Whether you’re in the throes of implementing an enterprise-wide business management solution or will soon be replacing your small business’s CRM software, you will at some point find yourself managing change, change in the way people do things.

While some people embrace change with enthusiasm, others do not. We are creatures of habit, accustomed to and comfortable with doing things a certain way. For some people, and in some situations, change can be unsettling. ‘How will this change impact me?’ For many the solution is to simply avoid change, if at all possible. Understanding the behaviour of your employees throughout a change will be a key success factor in your implementation. Those who will be using the new system need to feel comfortable about the change to come and, once implemented, use the system as designed in order for the business to get the most out of it. So how do you go about this?

The answer is to have a sound change management strategy. Investing time in identifying the right tactics to support your teams will help you alleviate anxiety amongst future users and increase your chances of achieving the high user adoption that will ultimately help the success of the project as a whole.

 

Plan early

The ideal change management strategy is one that starts early in the implementation of a project. For too many organisations change management is an afterthought, coming into play only when the new technology has been installed. This commonly results in low user adoption and a workforce that doesn’t know how to properly use the new system. To avoid this, make sure you plan up front.

The first step of the process is to carry out an impact assessment where you identify how individuals and departments will be affected by the change. You may find some areas will be impacted more than others, and those with the highest impact will need to be well supported as the change unfolds. A good strategy for creating your impact assessment is to include impacted stakeholders in this process. Someone who feels they are part of the process, rather than simply a bystander, will be more likely to embrace the change when it occurs.

 

Plan thoroughly

Once you understand the impacts across your organisation, you are well placed to develop a change strategy that provides the right level of support based on the impact of the change. As the go live date approaches, your employees will need assistance to develop their skills and be ready to hit the ground running. Providing a combination of initiatives will help embed the change and may include face-to-face training sessions, quick reference guides or interactive workshops. Your change strategy will go far in ensuring a smooth transition from the old to the new. During this phase a key objective will be maximising user adoption and the sooner this can occur the better.

 

Communication and champions

Employees affected by the change will need to understand why it is necessary and why it will benefit both the organisation and them personally. Those impacted may find themselves asking ‘What’s in it for me?’ and it’s important that they have an answer that puts them at ease. Building executive support for the change is key. If the project has the endorsement of key managers from the CEO down, it will stand a better chance of delivering on its objectives. Linking this support back into a communications plan will also ensure that fundamental messages are being delivered to employees on a regular basis. Identifying supporters of the change in each department to act as change champions also provides an additional communications channel, as well as education and support from a trusted colleague.

 

Addressing barriers and reviewing progress

You may also need to consider identifying and removing barriers that could prevent user adoption, which may involve removing software and other technologies that make it easy for workers to continue doing things the old way. Breaking the cycle and encouraging users to embrace the new system or process will help reinforce the change, particularly for those who may be resistant to change and least likely to make full use of the new system.

As the change gains acceptance, it is important not to become complacent. Training should be reinforced, and the achievement of business objectives for the new technology should be announced to stakeholders as they occur. If users can see how and why the new system is paying dividends for the organisation, they are more likely to embrace the change. Gathering ongoing feedback on how your people are adopting the system is also crucial. If users find the new technology too difficult to use, or are simply lacking the ability or motivation to make the switch, user adoption may decrease over time and follow-up activities may be required.

With a well planned and carefully executed change management plan, the transition to a new way of operating will be smooth and beneficial to all. Plan early, plan thoroughly and follow through every step of the way.
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