Software Implementation is About People, Not Technology.
Every day when we speak with clients who are looking to purchase software, and we hear the same concerns over and over again:
Will the software work?
Will my users like using it?
Will it actually make us more efficient?
So we spoke with our friend, and colleague, Todd Warner, who is the CEO of Like Minds Advisory to help us all understand how organizations truly behave and what to think about when implementing software solutions.
Todd has extensive experience with organizational behavior and learning, having been head of Learning for BHP Billiton, and working on change management projects with Nokia, ArcelorMittal, Shell, Anglo American, Bonnier, Citigroup, Honeywell, Merck, PwC, and ING.
Here’s what Todd has to say:
Organizational change is the only constant in today’s world. One big bank I recently worked with had so many change initiatives underway, that they had created eighteen “portfolios” of change to keep track of them all. But nowhere is change more acute than in digital transformation.
The rate at which organizations are adapting new technology platforms is particularly staggering. Technology seems to be the placebo for almost every organizational ill. The problem is that changes, particularly technological changes, fail with staggering regularity. What organizations often forget is that technology is a people problem. Somewhere in every business, there are people who are entering data into technology, there are people interpreting data from technology, and there are people designing strategy on the basis of that technology. But a technology strategy without a strong basis in how people work and change is folly.
To understand the people side of technological change, you have to realize that there are two types of change in organizations: there are the changes that you lead (these are the exciting, fun ones), and there are the changes that happen to you (these suck). No one likes to have new things imposed on their already busy lives. No one.
Unfortunately, traditional change models don’t serve us well in this world, because most change models orient themselves to the wrong type of change. These models focus on “driving” change (the first type of change), not on “embedding” change (the second type of change). Let’s be honest: Structuring and driving change is relatively easy. Organizations are well versed in Gantt charts, project planning and generating new ideas for how other people should do their work. Our approaches to change wholly miss the challenges of actually impacting and changing the way that people work to ensure that changes get traction on the ground.
To demonstrate the significance of the problem, let me tell you a story. Darryl was a gung-ho change leader implementing a $3.5 billion dollar technology platform in an ASX 10 company. This was no small feat, but Darryl loved the change. His team loved the change. The Gantt charts were up to date, the stakeholders had all been engaged throughout the process, and there were even “change maturity” maps of different parts of the business. The world was looking pretty good from a traditional change management perspective.
At the other end of the change spectrum was Troy. Troy was an Operational General Manager who was not gung-ho for the change. He wasn’t opposed to it, but he had too much to do, and not enough time to sort things out. He responded, passively, to the inevitability of the change, and the litany of stakeholder communications he received. Did he love the change? No. Was he useless and doing nothing? Absolutely not. His life was a web of activity – managing the complexities of running a business, minimizing risk, growing revenue, motivating his team and heir local expectations and needs. He was a busy guy doing good work.
And then the change was implemented. I love this word, “implemented”. If we were honest, we would call it “imposed,” because that is what it felt like to the people in Troy’s business. The nature of the change impacted how very basic elements of work were done at a local level, but the “education” for the mass of people was a collection of mind numbing e-learning modules that people had to sit through. This is not how people learn, and this is not how people do work, yet this was the solution offered to enable embedment. It led to some incredibly elegant work-arounds.
Initially, all signs were positive: implementation had gone seamlessly, and compliance with the system was high. But the business results didn’t follow. The impact from the sizable investment wasn’t surfacing. What had happened, almost across the board, was that people adopted the system, and then coordinated with people up and down the value chain to protect the way that they’d always done work. In one part of the business, “schedulers” would build in extra time for “executors” to do work, so that they had slush time to keep doing things the same old way. From a technological perspective, everything looked alright, but operationally, it was failing miserably. People can outsmart almost any system imposed on them.
I hold the view that people are tribal – they honor their local relationships and connections above all else. If a change initiative doesn’t rewire these tribal connections, it will struggle. This is what was seen in Troy’s business. People are smarter than systems, and they will always honor their local tribes more than abstractions imposed from above.
So what do we need to do to move the needle on how we approach change, particularly imposing new technologies on people? We need to start with some pretty simple things. We need to build changes from employees’ world, out, not from Process, Systems, or “good technological ideas,” down. There are three keys to building a strong people approach to embedding technological change:
Build appetite: Move from “what” to “why”
“Why” is one of the single greatest conversations missing in most organizational conversations about technology. As organizations try to move faster and faster, they focus vigorously on the “what”. We need to rebalance this focus, and build all of our work in change around developing a compelling and clear “why” that resonates with multitudes of people. Change is a learning problem. If we reshaped our orientation of change from technical specifications, to being about embedment and execution, we will start to understand how learning needs to be a center piece of all organizational changes. And I don’t mean competency-based e-learnings! We need to honor how people work and find value in their work, and use technology to retell their role in a bigger story. If we allow people to localize purpose, they will fix the myriad of implementation challenges that haunt adopting new technologies. A good “why” makes change a logical extension of one’s own effectiveness.
People are tribal. Even in the largest organizations, people look to and take cues from the people around them. If we’re going to have more effective changes in the 21st Century, we have to learn to work with tribes and their influencers. “Stakeholders” are out dated, and they don’t work. Most changes try to leverage hierarchy to move work processes... the key to moving work processes requires us to identify and leverage the key influencers who will shape uptake locally. Change leaders need to identify and bring in key influencers who will be affected by changes. Then use these influencers to shape and drive the change and its implementation locally. This will require us to rethink how we staff changes. There needs to be the ability to identify influencers, and then leverage them to get traction on the ground.
Keep it simple: Focus on the core routines that will enable quick uptake and input
Most technology platforms are built on abstracted processes, and then imposed on how people really do work from the top, down. Change that! Either get technology that is simple enough to be seamlessly integrated into how people really do work, or work with people to focus on the routines that need to shift to enable the uptake of more complex technological systems. Organizations are built on routines – these are our implicit ways of meeting, delivering, and prioritizing. All of these routines emerge from expectations and ways of working that are fundamental to people and their tribes. They guard these routines. Building technology adaptation into the actual routines that people need to address impacts uptake, and it improves effectiveness almost immediately.
Technology has the ability to make organizations incredibly productive in today’s world. We can accomplish things through technology that were unimaginable even ten years ago. The success of these changes, however, requires us to recognize and build technology adoption into the normal operating routines and practices of the very active tribes that populate our business. Technology, after all, is a people problem.
If you would like to know more about Todd's experiences, visit www.likemindsadvisory.com