It’s Day 1 after an arduous year-long initiative to implement a process or technology piece across your enterprise. With millions invested and a massive amount of dedicated resource time spent, you are sure the initiative will take off, and you will fully realize the business benefits projected. After a few weeks, you and other leaders feel the deflating effects of processes and systems not followed or worked around, employees no longer engaged or supportive of recent changes, and estimated ROI eroding out from under you.
What happened? Why did the change not stick?
The success of any company centers on its people, so it is imperative to communicate with them as transparently as possible throughout the project. The most effective method is face-to-face discussions with company leaders about the change, ensuring people are encouraged to talk about their concerns, needs, and fears from project kick-off to long after project close. We all want to be aware and understand changes that affect our day-to-day routines. From road construction detours to the re-location of your accountant’s office, you want to know what is happening, so you can plan. Any change, large or small, means extra time, energy, and anxiety.This is especially true when change affects people’s jobs. With this in mind, project initiatives should offer an array of mechanisms for affected users to hear about and to comment on change. This includes town halls, road shows, leadership coffee talks, surveys, and response mechanisms in all email and written communications (i.e., email address, phone number, or comment box). To ensure honest feedback, a few mechanisms for anonymous responses should be offered. The goal is not to respond to each and every criticism but to provide a venue for users to “sound off” or “vent” about the change coming. Responding to feedback as you are able and incorporating ideas where you can is often enough to calm any brewing storm of resistance.
Similar to holding pep rallies for a college football team, audiences want leadership to rally them throughout the change process and report back on what is going well. All project stakeholders, including the project team, need re-enforcement that the change is happening and moving according to plan, so they can maintain their momentum and efforts until the finish line is crossed. It’s important to keep in mind that “reward” does not have to mean a huge investment. Recognizing key accomplishments in meetings or communications, holding milestone celebrations or events, or shaking hands just to say “good job” are often enough to make audiences feel appreciated and motivated. These activities show solid leadership commitment, which cements in users’ minds the change is actually going to happen and all should get on board.
For long-term initiatives involving huge cultural shifts, leaders should ensure employee KPIs link to desired change results. The bottom line is that everyone is working for a pay check, so any project-related goals that can positively sway bonuses, raises or promotions will vastly enhance adoption. Keep in mind, KPIs should be applied to roles which can influence change. A simple decree to “adopt this change” will not work. In our experience, mid-managers and change network champions are the best roles to assign project-related KPIs. These employees often have the power and respect required to engage and motivate the overall workforce as well as the experience and skill set to navigate people toward change.
Change enforcement does not end at project close. It is natural for end users to fall back into old habits, test the boundaries of new processes, and take short cuts. Metrics must be in place to measure the use of new systems and processes along with an action plan which can be deployed to help sustain changes. This is called a Sustainment or “Evergreen” Plan. Such a plan will re-enforce the change through standard communication channels and training. A training program should be established for new-hires to ensure new employees are ready to use the new tool and follow associated processes. Training materials deployed during project implementation should be archived in a central learning management system (LMS) or on an Intranet site which can be accessed easily by users. These materials will remind them of tool functionality and actions required to follow processes.