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June 3, 2019

Three Ways to Fail at Change Management

Posted by Judy Clarke

Many companies have a culture of closing deals and providing great customer service. But typically, there’s zero focus on improving their own internal systems, until a process breakdown occurs. Once a company is broken, the rush is on to implement a software solution to fix all the problems. But this never works without engagement throughout the entire organization— which requires change management.

The majority of change initiatives fail, according to McKinsey, Bain, Gartner, Harvard Business Review and others. But leadership teams that embrace their pivotal role in operational and organizational change management do much better. Those teams, says Willis Towers Watson, are 2.5 times more likely to outperform their peers.

So, what should or shouldn’t you do? Here are three common change management mistakes we see, and how to avoid them.

Gears of change management.

Failure Strategy #1:
Don’t involve stakeholders with the selection of a new system until the purchase has been made.
On the implementation side of our practice, the project kickoff meeting is sometimes the first time stakeholders have heard any details about the new system that was selected to solve all their problems. Not surprisingly, being kept in the dark often leads to resentment and even project sabotage. If employees refuse to engage and adopt, the chance of a successful project is compromised. It’s much harder to get stakeholders back on track once this happens. They feel left out and disrespected. 

What you SHOULD do:
We find discovery workshops with all stakeholders work well to expose all the current-state pain points and gain early buy-in. Knowledge from the day-to-day operations team members has great value and will improve the selection process. This approach will also identify “project champions” who can become power users of the new system.

Failure Strategy #2:
After the requirements meetings, don’t communicate the status of the project to all stakeholders.
  Shock the finance sponsor after the timeline slips. Surprise the area leads with an email saying they need to redo all the data conversion next week, every evening after 5pm.

What you SHOULD do:  
A weekly project newsletter is an excellent communication tool to keep the entire team up to date. There can be links to training sessions, upcoming timelines, accomplishments, staff recognition, etc. The regular cadence will reduce fear and doubt and show the team the project is moving forward.

Regular team check-in meetings are also helpful.  We recommend surveying users just after key milestones to gauge user sentiment and get valuable feedback on what is working and what needs improvement. To track trends, have some control questions that you repeat in every survey, such as “Will the change have a positive impact on the company?” 

Failure Strategy #3:
Require all area leads to train their team members, with no support.
Don’t give the leads any help preparing materials, or even determine whether they have training skills.

What you SHOULD do:  
Okay, this is a hot button for me. The “train the trainer” approach is a means to lower a services estimate, and it seldom succeeds. The expectation that a key employee can fully participate in a major project, continue their day job and prepare comprehensive training materials is not realistic. Add in the fact that most people do not have training skills, and it becomes ridiculous. 

We have seen this approach work if time is added to the project for us to help the appointed trainers prepare their materials and hold practice training sessions. A culture of trust must exist so that leads feel comfortable asking for a consultant to train with them if they feel overwhelmed. 

More to Come

There are many more ways to fail—or alternatively, to succeed—at managing change. I will share three more in my next post. Change management is my passion, so feel free to reach out with any questions or suggestions!

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