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Change management can be a complicated process filled with forms, meetings, and research. It can become a very sterile way of influencing the people around you under the cover of documentation and flowcharts. Knowledge of the textbook definition of change management can help increase your odds of a successful deployment, but for all the preparation, it often comes down to one thing—relationship management.

Oh great, another “idea”

In our space, we are overloaded with the next wonderful tool that will help us automate tedious tasks or make more visually appealing solutions with a button click. We are perpetually ready to act. Our users are not. All of the polished charts and processes mean nothing when they are first told about the idea. In reality they are barely listening to you. Instead, our users are considering questions like:

  • Does my boss support this person and the initiative?
  • Is supporting this worth conflict with my coworkers if they do not like it and I do?
  • How is this going to change my workday?
  • Are they trying to eliminate me with automation?
  • Who are you to tell me that I am not as efficient as I can be?
  • Why should I help you look good?

It is a delicate time for someone focused on running the business. While there are clearly reasons why we have been told to create a more streamlined solution, we know there are real people behind the existing process. Those real people are about to have their routine changed, sometimes in a very dramatic way.

Being a disconnected bureaucrat when presenting the new solution is the fastest way to fail. Think of how the users feel about what you are proposing and address all the concerns they may have. Step in their shoes for a while and get to know their process and challenges before you jump in to change things. Genuine concern for their success post-launch helps start the project in the best possible way.

Adding value

We deploy solutions because we seek efficiency in broken workflows or tasks through automation so the company can fully utilize the potential of our employees. Teams are often built up to work through and around legacy inefficiencies. Then, in we come with the solution to end all that inefficiency. That can be scary when those legacy issues are their livelihood. Discuss that fear openly. If it lingers, it will be poison to the project.
The interesting part about manual, inefficient tasks is that it creates a small army of subject matter experts. There is a highly guarded bond between these coworkers. They have defined their “enemies” and are resistant to outside forces. They are in the trenches together and see themselves as the last line of defense between business as usual and total anarchy. Walking into this situation without an appreciation for this relationship is not going to end well.

The deployment of a new solution, however, does not have to alienate these experts, even though that may be how it’s initially perceived. Being an expert in the process made the users experts in the data surrounding it too (sometimes unknowingly). Maybe they haven’t been called to provide insight in the past because the system is so fragile that to step away from it for five minutes could mean disaster—but the users know the inner workings of the process and why it is done. When users embrace the elimination of this monotonous work, they can focus on bigger things. This creates an opportunity to further define the value the team provides and helps shape the company’s direction in ways that could not be imagined when buried in transactional tasks.

Appreciate history

We are not the first one to propose fixing a problem. Maybe the other person’s solution was not as effective as ours, but in many cases the team has seen someone try to do this before. Address the cynicism by spending time with the team to understand what they do, how they do it, and any past attempt to reform will make the pitch even stronger. They have made many sacrifices to get to this point. Respect their investment and their craft if you want to be successful.

Employees do not drive to work each day thinking about how they can produce terrible work. Many have been conditioned in some way to accept what is happening around them. A change management process with a focus on relationship building will lead to the greatest success for all parties. No one likes the person who implements a system and runs from it—that’s short-term thinking. Use this moment instead to open up new ways to innovate that will lead to potential discoveries both for you and the team. This is a great opportunity to build stronger teams and form connections that can last your whole career. We only get so many of these chances. Use them wisely and craft your career narrative.

Chris Jimenez is the Business Enablement Manager at Team Detroit, and was a featured panelist at Build IT Together 2015. Connect with him on Linkedin here!