Z Tech Blog

Improving Business Change Management

How to improve technology driven and business led change management

Technology driven business change plays a vital role in the digital age enabling innovation and growth. It’s therefore not surprising that more and more companies are changing their business through adopting new technology, technology strategies, methodologies and operating models. Indeed, some business are establishing permanent change management functions — including retailers, publishers, and banks that traditionally employ resources that are completely project aligned, not necessarily change aligned. But successfully introducing change is not easy and I have seen a number of businesses struggle with this challenge. This post provides some observations and tips to help businesses succeed introducing innovation to their company and organisation.

1 Establish a Clear Vision

Establish a clear vision for a group responsible for exploring why the company would benefit from a change management function, the type of change that function will introduce and how that function will be working with the business units to design a change roadmap and then implement the change. It is important that this change team establishes that the business units are paramount and that they are included in the change process and will play an important part in designing how and what should change.

There are a number of advantages such a group can offer, including helping in launching more products, making better decisions, making decisions faster, aligning the stakeholders more effectively, organising and managing resources (e.g. third party vendors) and establishing clear roles and responsibilities. The core value proposition of this team is enabling change without disruption.

As the change group is responsible for introducing change within an organisation, it will be taking an idea from a department and will work with other departments and stakeholders to structure and coordinate the wider effort. This group would also be responsible for reporting on progress, providing feedback, options for navigating obstacles, coordinating activities and lessening the disruption to the organisation. Without dedicated resources aligned to a change function, particularly for target operating model type of changes, decisions tend to not be made as effectively, in my experience; usually more time, energy, and money are wasted. In other words, change managers are key to achieving sustained successful transformation.

2 Secure Management Buy-in

Management engagement and sponsorship are vital to ensuring IT led change is driven by, and it’s requirements aligned to, business priorities. Introducing a major change is not trivial. Usually, it requires organisational changes that have to be supported by executive management. To put it differently, if the executives don’t buy into the innovation and if they don’t sponsor—and to some extent — lead the transformation, then the chances of establishing something new successfully and on target are minimal.

To get executive management on your side, help them understand how the change management group is benefitting the company overall and how the change they are striving for will benefit their business unit. It is important to stress how the executives would benefit from the change and how it would impact their jobs. The personal benefits can include reduced workload by having a change function assume many responsibilities for the change project that otherwise the executives, or their departments, would have had to take on, thus enabling the executives to focus on the business strategy driving the change.

This requires, however, that the executives are willing to grant decision-making authority to the change managers and trust them to manage the change process. Management still retains control and oversite though, by holding the change managers responsible for the project and sponsoring the change within the organisation. Signing off on change roadmaps and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) help the managers understand how the change project is performing.

It’s also important that the change function maintain the flexibility to sit where they need within the organisation to best drive change during the life of the project. This decision is best made in collaboration with the executive team. I have seen change functions that are a separate entity within the organisation, but for the duration of a change project get embedded in marketing and in development business units, for example, for a specific organisational change project impacting those departments. I prefer this model rather than having a change function that’s a separate department to other business units yet is driving that unit’s projects and behaviour. This recognises the importance of business unit’s undergoing change, how they are a part of the team designing the change and helps make the change organic to a department instead of being imposed from outside.

3 Involve the People Whose Jobs Change

Introducing change, especially organisational, will impact a number of individuals and departments. For example, if the sales group currently decides which features a release provides, but that is being transitioned over to a Product Management group, then the group will be significantly affected: as the product managers will now make feature and release decisions.

People are likely to resist the necessary changes if they don’t understand why they are necessary, or feel that they are forced upon them and that their concerns and needs are not taken into account. It’s therefore important that you involve the key people affected by introducing the transformation and collaborate with them.

If the sales group loses decision-making power, for example, then talk to them and listen to their concerns. Show the salespeople how they can take advantage from the changes and how they can continue to influence the product and ensure that their needs are taken into account. For instance, with a separate Product Management function, the sales group is better able to focus on other core aspects of their responsibilities such as building relationships with new customers, while they can continue to shape the product by attending product strategy and roadmap workshops and sprint review meetings.

4 Get the Right People on Board

A while back I worked with a company that had just established a new change management group and had hired members of this group from outside the organisation. While the newly appointed change managers were very enthusiastic, most of them lacked the understanding of the company and the dynamics between business units. As a consequence, they struggled to implement the change effectively, and crucially without much disruption to the organisation. This led to them failing to gain trust for future change initiatives from their colleagues in marketing, sales, and development.

To help a newly formed change department get off to a good start, make sure that the right people are on board. This often requires appointing a new head of change from within the company who has the programme management experience, but importantly, also the company experience and leadership skills. If that’s difficult, then you may want to consider employing a temporary head of change who has industry experience to kick start the change department.

Similarly, you may want to hire experienced change managers to inject the necessary change management expertise into the organisation. An interesting and usually successful approach is to not exclusively rely on new people. Current employees – marketers, salespeople, developers, project managers, and business analysts can make great change managers if they receive the right support and training. Staffing the group with new and existing employees ensures that change management team has the right skills, and crucially, knows enough about the business portfolio and the company.

It’s also important to offer the right training and development to the new change managers. Pairing newly hired change managers and existing employees so that they manage a change initiative jointly is a great way to help the individuals learn from each other.

5 Sustain Change

Winston Churchill once said, “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” With the right people on board, the chances of implementing innovation successfully and without disruption improves. But sustaining innovation within an organisation, requires work. The executive stakeholders that sponsor change need to continuously drive change within the organisation. This can be greatly aided by involving a change management function in discussions regarding introducing new business ideas, products and operating models within the organisation. The change team can also aid continuous improvement by monitoring industry best practices, products and operating models for ideas for new initiatives and ensuring the organisation continuously evolves.

Z Tech is a technologist, senior programme director, business change lead and Agile methodology specialist. He is a former solutions architect, software engineer, infrastructure engineer and cyber security manager. He writes here in his spare time about technology, tech driven business change, how best to adopt Agile practices and cyber security.

Posted in Blogs, Business Change Management.

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