“Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” – William Pollard.
Change. It’s the inevitable constant facing every business. How’s the change journey going in your organization? How successful were the last 3 projects implemented in your business? Were the business objectives realized as intended? No? You are not alone.
Looking even closer at technology related projects, the success rate dips even lower. Why? Because by definition, projects involving technology invoke holistic change but often are not seen as, nor planned for, as change initiatives. To reverse the failure rate of technology initiatives, it’s important to plan for the change that spans people, process and technology vectors.
A common sentiment expressed from non-tech, C-Suite leaders:
“Most often, half way into a project the program team comes back with new discoveries regarding the need for additional time, money and resources. While the requests seem valid, it’s hard to understand why they weren’t accounted for at the outset. This increases our risk and ultimately cost of the initiative.”
This change/technology linkage gap can be often traced to the makeup of leadership and culture. Many CFO’s (CXO where technology function reports) in particular struggle with not having technology leadership that brings experience or expertise in effectively navigating and driving change across multiple functions throughout their business; much less how to integrate into business strategies in place to deliver on revenue, profit, and risk management goals. They are talented tech practitioners, but especially in mid-market companies, it’s even less likely that CFO’s can count on their technology leaders to possess the change leadership expertise for such change.
A common example: There’s a mandate within the company to migrate to a new CRM solution in order to reduce sales cycle time, improve customer retention, and benefit from improved transparency and analytics capabilities. The sales and service teams are trained and the system is ready, Go-Live has taken place, but two weeks post launch half the team is back to their old ways and have even developed some new ones that don’t include the new system. Business leaders are frustrated with gaps in realizing stated business objectives, sales and service personnel are confused and stressed as they waffle between the old and the new tools. The Executive champion is faced with a decision to pause and revert back to the legacy approach, or do a major reset or relaunch.
What happened? The same thing which happens disproportionately in mid-market companies all around the globe: the technology change wasn’t integrated effectively into broader business strategies, cross functional engagement was ineffective in helping deliver upon those strategies, and critical people and process change requirements went unaddressed.
So, what can C-Suite leaders do to change the outcome? To avoid a repeat of this scenario requires a shift in culture, expectations and approach. Technology initiatives need to be looked at in the context of the entire business, rather than as an IT project. In addition, layering cross functional involvement and change management disciplines from the beginning will help ensure a holistic approach to technology. The result is a business that becomes, what we’ve termed, a Business Centered Technology™ organization.
There are 3 things leaders can do to reduce risk and realize greater impact for the business with their next technology projects:
1. Focus on people and process change first as preparation for technology change.
Change begins and ends with the people involved and the processes in which they engage, enable and support. By focusing on the human impact of change many areas will be uncovered, beyond training and communication, that are critical to address, such as redesigned roles, evolving expectations, metric & measure adjustments, alteration of resource requirements, and business process changes. When change begins with people and process, KPI improvements can be realized immediately; well in advance of technology implementation. In addition to benefitting from KPI improvements, the organization will have proven its commitment and ability to change; both of which accelerate the process of getting buy-in to the more substantive technology phases of investment. Business case/program plan accuracy will be dramatically improved through insights derived from initial change iterations. Lastly, the program has been substantially de-risked with iterative change implementation, rather than an “all at one time” approach.
2. Engage cross-functional leaders.
Technology can be one of the strongest tools to drive improved business outcomes. Most often, technology related change enables cross functional improvement which could be exponentially greater if intentionally planned from the beginning. In order to realize those improvements and plan for them, having an understanding of how technology currently and could potentially benefit the company is imperative. Avoiding the “Orphan IT” model (well-intentioned technology groups operating in a vacuum) by engaging change-makers and leaders from all impacted functions will increase the impact of technology on delivering business improvements.
3. Plan with the whole company in mind.
Traditionally, there’s a tendency to focus largely on the IT department in terms of leadership, subject matter expertise, financial and resource requirements. Effective technology change should be inclusive of all areas of a company in order to properly align with business goals, as well as navigate the ripple effects of change which can derail projects if left unaddressed. Map all the touchpoints that will be affected for a given initiative. When developing the program plan, include people and process tasks & milestones in addition to technology-related items. Resource plans, should include functional resources (non-technology) with appropriate backfill and contingencies. In addition, the business case should account for the above items. Ensure sound decision making and prioritization based on holistic planning, knowing that all areas involved can ultimately both benefit and support the change.
Technology initiatives don’t have to live up to the reputation of failure. By employing mindset adjustments and new planning approaches that bridge the gap between technology and change management, businesses are poised to benefit from differentiated return on technology investments.
We’d love to hear from you. In your experience, what’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to address surrounding technology initiatives?