Based on McKinsey’s research, only one in three change management plans succeed — largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support. Mastering the human aspects of change is key to transformation.
Tech initiatives experience a smoother path and better outcomes when teams engage stakeholders thoughtfully — not just to keep them informed, but to tap into the invaluable collection of information, expertise, personalities and spheres of influence they represent. True engagement also inspires buy-in, something that propels a transformation forward in the face of potential resistance.
Over the years, we’ve gained insight into practices that have helped our clients engage the “collective wisdom” to improve outcomes. Here are our top six.
1. Plan engagement early from multiple perspectives.
When a major tech change is initially envisioned, start analyzing your stakeholder community to create a broad engagement plan. Think beyond the simple communication plan. You need a road map to keep people informed, but also to draw them into the project, so you can leverage their expertise and energy and gain buy-in.
Some stakeholders will be obvious — others not as much. To identify them all, consider the project through these various lenses:
• Cross-Functional: Which departments should you engage? For example, finance representation is obvious when selecting a financial system. Don’t neglect, however, to assess other impacts. Systems integrate with systems. Data is shared. Processes cross departments, requiring handoffs between people and platforms. You need cross-functional representation to avoid risky disconnects.
• Organizational Levels: You want buy-in up and down the chain of command. Senior executives provide leadership and communication, particularly about the tech’s strategic and financial benefits. Mid-managers own the operational aspects of change and will need to answer questions and defend decisions. And frontline employees are usually the most directly impacted, making their engagement essential during implementation. Each level provides a unique perspective, and together they provide a complete understanding of the change’s impact.
• Tenure: It’s obvious to engage longtime employees who have a depth and breadth of expertise and understand the company culture. They also know why past actions were taken and how other initiatives have succeeded or failed. Newer employees provide an important “spark.” They infuse new ideas and ways of thinking, and I have found they often have a higher tolerance for change. In a recent transformation initiative, our best contributors were those who had recently worked for a direct competitor. Engaging a blend of longtime and newer stakeholders gives you both information and energy.
• Champions Of Change: Find your champions early. They will be your allies — advocating, inspiring and heading off resistance. They may work anywhere in the organization, and they will likely exhibit some common traits: flexibility, creativity, broad knowledge and strong listening skills, among others. Engage them as soon as possible.
• Outside The Company: Consultants can provide deeper or specific domain or horizontal knowledge your company lacks as well as objective guidance to counteract personal biases and politics. Key business partners, for example, those you partner with for manufacturing, logistics or marketing, have a vested interest in a smooth transition and can provide valuable input. If relevant, customers should be on the radar. You’ll want to keep them informed, but also consider how to engage them more actively, for example, on customer advisory panels.
2. Create an ecosystem of independent groups with clear priorities.
Based on my experience, groups tend to form at three levels. A small, diverse steering committee with subject matter expertise and human resources and finance participation is key to gaining buy-in and getting ahead of resistance. To operate effectively, the members should number 8-10.
For larger initiatives involving many departments, a big advisory group delivers broad, cross-functional collaboration while enabling the steering team to stay small. Working groups are smaller teams, rich in subject matter expertise, focused on execution. Ideally, one person from each group should report to steering advisory groups to minimize disruption.
3. Use your champions of change assertively.
Champions of change are your campaigners. Use them wisely. Give them visible, active roles during planning, ensuring their voices are heard and input respected. Tap into their creativity to solve problems and influence culture.
They are especially valuable in workshops. Involve them in planning, prep them ahead of time and give them leadership roles in the sessions. When they talk about potential solutions, cede the floor.
4. Emphasize continuous dialog — preferably face to face.
Solicit input from stakeholders early and often. Digital mechanisms, like surveys or emails, are useful. But real-time, face-to-face dialogs can be more effective, whether they’re large town hall meetings with live Q&As or smaller lunch-and-learn meetings designed to gain more intimate insights into how people feel.
Most importantly, walk the halls. The insights you glean from front-line conversations can be invaluable.
5. Develop a mitigation plan for resisters.
Resistance can crush an initiative. When it’s expressed, acknowledge it. Understand its nature and resolve concerns responsibly, especially if it comes from people whose buy-in is critical to success.
If you’re able to coach resisters into a supportive mindset, do so — but that’s not always possible. Avoid termination during times of change. You don’t want to lose good people, particularly longtime employees with valuable corporate knowledge. Instead, find ways to make them less of an impediment to the change. Move them into a different role where you can leverage their talents while making them less important in the transition.
6. Leverage familiar communication methods.
If you’re an email company, use email. If your company uses a collaborative platform or an internal wiki, leverage that familiar tool. Don’t introduce anything new that may be a potential barrier to communication. And to mitigate the risk of resistance, put a reliable mechanism in place for receiving input and managing its use. People need to know their voices are heard and their opinions considered.
Ultimately, people are the lifeblood of any company. To make changes stick, engage them thoughtfully — to get them on board, leverage their skills and gain their support. It’s key to transformation success.