that old dog to just roll over; it's going to bark and whine and chase its tail plenty before it gives you its paw.

That's where change management comes into play. It's one of those abstract topics that people pay a lot of money to attend seminars on, or get paid a lot of money to write weighty books about, but can't put their fingers on.

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When it's finally boiled down, it's really about how to get users to accept a new business process -- and the technology that enables it. Change management is something project leaders, business analysts, applications developers, help desk staffers, trainers, managers and executives should understand and practice.

"It really is human beings that make companies work, not technology," says Gabriel Cooper, a consultant in Santa Rosa, Calif. "Technology is just a tool, and users have to be excited about it, believe in it, (be) trained in it and supported in it. And change management is about making sure all of those things are included from the beginning as part of a project."

Services in High Demand

Although the notion of change management has been around a long time, companies are now putting more stock in the methodologies because of the increasing Webifying of business. Research firm International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham, Mass., estimates that the U.S. market for change management services will exceed $6 billion by 2003.

But not every information technology project requires formal change management techniques. Upgrading from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 or switching to a new voice-mail system isn't likely to create tremendous angst among users. But new applications that fundamentally alter the way a group of people operate, both as individuals and as a whole, and the way they relate to suppliers, customers and one another will create a lot of anxiety.

Face it: An SAP implementation, the introduction of an extranet to deal with suppliers or the creation of an e-commerce site are going to change the routines for everyone from top executives to administrative assistants.

Not only will they have to master a new technology, but their roles in the corporate universe may also become drastically different. At the very least, they will have to acclimate to doing their daily work in a completely new way.

In some cases, that's not just anxiety-provoking; it's downright terrifying. And change-management advocates say IT professionals who may feel invigorated by a new technology often fail to consider the ramifications of users' distress.

"When humans confront rapid change, they get frustrated, freeze up, get rigid and rebel against the changes. They aren't as adaptable as IT expects them to be," says Marianne Hedin, research manager at IDC's Consulting Services Research Program and author of the report, "Change Management: An Analysis of Market Trends, Growth, and the Competitive Landscape," published in November. "IT professionals tend to see things in black and white, and in change management, there's a lot of gray area. It's about emotions -- anger, anxiety and frustration."

Walk the Walk

The best way for an IT professional to get his mind around change management, Cooper says, is to walk a mile in the user's shoes. What if you're a hands-on programmer accustomed to inventing applications from scratch, and your department decides to convert to libraries of reusable code?

"There may be perfectly good reasons for the change, and you will still feel frustrated, powerless, like your skills aren't as sharp," Cooper says. "All of those are natural responses, which result in the diminished performance of the new system if they aren't managed."

What role can you play in reducing user stress and increasing acceptance of change? The keys, consultants say, are finding business champions for the IT project, including line workers in the development and design of the new system, constant communication about progress, reiteration of the case for implementing the new business process and education and training.

Finally, remember that you can't separate the three components critical to the project's success: people, processes and technology, says Gary Kissler, a partner at Deloitte Consulting's Change Leadership practice in Dallas: "The statistics bear out that the cause of the large failures we have seen is a lack of attention to the abstract, touchy-feely things."

Whether IT can lead change management or simply be a partner is up for debate. Since a big IT project such as an enterprise resource planning implementation is likely to be driven by business objectives, some say IT must assist with, but not spearhead, measures to garner acceptance of the new system.

On the other hand, "If you get an IT person to imagine what this process will look like a year after the system implementation and work back from there, there's no reason why IT can't lead change management as much as anyone else," says Dan Cohen, another partner at Deloitte's Change Leadership practice, who is co-authoring a book on change management. "Think about how the system will be used in the future, because then you're not just thinking of the technology, but how the technology is interfacing with people and processes."

Building Blocks to Managing Change

In tandem with creating the business case for a project, identify key end users who will champion the new system and processes. Ally with executives and department heads who see the need and who are strong communicators respected by both peers and line workers. Put them on a steering committee. Select people whose future success at the company is linked to the success of the project.

In the requirements phase, seek input for functionality and user-interface design from line workers, not from just the project champions. Put together a separate team composed exclusively of workers, and meet with them to understand current business processes, how they could be improved, system requirements and requests and the look and feel of the new system. These team members, in turn, become "minichampions" who take the message into the workforce and become your most eager beta testers.

Maintain regular, frequent and honest communication about the progress of the project. Reiterate the business case for the changes often enough so that it stays on people's minds. Be honest even when it's painful and keep users apprised of delays and failures -- let them know when 80% of the solution worked, but 20% still needs more work.

Think of your communication efforts in terms of a political or marketing campaign that aims to persuade, not merely inform. Use whatever means are most appropriate to reach each of the constituencies, from hard-copy executive briefings to e-mail newsletters for department heads, to coffee cups sporting an official project logo for line workers.

As you are developing the system, keep asking yourself: "What are the implications for the people who are using this system? How will they use it and relate to it?" Stay focused on the integration of the IT component with the people who will be using it and the business processes that will change because of it; if you compartmentalize the three, acceptance of the fundamental changes will take so long that the project will be perceived as a failure.

Sources: Gabriel Cooper, independent consultant, Santa Rosa, Calif.; and Dan Cohen and Gary Kissler, partners, Deloitte Consulting's Change Leadership practice, Dallas.

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