Ignore the people side of change at your peril
As service management professionals, we all know the importance of the people side of IT. This fact is drummed into us at every training session, conference, webinar or other professional development event we attend.
So why then is it still so hard to get it right? Why is the organizational and cultural change management side of any IT project or initiative still the poor relation when it comes to resourcing and planning?
Making changes to applications, systems, and processes is the easy part of the equation. Changing the people who use those services is much tougher, you do not achieve successful organizational change by sending out a few nicely worded emails or even giving them tokens with kind words on them. Office desks are littered with pens, pad, coasters and the like with long-forgotten messages from long-forgotten initiatives.
These techniques have their place in a well planned and executed organizational change management effort, but they won’t work when they are, as is so often the case, an afterthought, thrown at the business in the dying stages of a project when someone suddenly thought ‘we better tell people what is happening!’
We have all heard the theory behind the importance of managing the people side of change, and most project kick-offs will acknowledge that this needs to be done, but far too often it gets left on the drawing board as we get into the ‘real’ side of IT change, making stuff work…then we wonder why these changes are not ultimately successful when delivered to the business.
A good change manager will take into account the various styles of learning that different people will have, they will get that change is painful and hard to do, they will understand that there are elements of the ‘grief cycle’ that people have to go through when they have to change established patterns of behavior. The portfolio of practices that can be used to successfully embed change in an organization will take all these factors, and more, into account.
In her book ‘Balanced Diversity – a Portfolio Approach to Organizational Change’, Karen Ferris advocates taking a balanced group of processes that will focus on fulfilling current commitments and on fostering innovation, using a balanced selection of formal and informal practices.
Change is a journey, and to be successful you need everyone to ‘want’ to get to the destination. They may not all get there at the same time, but it is essential that they understand why they are going there, what the benefits are and why they cannot stay where they are while the rest of the business moves on. You cannot afford to have anyone standing on the station platform waving you off as you head on your change journey. That makes it too easy for others to decide to make the return journey and eventually erode the value of your change, or worse still, completely destroy it. Your destination needs to be inviting, and there can be no return tickets.
Making the destination inviting doesn’t mean you paint an unrealistic picture of your result. Be honest about the reasons for the change, the benefits and any possible downsides. Another way to reduce the chances of your change being successful is to promise the French Riviera in July and have your train roll into Siberia in February!
The era of IT being a place where technology is king, and people come much further down the line is past. As a key business enabler, innovator and partner, we must put people at the top of the list to consider when planning change initiatives. Cultural and organizational change cannot be an afterthought in the planning process. It must be considered at every stage of the project and be an agenda item at every project meeting. The best way to ensure the failure of any IT initiative, no matter how good it is, is to assume that everybody will jump on your train with you and happily adapt to their new location, no questions asked.
Next: Four practices you can initiate to encourage successful change (coming soon).