By Emma Hamer, eHamerAssociates, Ltd, special to

Change management is a well-used (but poorly understood) term, bandied about whenever a new system is about to be introduced. “You need to sharpen your change management skills” managers are told. “We’re bringing in a change management expert” or “We need a change management plan” are also common refrains.

I suppose I should be happy that the topic of managing the changes of – for instance – introducing a content management system (CMS), comes up in these discussions at all. But the reality is that when senior (IT) management talks about “change management”, they actually mean “change scheduling”. While change scheduling is important, it covers only the “what and when” and seldom the “how”. Allow me to explain.

Planning what to do (the implementation roadmap), when to do it (the project time-line), which processes to change or adapt (the integration phase), and who to tell about it, when to tell them about it (the communications plan), and when to schedule application training (the implementation plan) comes from classic linear thinking, and results in a chain of events that can of course be captured in a plan: a schedule of the planned changes. But what about the impact of these changes on the people directly affected by them? Managing staff expectations, identifying and addressing the emotional and behavioural impact of these changes, identifying and bridging skills gaps, and helping staff go beyond coping to embracing and being excited by the new way of working – that is effectively managing change.

To appreciate my point, consider a quote attributed to Joann Hackos “… the top reason CMS projects fail is … non-adoption by users.”

The important question – rarely asked – is: why then, do users fail to adopt a CMS? The answer is that there are many more reasons to resist change than to embrace it – a very common and natural human response to uncertainty. In practical terms, the reasons could be any or all of the following:

  • Nobody asked them for their opinion; implementation is top-down, driven by the business requirements, without input from frontline staff
  • They’re scared they’ll lose their job if they ask too many critical questions
  • They’re not sure they’ll have the right skills to remain valuable
  • They don’t see the benefits for themselves
  • They’re worried the savings to the company will result in lay-offs
  • And so on

In short – we’re dealing with emotions, worries, anxieties and other “soft” issues, that are difficult to quantify, and even more difficult to address. A linear mind-set, fairly common in the technology-focused arena, doesn’t help – since explaining the logic of a step once, and expecting everyone to “get it, and move on” is unrealistic, because emotions defy logic.

So what to do? Thankfully, help is on the way. Help in the form of the Human Performance Consultant (or Technologist), whose field of practice addresses the systematic analysis of performance gaps (the non-adoption of a new system) and who designs interventions to close those gaps (workshops, training, coaching). One of the premises I base my work on is that every member of staff goes to work with the full intent of doing the best job they can. When the results fall short of expectations, the complex of systems and processes is at fault – somewhere, somehow. Finding the faults, and fixing them, is what performance consultants do. Closing the gap between intent and impact.

Instead of attacking just the symptoms of non-adoption, we analyze the root causes, and then deal with them. The causes vary; from

  • “Don’t exactly know what is expected of me” and:
  • “My boss micro-manages my job and makes me feel irrelevant” to:
  • “If only someone would tell me what to do” or:
  • “We don’t have the tools, the technical skills and/or the staff to do an adequate job”

The interventions can be made up of formal classroom training, seminar-style training, or soft skills training and workshops. Sometimes it is necessary to tackle broader issues. It may be that developing an alternate remuneration system, in concert with the company’s HR department, with which to attract and retain talented staff, is the required intervention. Or we find that redesigning company policies, so they no longer unintentionally reward people for non-performance, is the solution to these issues. Whichever the nature of the intervention, all are firmly based on the front-end analysis, and are designed to have measurable effects on individual and team/group performance.

Fear of change, and resistance to change, come from the inability to see into the future. Metaphorically speaking, when staff can see only roiling grey impenetrable murky clouds ahead, the quite natural reaction is to seek shelter and wait for the storm to pass. Take away the obscuring clouds, and bring out the sun to illuminate low-hanging branches full of fruit, and the fear evaporates, as well. The point to this little parable is: communication, communication, communication. Not so much about what is happening, or about to happen (the change scheduling takes care of that), but about how it will impact each individual, how it will impact the workflow and require changes to long-time habits and customs, and how it will benefit each team member, individually and collectively. And most importantly: explaining, training, coaching on how each individual team member can make those changes in thinking, behaviour, and attitude.

This then, is real change management. Managing the required changes in human behaviour, of staff individually and as interacting members of a team, in order to transition successfully from the “before CMS state” to the “after CMS state”.

This type of change management cannot conceivably be done “on the side” by a most likely already overloaded line manager. Nor is it realistic to expect a line manager to have the focus and attention, or the coaching skills, to do justice to the task.

Unless your organization is large enough to support dedicated organizational development and/or performance specialists, you will need to bring in a consultant to help you manage the real change. The change most people forget about, until it’s too late.

About the Author

Emma Hamer BASc, is the founding principal and senior associate at eHamerAssociates, Ltd. With almost 25 years of experience as a business manager, operational director, and career strategist, Emma brings an eclectic range of talents to her chosen business. Creative, intuitive, people and results-oriented, she is a not-so-typical out-of-the-box thinker, who shakes things up, asks the hard questions, and inspires and motivates individuals to find their career direction. The career management programs she develops with corporate clients are geared to maximizing employee’s potential and improving employee retention. Emma is an acclaimed and internationally active speaker and presenter on career management and leadership challenges. She is passionate about helping organizations match people to tasks, and developing a committed and engaged workforce – shaping leaders at all levels.

© 2006 eHamerAssociates, Ltd. Reprinted with permission.