Emerging Tech

Cha-cha-changes


I have recently been involved with a community of users who

experienced a drastic change in one of their applications overnight. Even

though they had been warned of the impending changes, and some of the users

actually had input into the process, the change has been overwhelming to many

of them.

As to be expected, there has been much wailing and gnashing

of teeth and cries for things to go back to the way they were. While some have resigned

themselves to learning the new system (grudgingly), others swear they will never

use it and some have embraced it for all the reasons that initiated the changes

in the first place. So, was this a good roll out, a failed roll out, or

something in between?

Before we answer that question, let's talk about change in

general. Everyone tends to believe that people hate change. And while hate may

be a strong word, people often tend to look upon change with a less than

favorable attitude.

Why is that? There are dozens of reasons, but here are some of the leading candidates:

Fear of the unknown, loss of control, fear of being made to

look "stupid", loss of knowledge/feeling worthless because what you

knew is no longer relevant, change in your routine, forced learning, bad past

experiences with change, rigid thinking/lack of flexibility.

Given the reasons above, you have to wonder why we attempt

change at all. With all the negativity surrounding change, isn't any major

change destined to fail? The answer to that is not necessarily. The better way to phrase the question is "isn't

any major change subject to failure?" And that answer is a resounding yes!

As IT professionals, we must always be cognizant of the fact

that no matter what you are doing, change is a risk factor that must be

accounted for and managed. Even if the changes are completely and positively

for the better, they will be resisted, often quite vocally. And even the

smallest modification can cause a maelstrom of discontent far exceeding the

magnitude of the change, if it isn't handled right.

So how do we manage this change? To answer this, we must

look back at our reasons why people dislike change. One theme is fear of the

unknown and a loss of knowledge. You combat this with information. Unless you

have a VERY strong reason for surprising people with change (those situations

do exist) you should precede change with lots of information.

Inform those to be affected why changes are being made, what

they are, and how things will work differently. Don't be stingy with your

information either. While there should always be executive summaries available of

what you are planning to communicate, you should be ready with more verbose

explanations of the change. One behavior that people engage in to calm their

fears is to garner as much information as possible about it. Don't let people

starve for this kind of information. The more you can provide, the better the

outcome.

Besides providing information, you need to control your

change schedule. Even people who are more accepting of change often dislike sudden change. If at all possible, make people

aware of the schedule, and make it as gradual as possible. Shock and awe might

work in a military campaign, but it is usually bad for change management.

Include change-affected users as much as possible in the

planning stages. Not all change fits this category, but if you can get active

participation in the development, you will have allies in the audience that can

share their knowledge with their coworkers and thus buffer the response to

change.

Lastly, communicate during the change process. Listen to and

respond to comments, both good and bad. Even if you provided tons of

information prior to the changes, keep information flowing and show that you

are listening--even if it is just to say that you understand their concerns and

you will try to help them through any issues the best way you can.

As a government IT professional, you must be prepared to

deal with an enormous amount of change. From your role as a change agent in the

organization, to the fact that wholesale changes are often thrust upon you due

to politics and differences in administrations, you have to be prepared to

manage change to achieve successful outcomes.

As far as the example given to start this article, the

jury is still out. It sometimes takes a while to judge the results of changes,

but my gut tells me this is going to be one of those in-between roll outs.



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