While researching ECM, you’ve probably read some discouraging statistics about IT project failures, ranging anywhere from 30% to 50%. Gartner analyst Mark Gilbert recently noted that over 30% of ECM projects do not realize full success, according to discussions held with clients during 2008.1 Building the right team, identifying and articulating project goals, and making appropriate software choices are critical, but they don’t guarantee success. Although there are numerous reasons for project failure, I’m going to jump on the bandwagon of change management as one of the root causes, and ride it through the final article of this series.
Project management and change management are integral to project success, but it’s important to differentiate them:
Project management consists of planning, organizing, and managing resources to enable successful completion of a specific project.
Change management is a structured approach to transitioning individuals, managers, teams, and organizations from their current situation to a desired future state.
Change management planning revolves around a specific, well-defined, measurable, realistic, and achievable project. Managing change starts at the beginning – during the planning stage – and runs through a project’s conclusion, addressing the gradual transition and ongoing support of employees charged with implementation. Those who recognize its importance typically do it well, but too many others make major investments in IT without planning for change. Technology cannot be effective unless people know how to use it effectively and embrace it.
Change Management: Six Steps to Success
1. Assess change readiness
If you want everyone rowing the same boat, the issues have to be on the table. Every concern – no matter how small it seems – should be considered from the employee perspective. What are resistance points? Are your employees:
Unclear why changes are needed? Unsure changes will help the company fulfill its mission or achieve its goals?
Clear about the purpose, but unsupportive? If so, why? Are they:
Anxious about transitioning away from familiar manual processes?
Afraid some of their documents will be lost permanently?
Reluctant to expose existing procedural weaknesses?
Fearful they won’t receive needed training and might fail?
Worried automation will destroy their creativity and autonomy?
A team approach to discussing and resolving these issues is paramount to success.
2. Communicate the reasons for change
Clear, regular, ongoing communication is critical from the start. Carefully considering drivers for change, weighing costs against benefits, and budgeting appropriately do not guarantee project acceptance. Even if you’re charismatic about technology and have a knack for verbal delivery, communications should be reinforced regularly in writing. People absorb and understand information in different ways. Written communication reinforces what’s been said and ensures everyone has identical information. It presents irrefutable facts and allows time for reflection and preparation.
3. Develop concrete plans
Plans should never be developed in a vacuum. If you want people to embrace change, they must have a chance to voice concerns and offer input from the beginning. Change management isn’t top-down; it’s listening carefully to concerns and fears – perceived, imagined, or legitimate – that could become barriers. Open communications provide valuable insight, letting you lay the foundations for effective change.
4. Reveal how changes will affect employees
Even the most dedicated employees want to know how change will affect them personally. They’ll ponder:
How will this change affect my work on a daily basis?
What will I need to do differently?
Will I need more skills to be successful? How will I learn them?
Will changes be sufficiently tested to ensure they’ll work?
Will automation affect my position? Will I be moved to another area or eliminated?
Many companies implementing ECM take advantage of efficiency gains by repurposing employees to more meaningful work. The aim is not to eliminate people, but to position them to handle work more efficiently. Communicate your plans openly. People can accept change if they know what to expect. Managing expectations is tricky, but it’s vital to project success.
5. Present a united front
Company leadership – executives, department heads, and IT – must present a unified vision and convey project support if they expect employees to embrace it. Indifference can lead to project demise. Make sure you communicate:
Firm commitment to project goals, while accepting input on the details.
Specific, achievable objectives along with schematics for achieving them.
Benchmarks for success and a realistic timetable.
Plans for training appropriate to each employee’s skill level and understanding.
Documentation that will be available to support end-user adoption.
Opportunities for end users to give feedback during and after project rollout.
Meaningful opportunities for career growth when automation assumes routine tasks.
End users’ role in ongoing process improvement (beyond the project).
After your plans are in place, revisit them often. Don’t bury yourselves in meetings and hope plans will fly. Encourage feedback as you advance. Projects have potholes and diversions; you just need to keep your eyes open so they don’t become calamities.
6. Manage resistance
Someone usually resists change, making life difficult. Negativism sabotages project acceptance. Identify nay sayers. Understand their concerns. Help them to see how ECM will make their lives easier. If possible, introduce one of your vendor’s clients – end users – to share their initial fears, successful outcomes, and expanded vision for the future as a result of ECM. If you can convert your greatest opponent into a project evangelist, you may exceed your own expectations.
Make the most of the opportunity
Change isn’t easy, but there’s no reason for an ECM implementation to fail if the project is well planned and potential issues are proactively addressed. If you work alongside employees to meet prudent, achievable goals, you won’t fail. By making company processes transparent, encouraging open dialogue, and being receptive to constructive criticism, you’ll help your people to accept change and will reap great rewards. When your employees say, “Look what we’ve accomplished so far,” you’ll know you’re on the right path.
1Mark Gilbert, Build Your 2009 ECM Project Road Map to Avoid Failure Trend, published in March 2009.