Too often, implementing enterprise-wide information technology neglects the human factor. Thus author demonstrates that attention to organization development and change management in IT implementation has resulted in a positive impact on productivity, job satisfaction, and other work attitudes, in the end, justifying the pursuit of change management effectiveness in most organizational interventions, particularly in IT initiatives that traditionally tend to turn the organization into which they are introduced upside-down.
To respond to change today, many organizations have invested heavily in capital-intensive expenditures such as new equipment and/or technology (such as ERP packages like SAP and Oracle) in the hope that these will reduce cost and increase productivity. They have had these hopes because they have believed the slick presentations provided by consultants and sales representatives which promise positive results over-night. Alternatively, they have adhered to a century-old belief, which has since been largely debunked, that has said that through technological innovation alone survival and prosperity will be assured. Unfortunately, the prevailing belief is that the shiny new thing is more “sexy” and easy to sell to customers who are looking for the one thing that will solve all their profitability and survivability issues.
Nonetheless, much of the recent academic research has shown that it is not the “hard” technology acquisitions by themselves that guide organizational success, but the integration of these assets into organizational change management processes that elevate the importance of the human system. It is the integration that really makes the difference. As an illustration, in 2003 a Standish Group International survey showed that an astounding 66 percent of information system (IS) projects failed/were cancelled or were challenged (Standish is a market research and advisory firm that regularly tracks the success of IT projects around the world). It maintained that a significant contribution to this poor showing was the failure of most IS/IT interventions to effectively integrate employee adoption issues (including how to effectively resolve resistance to change).
This article will attempt to demonstrate how important it is that the users and marketers of IT tools recognize that in order for computer technology to make the impact that it promises, they must recognize that the users must be engaged in implementation planning at the beginning instead of as an afterthought. After all, the current technology available to business at large does not run itself; people impact and are impacted by it. It is far past time for there to be more than lip service paid to this issue.
The need for the proactive management of change
In 2004, Statistics Canada reported that investment in information and communication technologies (ICT) had contributed to strong labour productivity growth in Canada after the mid-1990s. Moreover, industries that have invested heavily in ICT, for example retail trade, finance, and communication services, have experienced more rapid productivity growth. Rapid technological progress in ICT-producing industries has also contributed to strong productivity growth in Canada after the mid-1990s.
However, the point must be made that simply purchasing advanced technologies does not necessarily lead to success. Firm performance critically depends on how these technologies are implemented. Successful implementation of these technologies requires among other things a human resource strategy to develop the necessary worker skills and engage them in the process.
Police and public safety and security services, although having been buffered in the past from change by layers of bureaucracy and their broad public service mandate no longer find themselves able to dodge the scrutiny that has been visited on their government brethren. In Canada, the financial transgressions of the prior sitting government have resulted in the passage of legislation whose intent is to bring fiscal accountability back to the everyday functioning of government, i.e., through implementation of the Accountability Act.
For one of Canada’s public safety and security organizations (known herein as “The Agency”), one consequence of the drive for increased accountability, both in the fiscal and service realms, has been to use technology and business process redesign to lever the necessary improvement. One can appreciate that the cultural and people system impacts of these changes are significant including possible role changes as people need to accommodate work processes that are no longer paper-based and require more computer literacy. It also goes without saying that downsizing often accompanies these kinds of work modifications accompanied by undesirable social and health side effects, e.g., stress of being laid off for fear of being unable to provide financially for one’s family. In an earlier Ivey Business Journal article, Don de Guerre and I referred to research that has clearly identified the negative health consequences for employees of unmanaged and/or poorly managed change and being forced to work in hierarchical, bureaucratic work systems.
These “change management” consequences have been largely unconsidered and unaddressed by organizations like The Agency, and by large IT consulting firms even though taking a proactive and more engaging stance in involving their clients and their employees in the implementation would likely result in a lessening of the negative impact on performance that is often seen when change is introduced. Existing academic research has paid little attention to the fact that external variables have contributed to a disjointed process of organizational reform. When the issue of change has been examined within the public safety and security context, it has most often focused at the micro-level of the police detachment (i.e., enforcement) and its ability to adopt community focused and/or service-based practices. Nonetheless, even in these situations, research has suggested that there is great value in taking a more proactive stance in engaging police officers “on the beat” in the upfront decision making and action planning around how to effectively integrate new practices into their everyday routine. The Canadian Department of National Defense has demonstrated similar results in a recently undertaken major survey of army personnel.
The change challenge
The change challenge that faces IT and other departments when new technology initiatives are introduced is to engage the staff most impacted, exactly those who often feel quite threatened by these kinds of initiatives. They have these emotional reactions because they often have insufficient information about the scope of the change, the training implications, and the potential impact on role changes. The information vacuum is often filled with rumors instead of integrating and engaging all employees with the technology and business process improvement activities.
Some examples of how this could be addressed are presented below:
- The engagement of all staff in a visioning process that encourages their participation in, understanding of, and contribution to future goals
- The creation of internal change agent groups who facilitate the communication process between staff and management
- The encouragement of the development of more participative leadership practices in traditionally hierarchically structured organizations
The importance of managing organizational change effectively has compelled a growing number of organizations to incorporate the discipline into major initiatives of all sorts, from the introduction of IT software packages to business process and organizational structure changes. The contribution of effective change management/leadership to the achievement of positive results cannot be ignored. For example, Statistics Canada has reported that Canadian firms have achieved performance improvements of 46 percent for process innovation, 32 percent for product innovation and 25 percent for productivity improvement, when combining high usage of innovative Human Resource Management (HRM) practices with high usage of information and communication technologies (ICT), in change initiatives. When firms do not include, or use only low levels of HRM practices, and only rely on high ICT for benefits, the resulting productivity improvements were noticeably smaller: 24 percent for process innovation, 14 percent for product innovation and 9 percent for productivity improvement1. These findings have served to reinforce the importance of engaging employees in any IT initiative, establishing alignment through an industry best-practice change process, establishing a common vision for the end-state, and to maximizing the benefits derived.
A management of organizational change approach
A more systemic, engagement-oriented and process-focused approach to the management of organizational change enables collaboration between leaders, managers and staff in the implementation of technology and business process changes. In order to achieve this collaboration, four interdependent approaches should be undertaken:
- Participative leadership: refers to a set of organizational values and leadership behaviours that can contribute to employees becoming more committed to their organization and its goals, and cultivating better labour-management relationships. It also helps bridge the typical chasm that often exists between leaders/managers and their staff, and contributes to a more adaptive, resourceful and resilient behaviour during periods of change. Participative leadership is an essential component of empowered, high-involvement organizations.
- Empowerment: is defined in terms of developing the organizational conditions that support high staff involvement in change initiatives, sharing “appropriate” decision-making responsibilities among management, supervisors and staff, and sharing of power as appropriate for the circumstances. The applications of empowerment in North American organizations have suffered from a lack of definitional rigour and this has resulted in different consultants defining it differently. Ultimately, this has resulted in much inconsistency in how it has shown up in organizations. This lack of definitional clarity could have contributed to outcomes that were less than satisfactory. Nonetheless, the core of empowerment is employee involvement, shared decision-making, redistributed authority and control, and increased organizational flexibility and adaptability, just the kinds of practices that have been demonstrated in the management literature to be necessary for successful change, be it in IT, manufacturing or other industry sectors.
In summary, the following appear to be the foundational elements of the approach to managing organizational change in a technology or any project:
- High staff involvement in the change initiatives
- Sharing “appropriate” decision-making responsibilities among management, supervisors and staff.
- Sharing of power as appropriate for the circumstances
- Systems Thinking: takes the position that organizations are dynamic systems whose parts impact and are impacted by both external and internal influences. Taking a “Systems Thinking” perspective is a conceptual framework that has been developed by a number of academics (e.g., Merrelyn Emery, Peter Senge) and practitioners to help understand that organizations are made up of highly interdependent processes that are also impacted by the environment. This means that the smallest intervention will have unanticipated influences on other parts of the organization. This in turn means that there will be situations that require tools, methods and techniques that are more group-focused rather than individual-focused, e.g., a group visioning process has the impact of increasing participants’ awareness of other parts of the organization and how the parts influence one another. This would not happen if an individual intervention occurs.
The commonality of language, mental model and approach is guaranteed by ensuring that staff, management and leaders work in an integrated and collaborative fashion. This also ensures an understanding of the intricacies of leading and participating in a large system change effort, and contributes in a significant way to the return on investment. However, in order for an organization to see long-term benefit, it is necessary that it be prepared to devote on-going energy and resources to maintaining innovations, and to transform itself by adopting practices that appear to have not been previously utilized, e.g., continued development of the change agents, more consistent information exchange with all staff.
This strategy involves alignment between impacted personnel and facilitates strong partnerships among those taking responsibility for any IT initiative. This strategy is designed to shift embedded organizational beliefs, values and attitudes at every level of the organization to support the implementation of the business transformation initiatives.
- The eight-step change process: This process, developed by John P. Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, integrates participative leadership, empowerment and systems thinking, and suggests that effective change is largely dependent on ensuring that the appropriate leadership and support processes, procedures, structures and systems are in place. It follows the process outlined in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. The Eight-Step Change Process
Change will in most cases proceed according to this eight-step process, which is described in more detail below:
- ESTABLISHING A SENSE OF URGENCY
- Identifying and discussing major opportunities and being clear why they must be accomplished now
- CREATING THE GUIDING COALITION
- Putting together a group with enough power to lead the change
- Getting the group to work together like a team
- DEVELOPING A VISION AND STRATEGY
- Creating a vision to help direct the change effort
- Developing strategies for achieving that vision
- COMMUNICATING THE CHANGE VISION
- Using every vehicle possible to constantly communicate the new vision and strategies
- Having the guiding coalition role model the behaviour expected of employees
- EMPOWERING BROAD-BASED ACTION (empowering people to effect change)
- Getting rid of obstacles
- Changing systems or structures that undermine the change vision
- Encouraging risk taking and non-traditional ideas, activities & actions
- Engage employees as partners
- Provide people with the opportunity to plan for and take action
- GENERATING SHORT-TERM WINS
- Planning for visible improvements in performance, or “wins”
- Creating those wins
- Visibly recognizing and rewarding people who made wins possible
- CONSOLIDATING GAINS AND PRODUCING MORE CHANGE
- Using increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit together and don’t fit the vision
- Hiring, promoting, and developing people who can implement the change vision
- Develop people and projects to carry on the change vision throughout the organization
- ANCHORING NEW APPROACHES IN THE CULTURE
- Creating better performance through customer- and productivity-oriented behaviour, more and better leadership, & more effective leadership
- Articulating the connections between new behaviours and organizational success
- Developing means to ensure leadership development and succession
Successful change of any magnitude will go through all eight stages, usually in the sequence shown, although it should be clearly understood that the steps can significantly overlap, and in most cases recycling through the steps will occur. Therefore, it is very important to ensure that all of the necessary resources are in place to ensure the completion of each stage. Much more is involved than a) gathering data, b) identifying options, c) analyzing, and d) choosing – the watchwords of management. Instead, leadership must be shown. Rather than focusing exclusively on planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem-solving, leadership is a set of processes that creates organizations in the first place or adapts them to significantly changing circumstances. Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite obstacles.
There are a number of factors that can act as obstacles to successful persistent change:
- Promised extrinsic rewards (such as pay and bonuses) might not be developed to accompany change
- Initial changes may provide intrinsic (e.g., psychological) rewards that create higher expectations that cannot be fulfilled, e.g., early involvement of broad stakeholders in decision-making may not continue, and so employees lose trust that the organization legitimately wants to change traditional practices
- New hires and/or newly introduced employees and management are not socialized to understand the new environment, and so act inconsistently with change expectations
- Key management supporters of the change effort might resign or be transferred with a resulting backslide
- Environmental pressures, such as decreased sales or profits, can cause management to regress to more familiar behaviours and abandon change efforts
Some of these are controllable, but some are not. The challenge is to focus attention on those issues over which influence can be exercised. In addition, the following questions form a sample of the issues which must concurrently be considered:
- How serious is the executive/senior management about instituting a change-friendly culture?
- Is there a committed guiding coalition that “talks the talk” and “walks the walk”?
- Is the organizational culture evolving to one that is consistent with one which deals with change effectively?
- Is there a substantial budget allocated to address change issues like development of change support resources?
- Is the focus on change management only politically expedient?
- Has there been a concerted effort invested in identifying alternative performance measures as part of a broad-based scorecard?
- Have the issues of employee acceptance and resistance been integrated into an overall change plan?
- Is there a network of change resources to support organizational initiatives?
- Are the new change behaviours being integrated into all employees’ roles, and especially those of managers?
- Are change resources “sitting at the table” and their opinions/observations/recommendations listened to when important strategic and tactical decisions are made?
- Has a plan been created that will extend beyond the end of the project and address sustainability issues?
At the very broadest level, it has been discovered that attention to organization development and change management has resulted in a positive impact on productivity, job satisfaction, and other work attitudes. Thus there is justification for the pursuit of change management effectiveness in most organizational interventions, and particularly in IT initiatives that traditionally tend to turn the organization into which they are introduced upside-down.
Success factors for any project
Based on anecdotal views, conceptual frameworks and empirical studies, it has been suggested that consulting engagements which possess the following factors will lead to more favourable project outcomes:
- an emphasis on project results vs. consultant deliverables;
- clear and well communicated expectations and outcomes;
- visible executive/senior management support;
- an adaptation to organizational readiness;
- an investment up front in learning the organizational environment;
- defined in terms of incremental successes;
- real partnership with consultants and employees
One of the most important and significant outcomes of organizational change efforts that are coupled with IT implementations is the demonstration of the power of community and community action. That is, the creation of change agent roles, which are populated by organizational members, bringing all staff together to engage one another and the leadership in dialogue about the vision going forward, all bring out the pride and commitment of employees. Furthermore, it then becomes clear that everyone in the organization has great ideas about how the organization can improve itself. Employees often are just waiting for the opportunity to be invited to contribute. The creativity and innovation that is available but untapped can be an encouraging message to management because it says that they do not have to take full responsibility for the progress of the organization by themselves alone. Employees want to be able to contribute and share in that responsibility – it is their organization, too. IT interventions are too often treated solely as technology implementations that fail to integrate the unavoidable and significant human system impacts.
Employees’ expectations about their continued involvement in any intervention tend to be raised significantly by engagement efforts. However, this kind of raised expectation is a double-edged sword. While the benefit to management is a workforce that is ready to partner going forward and to use all their creativity to contribute to the improvement of the organization, there is a “bump” about which to be vigilant. That is, failure to follow through on the progress that has been achieved, or unreasonable delay has the consequence of creating cynicism or reinforcing the cynicism that already may exist. Cynicism is the enemy of trust; a cynical workforce will demonstrate either ambivalence or resistance. It will become even more difficult to overcome during subsequent projects. Management can help by:
- Continuing to focus explicitly on the change process thereby establishing it as a norm
- Identifying key individual(s) to support the change initiative, and using them to promote a combined shared organizational understanding throughout any transition
- Providing employee training on the newly developed business processes and technology
- Actively leveraging the findings of the project through leadership commitment and implementation
- Establishing an accountability framework for continuing reviews of the organizational progress on a semi-annual basis
- Establishing a way-forward process that would include employees in planning and decision making
- Establishing an organizational process that would engage the employees more closely with the external contributors; together, they can identify opportunities to realize the responsiveness and efficiencies of the new technology/business process solution
The challenge for organizational leadership is to continue the momentum generated in any change initiative in establishing a highly responsive organization. It is critical that management follow through on the key change enablers: organizational structure, policies, information dissemination, training and development, performance evaluation and recognition.
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1 Statistics Canada report: Wulong Gu and Surendra Gera. (Nov. 2004). The Effect of Organizational Innovation and Information Technology on Firm Performance.