Not only will the expected changes alter the lives of employees, as well as the decision-making and the management of operations, they will also impact the very development of the business and the company. It's a serious undertaking!
In recent few years, how often have you been part of projects that have been delayed or cancelled because you failed to adequately address the concerns of the project’s stakeholders?
At a minimum, proper change management should aim to proactively manage concerns, resistance, impacts, risks, changes in habits, losses of power, feelings of diminished skills, and stakeholders’ fears of the unknown.
Unlike software and hardware, these elements affect people directly and can’t be automated, modified or deployed. This is what change management is all about1.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” - Anaïs Nin
Above all else, we have to recognize that these are the people who will experience the changes, and they’re the ones who tip the balance between the success or failure of the project to deploy a new business platform.
Each person will react differently to the coming turbulence, to new ways of working, to anticipated improvements, to the business and financial gains expected by senior management and shareholders.
The first step is formally recognizing that a variety of people exist in the organization's ecosystem, each with their own needs, expectations and concerns. This recognition should justify the investment in support and the direction of change management.
The organization’s decision makers understand the reasons that justify the project. But what about the managers and employees? Will they adhere to these reasons and make sense of them2? And leverage them to act positively toward change?
I’ll try to answer this question by looking through the lens of roles and responsibilities for the three hierarchical levels of an organization, and through the lens of the “external change management consultant.”
The Project Is Approved and Moving Forward
“He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.” - Leonardo da Vinci
The Duties of the Senior Management of the Organization
First: Communicate clearly that the decision is made, that the train is on the track, and that the organization is aware that the change is creating impacts, even some "pain," and that despite everything, the train is moving forward. We are referring here to managerial courage.
But just recognizing that the changes are understood is not enough. It will take time to embrace change before experiencing the full business or operational benefits expected by the organization.
Second: Adopt a posture of benevolence (presence and listening, without judgment), and have the courage to stay on course toward the desired goal. Communicate clearly with the affected stakeholders, while respecting the timeframe of the work plan.
Third: Create an executive committee that leads the technological project by prioritizing the human elements over the technological changes.
Fourth: Highlight the power and strength of the “voice of managers.” Managers demonstrate strategy and tactics, and contribute to the success of the project because they are the conveyor belt and communication agent between members of senior management and employees. They play a major role in the process of acceptance and the search for meaning.
Fifth: Be sure to create a deployment plan that fully integrates the change management methods and infrastructure, to be fully connected to the “voice of employees” (employees are the most vulnerable people in the organization and, in this kind of context, they exert a real influence on the direction of the project).
Managers Are Team Leaders
“Remember, upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” - Alexander the Great
The Duties of the Organization’s Managers
First: Managers should embody the vision, and experience the process in an existentialist manner in order to produce meaning. It means working at both individual and collective levels. The expert support in change management will prove very useful, that’s for sure. Training will often be of great assistance, and individual/collective coaching sessions will speed up the awareness process for development opportunities, and removal of blockers.
Second: Managers should become the ambassadors of senior management officials, and the representatives of employees to the senior management. They must also be reassuring by playing a buffer role and being present on a day-to-day basis, both in the field, where frustration occurs, and in meetings with senior management. Managerial abilities such as empathy, and actual, honest presence during meetings will provide employees and senior management officials with much-needed support and leadership.
Employee Vulnerability and Accountability
“I am not responsible for what has been done to me, but I am responsible for what I do with it.” - Boris Cyrulnik
The Duties of Employees
First: Employees should feel comfortable sharing their emotions of fear and reluctance, and become aware of existentialist notions in order to reach their full power. Their potential will thus grow, and the gains will by significantly higher than the usual results observed in projects of this type, which are often too low in the framework of change management.
Despite the doubts they feel regarding the project’s relevance, employees will quickly realize that the everyday life will not be the same. And remember, employees are the people most vulnerable to change, but they have a greater impact on the quality of the project in its final form.
Managing the vulnerability expressed should be left to the employees, and form the basis of a joint supervision/guidance from senior management, managers and third party consultants. Indeed, third party consultants should render the required nuances and objectivity which will prompt the stakeholders to dare take risks3.
Employees then develop the necessary confidence to become vulnerable, to fully assume their responsibilities in regard to change, and to become self-governing.
Second: Employees need to play the game; going forward, falling down, getting back up, healing, all the while staying the course of change. I like to draw an analogy between the path toward change and what pilgrims live on the Compostelle trail.
By displaying open-mindedness toward discovery and uncertainty, employees become comfortable with the idea of change. From a neuronal point of view, this means going from a state of stress to a state of bliss.
Your Third-Party Consultant4
“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.” - Galileo
Duties of the Consultant
First: The consultant should adapt his approach to the client’s reality. His means and methods will range from a basic “observer” role to a committed work ethic, providing all deliverables related to managing the change. Falling between these two positions, the consultant will leverage a variety of consulting services including facilitation, training, communications, mentoring support, and individual/collective coaching for executives, managers and employees.
Second: The consultant should also have a good understanding of the organization’s internal capacities and approach toward change, and be able to tell the difference between the actual means and resources deployed for the project, and the client’s dreams—which are often empty words.
Measuring the awareness level of senior management officials, namely regarding upcoming challenges that will affect most of the company—if not the whole company—, is fundamental. Finally, understanding the stakeholders, the positive and negative influencing factors, and the inner workings of formal and informal dynamics of managers, each working in their functional silos, will give ammunition to the consultant to implement a robust plan, in line with the deployment of the ERP project.
Third: The consultant should be able to adapt and leverage his skills to reassure the client and help him stay the course until the stakeholders reach the “contagion tipping point.5” The contagion tipping point relies on pandemic phenomena: the actual change becomes totally operant before reaching the critical point, even if the rate of “contagious” or, inversely, “vaccinated” people is 100%.
The diagram below shows the parameters of change acceptance evolution in the framework of a given project. It depicts how, with a minimum number of people involved in the project, positive contagion creates a tipping effect that facilitates the general acceptanceprocess of changes being considered.
Technological evolution happens more rapidly than human evolution. In order for technology in its full worth to adequately support the organizations, we have to acknowledge that humans need to adapt, and that it is easier to adapt when reluctance is understood and used to create meaning, and respond to new technologies and operational modes.
Three notions must be part of the approach:
The decision to change operational modes and technology is made and the change is going to happen. Senior management must communicate clearly and stay the course.
Employees must understand the change, of course, but above all accept to live with (or decide not to live with) the change. You have to do the change management work to make sense of it and to retain the people who have an understanding of the business of the organization. Technology is a means, not an end.
A technological change will be successful when people experience the new operational modes with new technology. Technology doesn’t have a life of its own, but people do. When people reap the benefits of this new technology and improved operational modes, they will experience this new reality in a pleasant way, every day.
The organizational ecosystem has formal and informal structures for managing its communications, reactions, processes, and strategic/operational decision-making mechanisms. This results in stakeholder swiftness and flexibility when faced with change.
Appraising these concepts should help you build a proper technology program that will make you get the most out of the expected benefits. Do not hesitate to contact us for more information on the subject!
The author of this blog post invites you to read two passages on the unforeseen and the uncertain: “All life is navigation in an ocean of uncertainty,” on pages 40 to 44, and “All life is uncertain,” on pages 44 to 46, of the magnificent book Lessons of a Century of Life, written by Edgar Morin and published by Éditions Denoël (2021), ISBN: 978-2-207-16307-8.
Thierry Pauchant's writings are very instructive in understanding the existentialist foundations of the search for meaning in an organizational environment. Suggested reading: The Quest for Meaning, Thierry Pauchant et al., Éditions HEC (1996, 2004).
Dare to challenge internal resistance; dare to assemble the people who tend to isolate from the group; dare to create links between the stakeholders of a (generally unknown) value chain, dare to help senior management officials adopt the right governance/leadership attitude; dare to create durable and strong links with the managers of various functional silos, etc.
A consulting firm specialized in change management; not an actual person.