The financial analysis on the new accounts receivable system is done and the numbers look good. The new process has been evaluated and key stakeholders have had input all along the way. There’s agreement that the system change is in alignment with the company mission and offers both strategic advantages and cost efficiencies. There’s nothing left to be done but set the date and implement the new technology, right? Wrong!
Selecting the right technology is a critical step but it’s only part of the success equation. Did you know that 70% of all company change initiatives fail due to sole focus on the technical solutions while disregarding the importance of the people side of the equation according to multiple sources cited by The Executive Center of Excellence? Pretty sobering statistic, isn’t it? As a result, ensuring a change management plan is devised for effective 2-way communication regarding the initiative is as critical to the project’s success as having the technology. This plan must be human-engaging and motivating, addressing needs and concerns, enrolling people in the vision, monitoring the process, and training leaders on how to effectively lead change.
Fundamental to an effective change management program-or implementing any change in the way your team does its job-is the understanding that change produces uncertainty and our brains don’t like uncertainty. In fact, neuroscience suggests that our brain craves certainty (or at least what it perceives as certainty) and that the introduction of any ambiguity is seen as an error or even a threat that needs to be corrected. This can raise stress and anxiety. It can also impact performance.
Certainty enables the brain to go on autopilot with a particular task and frees up mental capacity to attend to something else at the same time. For example, let’s say you’re a runner. On your regular route through the park, listening to your iPod, you may not remember parts of your run but are still able to record some of your fastest times. It’s comfortable and you can get in the zone.
Now, change your route to go through the city. You are much more alert to street signs and potential traffic dangers and leave the iPod at home. It’s not as relaxing and definitely not your fastest time. It’s the same with changing the way you do your job. What used to be automatic is now less certain, requiring much more thought and mental energy, causing anxiety and reducing performance – in the short term!
So, what’s the best antidote to uncertainty? Communication…Communication….Communication. Engage employees throughout the process, beginning in the analysis phase. Gain buy-in at the top levels of the organization for the new Accounts Receivable system and set a clear, compelling vision that motivates and inspires people. Communicate that vision throughout the organization and ensure everyone knows how they fit into the big picture. Set up continuous, open two-way communication throughout the process that includes a timely feedback loop to answer questions and concerns. I’ve heard leaders say that they wait until they have all the answers before providing information. Wrong. Tell them what you do know. If some decisions haven’t been made, tell them that. If people don’t have information, they’ll make up answers. If we don’t listen and respond to their concerns, those concerns only grow and multiply thereby creating more uncertainty, escalating the threat and strengthening resistance to your initiative. Having a comprehensive, open communication plan can help prevent uncertainty from taking a stronghold.
Effective communication from leaders on a daily basis is also critical as the new system is implemented. Leaders need to provide clear direction to their employees, maybe more detailed than usual, as they recognize that like a runner on a new route, more street signs are needed. Supportive feedback can reduce the uncertainty threat and build confidence in new processes and behaviors. Monitoring the new process and communicating what’s working well so that it can be replicated with other individuals and teams is another great change strategy.
I believe a primary key to successful change initiatives is to move stakeholders from regarding change as a threat to recognizing it as an opportunity. This promotes the success and sustainability of the new Accounts Receivable system while the adoption of this attitude can enhance overall work performance beyond the scope of the current project. The 2012 IBM Global CEO study (over 1,700 CEOs) found that 73% of outperforming organizations excel in managing change. Further, with rapid advances in technology and dynamic marketplaces, the ability of employees to be adept at change is a critical talent management strategy. Some people naturally tolerate uncertainty better than others. However, the good news is that becoming more comfortable and adept at change can be taught and enhanced through practice.
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What are your biggest challenges for technology implementation? Communication or something else?
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