Technology, Risk and Change Management
Sometimes it feels like technology can solve all of our organization’s problems. Organizations of all sizes regularly make major technology investments in an attempt to realize productivity growth and performance improvement as well as conform to regulatory requirements. Organizations have transformed their accounting, customer service, marketing, human resources, web-content and many other business functions by adopting new systems, the results of which have been highly variable and often necessitate even more change in the future. Today the pace of technological advance continues to accelerate and organizations feel like they need to respond to take advantage of the potential productivity gains. Competition is fierce and organizations that do not invest fear they could be left behind. The risks of missing out on opportunities created by technology can appear larger than the risks of implementation, though the reality is not so clear.
The one thing that is not changing as quickly as technology is people. Within organizations, the ways that people are organized and the knowledge, skills, and abilities they bring to their jobs do not always keep up with the implementation of new technologies. Not all technology adoption projects go smoothly, and the downside risks are significant. Just because it can work somewhere doesn’t mean it can work in every organization, and often large systems don’t always allow for easy customizations needed to work in all business or other organizational environments. If you want to effectively manage these risks, you need your people fully on your side.
Depending on what technology is implemented, it has the potential to fundamentally change or even eliminate people’s jobs. And yet for technology implementation to be successful organizations depend on the support and adoption of this change by their workers. Within organizations we often find people who are suspicious of change, who don’t see the need for it, or who are worried about how it will impact them personally. If these concerns are not properly addressed people can easily turn against the change, and what could have been an organization’s greatest change assets can become active resistors.
Large scale change that is often experienced with the adoption of new technology platforms is never an easy undertaking for an organization. To increase the likelihood of a successfully change, organization’s must plan for effective risk management that includes an understanding of the technology risk but also the people and organizational risks. Just because it is possible to get the technology in place does not mean the organization will have a successful implementation.
As evidenced in the Management Concepts Report, Successful Change Management Practices in the Public Sector, change management that addresses the needs and priorities of the organization’s people is an essential element of any technology project and should be included from the beginning. Some best practices that can be used to accomplish this include:
- Support from senior leadership is critical. Senior leadership can make or break a change project depending on their level of engagement and commitment. They control resources that are necessary for effective change management, but more importantly, they can also influence people throughout the organization to embrace the change and motivate them to actively work for the project.
- Build in change management from the start. Change management that meets the needs of your workforce cannot be simply bolted on as an afterthought. To have the most impact it should be planned for at the beginning of the project and have assigned resources and deliverables in the master project plan.
- Get people involved from the beginning. Try to include a broad range of people in the initial scoping of the project. This will help broaden and deepen the understanding of why the project was necessary across the organization from the start.
- Enable everyone to be a change agent. You do not know who will be your biggest change advocates, and it could be those who are most impacted by the change. Give people a chance to get on board with the change and they can become your greatest assets.
- Give the resistors time to adjust and a reason to change. If you do experience resistance to change it could easily impact the project. Don’t ignore this as it could spread and have downstream unforeseen impacts.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Provide people with information about why change is coming and what the new technologies will do for people. Have a formal communication plan that includes multiple types of communication (per the report, successful change organizations use frequent push and pull communications) to appeal to a range of communications styles.
We don’t see the pace of technological change ever slowing down nor do we see the desire of organizations to want to take advantage of new technology ever decreasing. Organizations will be required to continually understand and manage the risks of upgrades and implementations. To best manage that risk, agencies need to have the change management skills, tools, processes and a change-oriented philosophy to successfully reap the benefits of ever-improving technology solutions.