A Change Will Do You Good: Lessons from Change Management for SharePoint Solution Architects

Applying Change Management Best Practices to SharePoint Solution Deployments

An interesting article in Knowledge@Wharton this past week reminded me about how important change management is to effective SharePoint deployments. In this article, a change management expert at BP comments on why she believes that the corporate world is “addicted” to serial change management programs that consume lots of energy and resources but ultimately fail – only to be followed by another initiative in a year or two.

Not long ago, a user at a current client expressed a similar concern. A few years earlier, he had painfully migrated all his project documents to eRoom. Along comes our team, telling him that now he needs to migrate all his project documents to SharePoint. “I’ll do it,” he told us, “but only if you promise me that I will never have to migrate my content to another platform again!” He wasn’t so concerned about the migration effort itself, he just wanted to be convinced that the value proposition for the new solution justified the “pain” of another migration.

I’ve long believed that effective knowledge management is really all about change management. I think that effective collaboration solutions are mostly all about change management as well. What can SharePoint solution architects learn from change management experts?

First, recognize that SharePoint solutions often fail for the very same reasons that change management initiatives fail:

  • Solution sponsors focus on the initial launch or “big splash” but fail to make the commitment to continuous oversight to ensure that the solution is successful (i.e., they suffer from a little bit of organizational attention deficit disorder).
  • Organizations fail to remember that all the employees are listening to the same radio station: WIIFM – What’s in it for Me? If employees don’t understand or can’t see the personal value in the change initiative or new solution, they will just revert to the way they used to get things done.
  • The solution is associated with an external team, a special internal “change or solution team” or consultants rather than the leaders who actually run the business. One of the more successful SharePoint solutions I’ve observed was in an organization where a key executive stopped responding to any e-mail message with an attached document. He politely replied back to each sender that he would read the message when the message included a link to the document they wanted him to review rather than an attachment. He truly “owned” the solution and took accountability for effecting change by modeling the behaviors he wanted every employee to follow.

Second, understand that successful change management solutions are all about employee engagement. As you promote your SharePoint initiative, make sure that you are making the case for change – in every newsletter article, every slide deck, and every conversation. One of my favorite approaches for getting engagement is the use of “future scenarios.” This technique involves painting a picture of what the work environment or the job will be like when the solution is fully operational. Some people call these scenarios “Day in the Life” stories. Whatever you call them, telling or presenting a story about what the future will look like is a powerful method for engagement. My very favorite personal experience with future scenarios happened at an internal leadership event where I had to make a presentation about what my knowledge management business group was working on. I approached the task by describing what a consultant’s day would look like when we completed our goals for the year. One audience member practically brought me to tears when he looked at all of us and said, “I can’t wait to work for that company.”

Third, don’t assume that all of your leaders “get it.” I admit, this is something I often forget to acknowledge. The scary take away from the BP Change Leader: take the amount of time you think you need to engage and educate the management team and multiply it times 10. I’m not so sure you will need to take 10 times as long to engage and empower your leaders, but it’s definitely something to think about and will certainly be more time than you originally planned.

Finally, remember that you need to shift the emphasis from “big splashes” at solution launch to everyday performance improvement. I’ve long advocated for making sure that individual performance goals should be aligned with the behavioral change that you expect in order to ensure your solution is effective. People will work hardest to achieve the goals against which they are measured. If the organization is not committed enough to collaboration to at least recognize and celebrate the solution outcomes, even if not everyone’s performance plan is changed, then your initiative has a very small chance of success.

At the end of the day, whether you are responsible for change management, knowledge management, or a SharePoint solution designed to support these or other business objectives, it’s important to celebrate the people and business units who are demonstrating the outcomes your solution is designed to achieve. The best outcome, of course, is moving the needle towards achieving your core business objectives. However, it’s important to celebrate and recognize progress along the way – by sharing success stories, creating a future vision, and sustaining a continued commitment to change.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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