Many of our clients engage the ABRC Technology Consulting team in the HR and benefit technology review and implementation process with the ultimate goals of streamlining their processes and procedures, enhancing communication, increasing employee adoption and improving bottom-line results. With each project we complete, technology vendor we research and study we review, it becomes clearer that a well-defined and implemented change management process is vital for achieving these goals. However, we have also learned that many organizations and the technology vendors they choose do not have anyone specifically responsible for change management. In this article, we will make the case for the importance of change management in your organization by using a widely known model developed by John Kotter and provide specific steps to incorporate change management into your technology review process.
In 1995, John Kotter published the book Leading Change, which discusses the eight phases of his change management model. We will use his eight-step process to illustrate the change management process as it relates to the implementation of a new HR technology (i.e. benefits administration, payroll, time and attendance, HRIS, applicant tracking and recruiting, and talent management) as well as provide context and action items for each step.
The first step to change management is to create the need or emotional appeal for a new HR technology and the process surrounding this technology. The following examples of organization-wide change provide excellent opportunities for establishing a sense of urgency and related HR technology:
To introduce the technology and business process improvement, build a marketing campaign around this need to get buy in from employees early on. Get company leadership on board first to help spread the word. In all employee communications, mention this upcoming change, name the benefits of this new solution, stay positive, and don’t offer an alternative to this new and improved way of handling HR functions.
According to the Prosci method of change management, the greatest indicator of success in a change initiative is active and visible support from leadership. In this step, it is key to get all leaders on board, and ask them to take the emotional appeal to their direct reports, supervisors, subject matter experts and front-line staff to create a guiding team of champions to be a part of your technology review and then assist in the development and delivery of your message for the future.
As with any organization-wide change, implementing a new HR technology is not a small undertaking. A powerful tool to help build your coalition is to announce a new opportunity within the organization and request nominations for this guiding team. Build a group of champions at all levels of the organization to make sure that the needs of the front-line staff, supervisors and managers are met. Creating this new opportunity is not only a way to build a strong base of supporters but also to allow employees to learn new skills and receive recognition for being part of this new project.
A key player in the team is a change management leader to manage the change plan and deliverables in conjunction with the project management of the technology implementation. If resources are tight and there is not a specific change manager to lead this effort, consider opportunities to elevate and upskill an individual or small team of cross functional employees to handle the specific change management deliverables. Remember, if it isn’t someone’s job, it is no one’s job.
Once you have your new guiding team assembled, set time aside for the team to strategize and develop a vision. To level set prior to these strategy meetings, consider giving each guiding team member the book Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber. Our Iceberg is Melting is a fable about the fear of change and how to motivate people to face that fear and take action. The eight change management steps in this article are weaved throughout the book.
In the first couple guiding team strategy sessions, set ground rules determined by the group. Create a collaborative and safe zone for employees up and down the organization to provide candid feedback, brainstorm and develop ideas without any judgment. Depending on the timeline, set weekly, bi-weekly or monthly recurring meetings to build a clear vision for the future of the organization with your new HR technology and the process surrounding it. Create a brand and marketing campaign around this vision with strategies, timelines and action steps that are easy to communicate and understand.
Once your team has developed your change campaign and is ready to introduce change to your organization, it is time to set the plan in motion. In his books and articles, Kotter emphasizes the need to communicate at least 10 times the amount you expect to have to communicate. The vision that accompanies the strategies and new behaviors needs to be communicated in a variety of different ways. The best way to start is to lead by example, with the guiding coalition as the first to role model new behaviors. Encourage members of the team to incorporate the vision into team meetings, company intranet posts, newsletter articles and flyers in the lunch room. For maximum user adoption and effectiveness, communicate the vision as a future state and the way you will do business in the future.
It is critical that the tasks and deliverables of the change management and project management plan are integrated to ensure clear and consistent communication to your employees. Many change management experts agree that at the end of the day, change happens at an individual level. In your messages to employees, clearly communicate the value of the desired state and why it is specifically important to an individual and how this new reality will make life easier.
This step includes getting rid of obstacles to change such unnecessary bureaucracy or multiple steps to complete a straightforward task. As John Kotter states in Accelerate, “Innovation is less about generating brand-new ideas and more about knocking down barriers to making those ideas a reality.” Through the process of finding and implementing a new HR technology, offer a way for employees to submit feedback or recommendations about how the new future state should look and feel or how to streamline the process. As part of the testing phase, allow supervisors, managers and front line employees to experiment and test a new solution. We highly recommend training your guiding team members on the new solution so that they can act as experts with employees close to them in the office. These employees can sustain the positive message about the new solution and help those most resistant to change.
As your vision is communicated and more employees get engaged, look for ways to create short term wins. For example, publicly reward employees for submitting feedback and improvement suggestions. Celebrate success stories in your team meetings, on the employee dashboard in your new HR technology, or with personal messages to employees with a copy to their supervisors. Wins will help keep the momentum and energy when some employees would otherwise go back to the old way, or forget about the excitement of the new solution. The more this new technology and process becomes part of your organizational culture, the more it will be adopted by users, which brings you closer to your improved bottom line results.
The keys to increasing adoption of your new process are positive reinforcement, constant improvement, and opportunities to learn and provide feedback. After each phase of your implementation, consider lessons learned with the guiding team, and think about how to make the next phase better. Create energy around the new vision with new projects for employees as well as ways to learn more about the new functionality. Prepare to update your communications and engagement strategy as the process evolves and more employees get excited and involved. As you will learn each step of the way, it is not necessary to plan the whole change management campaign down to the last detail. There will be unforeseen changes and challenges along the way. Expect change as employees and team members implement additional modules or submit new ideas, and embrace challenges as an opportunity to grow and learn.
Ensure that everyone understands that the new behaviors lead to corporate success and make the change part of your culture. When a technology vendor promotes the return on investment of a new HR Technology, the ROI depends on 100% user adoption. According to the “Sierra-Cedar 2016-17 HR Systems Survey,” organizations with high HR technology adoption see greater revenue per employee, higher business outcomes, and are 75% more likely to be viewed as a strategic partner by their business leaders. Incent adoption of the new solution by offering ongoing feedback opportunities, new projects around future enhancements and ongoing communication.
In summary, a well-developed and communicated change management plan is critical to any organizational change effort. We highly encourage clients to create this plan, as well as set aside staff to manage the plan, as part of the overall project of reviewing and implementing a new HR technology solution. While we all hope that employees can see the positive side of a new and exciting change, the reality is that change is difficult, and some people will struggle with it. According to Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard, “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. Don’t look for the quick, big improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That is the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.” The goal of change management, as suggested in the quote, is to make small changes that speak directly to individual employees and that last into the future.
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Shannon works with clients to streamline their HR business processes with technology solutions.
As a technology consultant, Shannon works with clients to streamline their HR business processes with technology solutions. She provides guidance as clients evaluate their current state, needs, and processes, and then connects them with appropriate vendors to meet their needs. Her specialty is technology implementation projects with a focus on organizational change management. Her knowledge, professionalism and willingness to help both internal teams and our clients have earned her high recognition with clients.
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