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Succeeding in a People-Centric Change Journey

Transformation projects bring promise,
but they often come at a high cost.

Stijn-Pieter van Houten

Global Mfg. Knowledge & Innovation Lead at o9 Solutions, Inc.

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Published: March 10, 2023

As an organization evolves, it needs to take on projects and initiatives that improve performance, seize opportunities, or solve key challenges. As promising as the outcomes of these projects are, they often come at a high price: sweeping process and cultural change.

Changes like these don’t happen overnight. A project of this scale usually requires a tremendous amount of work including a redefinition of existing processes, modification of job roles, re-designing organizational and reporting structures, and the systemic use of technologies. This work needs to be done early to prepare for a deployment, and frequently requires a complete overhaul of organizational routines. It’s at this stage when change management becomes vital. It provides a guideline on how an organization can lead and instruct its rank and file to adapt to new processes effectively.

As we move into the age of digital transformation, many companies are recognizing that their existing legacy capabilities and technology stack cannot support their future growth strategy.  They are starting to envision a state of the business that requires a cloud-native, built-for-purpose, scalable solution that has the resilience to deliver results in a complex, volatile market.

Usually, when a company decides to do a complete makeover of their existing legacy systems it heralds colossal changes to the entire organization. Still, there is a tendency to underestimate the magnitude of these changes, assuming this endeavor entails a simple deployment of new technology that requires little effort. This nonchalant attitude towards integrated business planning often comes back to cause significant headaches because, at the outset, the scope of the project isn’t fully understood. This is, in fact, where change management becomes a critical piece of the overall strategy. It is imperative that a roadmap guide planning and executing an effective platform transition and supporting employees throughout the adoption of new systems, new technologies, and new ways of working. 

o9 has partnered with dozens of companies to guide and support them along their digital transformation journey, and we embrace a concept of lifelong learning that aggregates all the lessons learned during past projects to streamline the process for new projects and coach leaders as they create their deployment roadmap. This article and key takeaways will outline for any organization how to apply a critical eye to a project and document the requirements and milestones a successful change journey needs, and how to apply them internally as the transformation begins.

The essences of a successful change journey

This article will not focus on a generic roadmap. Instead, it deep-dives into identifying the tools and accelerators that can significantly bolster the progress of change, and the critical success factors that if utilized correctly, will greatly reduce the difficulties during your change journeys.

The must-have tools and accelerators for any change journey to succeed

As companies change, it’s imperative to have a clear vision of the desired end state of the business. Equally important to knowing the vision is communicating that to the organization in a clear, inspiring way. It gives people an understanding of why it’s essential to change and how the organization will shift to accommodate these new processes. Ultimately, the most important question to answer for your team is  “How do these changes help the company differentiate itself in the marketplace and be more successful?” By answering this question, the change leadership team will better align with the whole organization during this process. A good step to take is hosting a series of change vision workshops that conveys the message across the organization will be useful to get everybody on board. 

Another important factor to consider during changes is stakeholder engagement. Change leaders need to invest in creating an impact and stakeholder analysis as a foundational part of the project. This analysis defines all stakeholder groups impacted by the change and outlines their roles in the change journey. To align groups and speed up adoption, the leadership team can organize change impact and stakeholder analysis workshops to provide transparency and drive buy-in among the change agents. 

A second foundational pillar necessary to this process is creating best-practice adoption metrics and dashboards. Once the project has started, begin tracking and measuring adoption progress against a benchmark. One best practice that will lead to success is to implement KPI leaderboards for sales accounts, markets, supply chains, factories, and procurement. By creating a detailed overview of performance, change leadership can drive peer comparison, highlight outstanding performance, or identify setbacks or roadblocks during implementation. Having this insight helps set up transparent planning policies to drive the right behaviors across sales and supply chain. This is done by collecting new insights about missed deadlines, or prioritizing commitments or incremental demands between customers. Showing strategic value of the plan early is the way to convince sceptics, those on the fence, and those that are “change adverse” in general, that change is necessary and beneficial. Data, facts, and figures are the tools to carry a project through to a successful conclusion.

Last but not least, a useful tool to make changes stick is video communication: Companies can create compelling video-based communication for building organizational alignment. Videos are highly engaging and attention-grabbing, not to mention that visual storytelling is easier to digest than other types of content. 

Critical success factors in changes

Besides plans and tools, developing the right mental state within the team is also essential. The outcome of a change journey is highly dependent on adequately preparing for these critical variables.

Half of the success of change management is in making plans. The other half belongs to helping people to understand the changes. This is where the change leadership teams need to be clear about the sequence to a successful deployment.

First, get top management on board. Change management needs to start at the top of the organizational chart and flow down to be truly successful. Without anticipating and addressing this potential hurdle, changes can create friction and overlap of responsibilities between different functions. This could derail adoption without the right oversight from leadership. Top management must be vocal and supportive of the changes from the start, understand why these changes are imperative and necessary for the business and clear on the problems that will be solved by the new technology. Only when the top management is clear with the desired post-change state should communication outlining the process to the whole organization begin. 

Clearly, communicating this change is equally important to forming the vision. However, many teams miss the importance of asking the right questions, embracing continuous learning, and instilling a cultural mindset of relentless improvement.

Often change leaders make mistakes around expectations, mainly fooling themselves that a concrete plan consisting of 10 well-defined interventions will magically achieve the end results. Unfortunately, projects of this scope don’t always align with best-case scenarios and fail to build in flexibility to course correct mid-journey. Well-prepared leaders understand it’s a long process of engagement, which involves redefining goals by asking questions, learning, and improving based on feedback from the entire team. A solid best practice is to include the stakeholders that will be directly impacted by the evolving process and get a temperature check of progress and confirmation of end goals.  In short, make your process people-centric, not technology-centric, throughout the life of the project. 

It is no surprise that change on a small scale, say 10 people, is unthreatening and manageable. When the scope grows to include tens, hundreds or even thousands of employees, the initiative takes on a different feel and mental real estate within the organization. Therefore, it’s important for the change leadership to not only reiterate, but listen to the answers, to questions surrounding go live such as: 

  • Are you prepared? 
  • Do you understand what’s coming and how things will change for you? 
  • Are you comfortable with these changes?
  • If not, what do you need to feel comfortable? 
  • Do you feel you’re well trained for the changes? 
  • Do you understand your new role? 
  • Do you understand the new process? 
  • Do you understand the need and strategy behind why we’re doing it? 
  • What have we missed along the way that will make us more successful?

True progress is impossible without asking these questions. Change leaders have to collect the responses, learn from what they hear, and adjust their plans accordingly, which may include a shift in deployment plans or a shift in training. Only when this investment is made can a technology implementation project truly be transformational and benefit the organization.

Along with being people-centric, it’s imperative for leadership to be data-driven. Measuring the feedback and refining the plan based on the responses to the questions fielded to the team impacts the entire project. Typically, most of the decisions are being made by gut feeling and best guessing. This is a recipe for disaster.  Data-driven planning, supported by concrete insights from the employees in the trenches, will deliver the best results in large transformation projects. 

This understanding then amplifies the importance of how information is communicated to the organization. It is a leadership obligation to ensure everyone understands the changes. Historically this was left to one or two emails from leadership with vague explanations of what was happening and an expectation that the employees would figure out or infer the details on their own. This is a classic breakdown in communication between leaders and employees. Best practice dictates that leaders are specific and deliberate in terms of not only the information shared but in the ways it is shared. Building a communications roadmap focused on making expectations clear, with directions on what this means at an individual level will make a rollout smoother, less stressful, and provide more opportunity to celebrate wins, whether small milestones or transformational go-lives. Including well-publicized touchpoints in the plan to revisit conversations with key players, checking on progress, and alignment with end goals often called a “periodic temperature check” will pay off huge dividends to the organization. 

Last but not least, as large-scale changes occur, the leadership cannot micromanage the entire project.  It must have a level of trust in its employees to adhere to the tasks assigned.  Management should avoid putting priorities on non-value-adding tasks during this time of transition but rather focus on project-specific interventions that drive the project forward to add additional value.

This roadmap lays out the most important components of change management and stakeholder engagement plan and, in collaboration with seasoned professionals knowledgeable about your goals, brings you 50% of the way towards a successful technology deployment. 

Avoiding the pitfall: Learning from failure and a typical next-gen system implementation

When an organization starts implementing a new system, such as a next-gen integrated business planning platform, the ensuing shift is not just in daily activities. It starts to refocus the whole organization with an enhanced focus on value-adding activities. Over time, this will eventually lead to an evolution of skill sets, and a redefinition of job description and talent profiles across business units. The change trickles down to every individual in the team, culminating in a shift in the roles and responsibilities for each team member. Once all individual roles, responsibilities, and skillsets have changed, that’s when the whole organization has changed completely.

If you are moving towards employing a next-gen planning system and are in a leadership position keep this in mind. It won’t just be about implementing a technology solution. You are about to re-engineer the workings of the entire organization. In addition to choosing the right tools, it’s critical to be mindful of developing the right vision, mentality, communication strategy, continuous learning culture, and commitment to relentless improvement at every level of your organization. The top management’s commitment is vital for a change journey’s success. By opening clear lines of communication, setting expectations, inviting feedback and buy-in, and ultimately involving the entire team culture of collaboration, trust and success will become pervasive through the company, leading to greater and grander achievements. In short, being confident, purposeful, and supportive during a people-centric, data-driven transformation is the key to a successful transition. 

Do you see the same for your change management strategy? And if not, what is your take?

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