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Micah Fairchild Human Capital Technology: Avoiding the Change Management Pitfalls

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 By Micah Fairchild

Change Management Pitfalls in HR Software Implementation

It seems easy enough. To effectively manage change, all you need to do is get people excited and make sure there are no obstacles standing in the way of the change. The problem with that line of thinking though is that the excitement and those obstacles are far more complex than people care to admit—mainly because even in HR software implementations, excitement and obstacles almost always revolve around people's attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.

All human resources software improvements require some level of organizational change management. Start hammering away at one of the larger technology initiatives like implementing a human resource information system (HRIS) , and the necessity for managing change goes from helpful to paramount. This is due in no large part to the sheer number of stakeholders that any HRIS implementation involves. Your payroll department will want input, as will accounting, finance, IT and of course HR—and this doesn't even touch on the fact that HRIS software by its very nature involves each and every employee. Given the size, scope, and importance of any given HRIS software initiative, effectively managing change can mean the difference between success and failure. It can mean the difference between an HR software system that is fully utilized by employees and executives alike or one that is simply viewed as another one of HR's not-so-great solutions, in which case staff go through the motions but fail to capitalize on the automation and information capabilities.

Based on current research, the top three most overlooked pitfalls of managing change to avoid when implementing HR or any other software system are 1) failing to effectively manage motivation; 2) failing to manage the change transition process; and 3) failing to maintain the momentum for the change process.

Failure to Manage Stakeholder Motivation for the Software Change

Regardless of whether a change comes from senior management or from a customer mandate, how you explain, market, sell, or otherwise communicate the specific merits of any given change is important. This communication sets the stage for motivating any and all stakeholders to support and work together towards that change, and is increasingly being seen as contributing factor for change failure. In fact, in a recent study from the UK research institute Roffey Park, 65% of respondents indicated that "failing to manage motivation" for a given initiative is a significant change management problem. Before initiating any change, measurements (through surveys, interviews, etc.) must be taken to assess the extent to which employees are prepared for, and willing to, change. Indeed, Hackett Group's Harry Osle opines that organizations should "evaluate [survey and interview] results, and make necessary adjustments in staff members' readiness and engagement levels before proceeding with a transformation".

Failure to Effectively Manage the Change Transition

Moving from "where you are now" to "where you will be soon" is a precarious journey. After you've established the need for the change and communicated with stakeholders to get buy-in, now is the time where the rubber meets the road, and plans and actions finally begin to happen. Besides continued communication, the ideal change transition also has all actions combined into an overall plan—replete with timetables, checkpoints, deadlines, benchmarks and responsibilities. Not surprisingly, increasingly the lack of strong implementation plans is being cited as a failure point by organizations. Indeed, Rossey Park's Management Agenda found that nearly 72% of the 875+ participating organizations saw failure to manage the change transition as a significant issue.

Failure to Maintain the (positive) momentum of the software change process

Once buy-in has been achieved and the transition itself has been navigated, perhaps the most difficult change management pitfall to avoid is letting the momentum of a successful "change" drop. Without the ongoing (and visible) support of the top leadership, credibility and accountability winds up going out the window. In fact, Roffey Park's study found that fully 58% of participating organizations have had issues with sustaining change management efforts, finding that failure to maintain momentum is a result of both a lack of resolve and a lack of support. Regardless of how zealous project beginnings might have been, the maintenance phase can suffer from apathy and a lack of ownership if not handled properly.

Bottom-line for Change Management

Charles Darwin once wrote, "It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones who are most responsive to change". Indeed, failure to adapt on a macro-level has caused numerous companies to go under and on a micro-level can cause serious issues when it comes to needed organizational changes. Following advice about change management pitfalls is incredibly important, but perhaps even more important are the benefits that can be had by effectively managing change. Specifically, recent research by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that successful change management programs yielded a staggering 37% of businesses being able to determine tangible financial benefits. Further, a recent study by McKinsey found that effective change management programs resulted in a 143% return-on-investment for those companies involved. As such, it doesn't seem to far-fetched to say that it "pays" to invest time, energy, and resources into making sure change management is managed effectively for your next HR system implementation. End

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Regardless of whether a change comes from senior management or from a customer mandate, how you explain, market, sell or otherwise communicate the specific merits of any given change is important. This communication sets the stage for motivating any and all stakeholders to support and work together towards that change, and is increasingly being seen as contributing factor for change failure.

 

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