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A Project Manager’s Notebook: Change Management Is in the Details

“Change management” can sound like a lofty, high-minded topic. But change management isn’t just about soaring ideas. It’s about tactical changes executed and communicated every day over a long period of time. Change management is about the details.

Recently, I’ve been working with an all-star client team. The organization is rolling out major changes to the HR function. They’re moving to a new suite of tools for payroll, benefits, talent management, talent performance, time keeping — everything is changing. Getting HR people, managers and employees on-board with that kind of major change is no small feat. As change management lead, it’s my job to make sure the changes happen — and to make sure the entire team is on board. If you’re rolling out a major change, I thought my tips from the trenches might help you.

Develop a Detailed Communication Strategy

Fortunately, the company has a dedicated vice president of change management, and a very defined methodology. When we started, we focused on putting together a “change story,” explaining the what, why and how of the project. We wanted to get that information out to stakeholders so they understood why we’re doing this project, why it’s important, and how it will affect them.

Then we put together a target audience plan, which identified everyone who will be affected by the new system and how we want to communicate with them. Even though this project is driven by HR, it’s going to affect every layer of the organization. Whether you work in finance, legal, marketing, or customer support, you will be impacted.

When we were brainstorming about communication channels, we realized that not everybody likes to receive updates by email, and not everyone is going to go to a website and do a lot of reading. So, we’re experimenting with different channels – for example, we’re using Allego, an internal video platform that works a lot like YouTube. It’s important to generate awareness and excitement but in a way that is going to resonate with your audience.

Our project sponsor records a short weekly video message (two or three minutes long) every week. It goes out to the whole HR department so they know what’s happening with the project. We’re also planning virtual road shows, demos, show-and-tells, and the project sponsors will go to staff meetings and town halls.

Assemble a Diverse Test Team

Another interesting aspect of this project is our “change network.” It’s a group of 35 people from across the business, representing different parts of the organization that are going to be affected by the change. They will test the new system and share feedback. They are ultimately the end users, so we want to hear what they think of the user experience.

We’ll give the change network team a series of test cases to execute in the system, like completing a new hire, performing a termination, or giving a raise. We want to know whether the operation worked, first of all, but also, was it an intuitive and easy experience, or did you find yourself confused by what you were seeing on the screen? Were there too many clicks? Could it have been more streamlined? Feedback from end users on overall user experience is critical to the success of this project. If they don’t find the system easy to use, adoption may suffer and the system could get a bad reputation as well.

Aim for a Mindset Shift

As we prepare our organization-wide training on the new system, we’re thinking beyond just how to perform a task in the new system. We’re also focused on getting people to shift their mindsets.

For example, currently managers don’t have to approve time cards for nonexempt employees. But in the new system, that’s going to be an expectation and it’s a huge change. It’s more than just training people, “Okay, this is where you go to approve time cards.” We’re also training them to understand why it’s important, why they need to do it, and what will happen if they don’t do it.

Our goal? Moving people from feeling like, “Well, now I have more work to do,” to feeling excited about the change because they see the value in it.

Are you planning a major change at your organization? What lessons have you learned from your change-management experience? I’d love to hear your advice in the comments below.

Suman Kamath is a senior advisor at IA. Suman has focused her career on helping customers implement software. Her experience ranges from gathering business requirements to leading voice-of-the-customer workshops to user acceptance testing. She focuses on project management, change management, and process improvement. She is an avid traveler (40-plus countries visited) and amateur photographer.

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