Challenging the Status Quo: Three Change Management Best Practices

The only thing people complain about more than the status quo is change.

I heard this twice last week, at two different events – once from Madeleine Albright in reference to globalization, and once from an IT industry expert in reference to business processes. I don’t pretend to have any solutions to the problems created by globalization, but I do have some experience with business process change.

If you are responsible for introducing a disruptive process change in your organization, chances are you know the whole story: what drove the need for change, who chose the new process or system, what factors went into choosing it, how it impacts each job function, when it will be rolled out, what the expected outcome is, how the new system will benefit the organization. When you’ve been immersed in something for months, it’s hard to remember that the people who will be using the new process don’t know what you know.

Acquired by BigCo: A Very Short Case Study in Change Management

A number of years ago I was involved in the acquisition of a small security systems company (SmallCo) by a very large government contractor (BigCo). SmallCo made a lot of equipment purchases, and had a simple but effective purchasing system that took as little as fifteen minutes from the time the project manager submitted a requisition to issuance of a purchase order to the vendor. Once BigCo took over procurement and sent a BigCo-trained buyer to work with SmallCo, the purchasing cycle became at least three days, and up to two weeks for large purchases. Work slowed down, the project team was mad at the buyer, and the buyer had no idea why.

Start with Why

The buyer didn’t understand that dealer agreements guaranteed best pricing, so was going through the motions of getting competitive quotes on everything. The project team didn’t understand the detailed requirements of government procurement that the buyer was following, and why that was important. So we brought everyone together and went through the old process and the new process, looking at each step and explaining where the differences were and why they mattered. Purchasing was never as fast as before, but at least everyone was speaking the same language – and felt like they were on the same team.

When the new process doesn’t benefit a participant directly, be sure to explain how it benefits the organization as a whole.

Understand Perspective

The buyer saw SmallCo’s purchasing system as non-compliant and overly simplistic. The project team saw BigCo’s purchasing system as ridiculously top-heavy and cumbersome. They were both right, and both wrong. Each system was properly designed and executed for its own environment, but not for the other environment. Once everyone understood this concept, they could get past grousing about the systems and focus on working the system to get the job done faster.

Communicate the change as a new way to attack the work, and avoid attacking the existing process.

Make It Easy

We broke down the BigCo procurement process and found that most of the slowdown was caused by the buyer’s requirement to obtain three competitive quotes for every purchase. She could skip this step if the project team attached a sole-source justification to their requisition. So we held a short seminar on sole-source justifications and gave the project managers a compliant and easy-to-use template that they could complete for each requisition.

Look for ways to simplify new requirements and reduce the learning load.

Change Management: Part of the Job

At Tagence, we see supporting our client’s change management efforts as a central part of our role in deploying a new Enterprise Content Management system. We hold pre-deployment workshops for stakeholders to gain a multi-faceted understanding of the business problems to be solved, the “before” state and the “desired” state, and how the new system will interact with other systems and groups within the organization. During the deployment, we create client-specific Quick Reference Cards and help files, hold on-site formal training sessions and do plenty of ad hoc individual coaching.

Successful process change management requires careful planning, the right choice of systems and processes, stakeholder involvement, plenty of training, and three times as much communication as you think you need to do. You can read that in any number of good books and articles. Just keep in mind that no matter how well you run the project, you will still hear complaints – it’s still, after all, a change, and the only thing people complain about more than the status quo is change.