Posted by: datango AG | May 16, 2011

Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone but…

… we’re implementing a new system.

I was with my UK colleagues last week and had the good fortune to spend half a day with an executive and the training lead from a ISV that targets the NFP sector. It was an enjoyable conversation and, I hope, will lead to a mutually rewarding partnership.

So why the post? Well, the executive shared with me one anecdote that I felt worthy of repeating. By way of background, this executive (we’ll call him Adrian), is responsible for change management and project delivery for this ISV’s new clients. He recounted a situation whereby he arrived at his new customer in order to begin the implementation planning process and was ushered quickly into an office by the CEO of the new client with the words, “If you don’t mind hurrying into my office; nobody here knows that we just bought your software.”

What followed was, I’m sure, an awkward conversation focused on the merits of open and proactive communication in support of an effective system implementation and/or change management initiative. Sadly, however, when I inquired (enquired, for those reading in the UK) as to whether this was a rare anomaly, I was told by Adrian that it wasn’t that unusual within their target client market (small, local, not-for-profit’s staffed by volunteers).

As I learned more about Adrian’s business, it became clear that their clients’ end user profile represents one of the most challenging to address: Exceptionally high end user churn, often low frequency of system/process usage (volunteering a few hours per week, for example), little ‘legitimate’ authority in order to effectively manage change with those ‘sticks’, little budget with which to effectively execute a robust implementation. Naturally, I believe we can help, but these variables really underscored one fundamental principle of change communications that is often overlooked:

Start communicating early. And often.

Your users need to understand why you’re looking to change. Why you’re evaluating new systems. How new processes will help them, the business and their clients. All this before a supporting system is acquired. When guys like Adrian show up to begin planning for a successful deployment, they should be able to communicate openly to a cross-section of impacted individuals (in fact, to conduct a thorough training needs analysis, they have to!). If you have a challenging end user demographic (as detailed above), it’s incumbent upon you to ‘sell’ the change, not just communicate that it is happening because without end user buy-in and acceptance, that shiny new piece of software you just bought will likely yield little, if any, ROI.

The take aways? Change communication actually starts when the business commits to making a change (“Hey employees, here’s where we can improve and here’s what we’re going to do about it…”) and not when the system implementation or user training initiative begins. And the most effective change communications ‘sell’ the benefits of change to the end user (“Here’s the WIIFM – What’s In It for Me – from Mr or Mrs End User’s perspective”). The other levers at your disposal to effectively ensure a successful change event are based upon your end user demographics which makes ‘knowing your audience’ critical.

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