Managing change is hard. Changing a technology can be a challenge because of all the moving pieces. You have to make sure the parts are communicating properly, that the technologies are compatible and that they work with your existing infrastructure. The harder part is making sure they work with the existing business processes. And even more challenging is making sure the people using them will be able or even want to adopt them.
I’ve been involved with a number of major changes at companies and inevitably the biggest problems do not come from the capabilities of the technologies, but rather from the people involved in the change. Usually that means the end consumers of the product.
At one company we implemented a change to the existing customer relations management (CRM) system. It took a monumental effort from the IT group to make the change and while the team made the deadline, what we failed to do was work with the end consumers of the application enough to get the system totally dialed in. The system launched and it is still in use, but the fallout was terrible and many of the people involved in the job did not remain at the company for very long because of our failure to engage the critical stake holders enough in the process.
More often than not it is not the changes in technology that are the hard part to manage, it’s the people. And it is this change management that many technical managers are not trained in. Sure we can change technology, we can architect the solutions and we have a good idea of where there are going to be problems with the architecture. What makes things more difficult is managing the political landscape. Managing expectations and providing a vision to people on what it looks like at the end for them. That is where we fall down and where we have difficulty in bringing people on board.
What do you do in this case? Look to your other strengths, and not necessarily your technical skills.
Instead of focusing on the technical solution, find ways to connect to the end users of the system and learn what it is that keeps them up at night. Then craft a message that resonates with them to show them how this will reduce their pain. Find ways to engage them in crafting a solution that makes them happy, even if it is just choosing the colors for certain parts of the solution. It sounds easy on paper, but in reality it is difficult. You have to delve deep into what motivates your stake holders and what they find most important. You have to step into their shoes, and you have to then take all the information and engage some creativity to come up with approaches and messages that reach hearts.
It’s easy to change a hard drive from a computer, but changing hearts? That’s hard work, but it is the essence of leadership. I know that I still struggle to recognize all the important stake holders for a project and engage them sufficiently in the process. I’m still learning how to do better in this.
The image, titled “NASA Unveils Celestial Fireworks as Official Image for Hubble 25th Anniversary”, was taken by “NASA Goddard Space Flight Center”. You can find it on flickr.