The people side of launching new technology – it doesn’t have to byte.

Aug 2011
Issue 18

by Kathryn Manning, St. Charles Consulting Group

Gail McDonaldIt is inevitable. Technology marches on and companies continually have to keep up. From phones to laptops to a wide variety of business tools and systems, technology is often a differentiator – it can make or break how well companies serve their clients and how well they fare vis-à-vis the competition. But, ironically, the success of technology is not only in the technology itself. Rather, it is also in how well the technology is used and applied, which in turn depends on people and their readiness to leverage the tools effectively.

Unfortunately, many companies do not attend to the people side of technology change very well. They may do a superb job at technology planning, selection, and implementation but, if they fail to anticipate the human dynamics in adopting of new technology with the same rigor of analysis and planning, the technology rollout may in fact fail to deliver the promised return on investment. No matter how big or how small, all technology initiatives require some level of organizational acceptance to be successful.

It is not surprising that companies often hyper-focus on the technical side of upgrades. They invest a great deal of time and energy into system selection. Teams are created to assess user and system requirements, potential vendors are interviewed, and system capabilities compared. Advisory teams weigh in, financial analysis is done, compromises are balanced, implementation partners interviewed and eventually, the system selection is made. From there, the intensity increases as dedicated teams blueprint, design, develop, user test, and convert the new system. These are often fast paced, all encompassing efforts. For small and mid-size companies, this may be the largest operational expenditure they have ever made.

However, all this effort doesn’t ensure success. Regardless of how smoothly a technology transition may occur, the system rollout may falter because of organizational resistance to the technology change and inadequate preparedness of individuals to use it versus the system itself. The fix? Strategic change management.

Build it … but will they come?

Despite a sometimes subconscious belief in the “build it and they will come” philosophy held by technologists, it doesn’t always work that way. And, all too often, concerns about managing the organizational change may not bubble up until the user testing phase, when unique needs, concerns, and incongruence across key user groups surface. Or it comes in a moment of anxiety when the development team calculates just how many people need to know how to navigate a new system AND understand new processes by the “go live” date. The systems development team, often unprepared to handle system and process training, may turn to the systems vendor to provide user training. The vendor may have some navigation and key-stroke training, but it is rarely in the position to build training around the new client-centric processes that the new system supports.

So, what to do? How about beginning with the end in mind? Envisioning the timely results you want from an upgrade of new system, it will likely be clear that activities such as navigation and process training should be built into the project plan from day one. But several other aspects of organizational change also need to be considered and built in from the outset. Change management is more than training! Effective change management addresses many areas, including:

  • The business rationale for the change
  • The impact on key stakeholder groups
  • Leadership alignment and support
  • Identifying and understanding risks
  • Cultural and behavioral issues
  • Structured cascading change architecture
  • Individual and team performance requirements
  • Skills assessment and training
  • Multi-channel and two-way communications
  • Sustainability of the rollout

Missing out on any of these can put the initiative at risk and drive up costs. So, when you think about organizational change for your technology project, think about the following major change management components:

Business case for change – What is in it for your company? What is in it for leaders who have to drive the change? What is in it for employees? The business case is critical in communicating the importance and prioritization of the initiative to leadership and serves as ongoing messaging to help rally all users to the new technology.

Organizational impact assessment – Don’t be taken by surprise! Through interviews, surveys and other techniques, effective change management can identify groups impacted by the change, key stakeholders, assess change readiness, evaluate the history of change and assess situational factors impacting the magnitude and readiness for change.

Leadership alignment – Leaders drive change, but they can also stop it! It is important to align leadership so the change cascades down through the ranks. Start at the top with the most senior executives to support the business case for change. By providing key messages and modeling new behaviors, leaders can help to “push” change throughout an organization.

Communication plan – Good communications are clear, frequent, multi-channel, allow for response (2-way), honest, credible (who delivers it is very important), and frequent. A thoughtful, front-end communications plan targets specific audiences to address the impact and their unique needs. It considers preferred ways of receiving information and giving feedback and clarifies the “who, what, why, when, and how” of each communication.

Change architecture – Make change tangible and manageable. Define and structure the change approach to meet the unique needs of your organization. We have worked with clients who have multiple internal initiatives underway and personnel are overwhelmed. A thoughtful, structured approach is needed to ease the stress and make the change palatable to individuals.

Cultural and behavior shifts – Does your new technology require a shift in thinking? Does it involve a change in work flow, processes or skills? People need rationale and motivation to change their behaviors. It will be imperative to understand and to communicate how the technology initiative will impact how people do their jobs.

Individual and team skill-building – We encourage our clients to remember that there are two separate streams of technology training. One for how to navigate the system (click here, click there) which is typically one size fits all. The second one is job specific where work processes have changed. Process training is typically custom and can be a significant effort depending on the number of job roles and new processes involved.

When thinking about a change in technology… think big picture!

In short, pursue your change management with the big picture in mind, and here’s a big-picture formula for success:


You can do everything right on your technology initiative – it can be a great system, excellent design, and smooth conversion. But, if you don’t cover all of your bases, it could be years before the system usage builds to an acceptable level, and obviously this adversely impacts the productivity gains and the financial benefits.

Think broadly about how your people will adapt to the new technology and build a comprehensive change process, from the beginning, into the overall project plan. And, lastly, while it may tempting to assign available staff to the change efforts, look for experts, internal or external to build and oversee the change program.

For More Information

For more information on change management and the St. Charles change methodology, contact Kathryn Manning.

Next month

“How to see the “Big Picture”

Last summer, we reported on the power of “process visibility” – the St. Charles methodology that simplifies and makes visible all the key processes, activities, and supporting resources that are essential for busi­ness success. Next month, we will extend the concept to Framing the Big Picture – briefing readers on how to use the “language of process” to communicate and collaborate in addressing complex business issues. Excitement around this topic is being fueled by the recent publication of Process Visibility – the first of a three-ebook series authored by St. Charles co-founder Bob Hiebeler.