Change is all around us. How it’s managed can set the path for trouble or triumph. Although there are many factors that can play into more effectively managing change, dealing directly with the people, processes, and technology involved in projects can help to create sustainable ways to remove the scary aspects of change.

Changes to virtually anything within companies such as internal or external processes, new technological advancements, or staffing shakeups are likely to necessitate the need to address any resulting impacts. Some of these changes can be as the result of specific projects and others can be as the result of procedural or policy changes at the company level. Here are three things business leaders can do to pave the way for more effectively managing change:

1. Leverage technology to advance education

Skills development is key to the growth of an organization, and one technology of the toughest areas in which to keep employee skills up to speed. Developments in cloud computing and software as a service have changed the way companies approach all facets of business. However, onboarding and training staff can be a challenge due to the complexity of these new services. Training teams often have to use new learning environments to clearly demonstrate these services and allow staff to explore them hands-on. In addition, people take in and process information differently, making it a must for companies to provide more flexible, nimble and efficient training options. These training environments should help individuals advance their knowledge in ways that work best for their unique learning styles whether educating employees, clients or other stakeholders.

Next-generation security company Sophos leverages virtual training solutions to train their clients. This is quite a challenge since Sophos serves a global market. To do this, Sophos partnered with cloud-based virtual lab provider CloudShare to allow them to demonstrate the Sophos security solutions by simulating complex networks topologies and various computing environments through the cloud. In fiscal year 2017, over 8,000 Sophos clients completed training courses through CloudShare labs. “The vast majority of learners taking technical training require practical hands-on activities to form a clear understanding of a topic. We see that a trained partner generates an average of six times the revenue of a non-trained one,” said Robert Lillywhite, Global Technical Enablement Manager at Sophos. “In-house technical training is rapidly shifting to virtual solutions like this to offer employees more flexible training from anywhere. Virtual IT training options like this can remove the need for companies to invest significant amounts of time and resources building a classroom infrastructure, yet creates sustainable, scalable, customizable educational options that advance employee value much quicker than with traditional ways.”

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO’s guide (free PDF)

2. Start the conversation about change management early in projects

In the sphere of project management, change management is a complementary but separate discipline that involves the use of processes and tools to manage changes. Imagine executing a project without factoring in any resulting implications to how that project may impact daily operations. For example, if a company implements a new payroll system, it is likely to impact the actual internal payroll process. Without a change management strategy to monitor, evaluate, document and communicate these changes, confusion, resistance, and missed steps can result.

“I often see technical projects enter the implementation phase when all of a sudden, the ‘change management’ conversation comes up,” said Christine Mann, owner and president of IT consulting firm Mann Consulting. “Typically it’s an afterthought that is either forgotten or inadequately planned for. What is also interesting is that many project teams also confuse good change management with either a communication plan or project planning! Much of my consulting work is right in this niche.”

Mann said that factoring change management in too late can cause:

  • an ill defined changed vision
  • a lack of sponsorship, advocacy, and identification of champions
  • a lack of or misidentification of stakeholder groups
  • a missing ” voice of the customer.”
  • an overall resistance to the change and
  • a lack of adoption

Mann recommends developing change teams as part of a project team in the early stages to bring about greater productivity and better communication. “I always say, a communication plan is a “tactic” of a great change strategy. A great change strategy is a work stream of a broader project plan,” she said.

3. Create and maintain a culture of embracing change

Change is almost always tough on the morale and culture at companies. It creates an issue with misunderstandings throughout all levels, unnecessary chaos, fear among staff, conflict among team members and between departments, and resistance.

Culture can’t be established at any level other than within the executive ranks. Teams and individuals take their lead from management, making it imperative for the entire executive team to be on the same page when it comes to setting and driving the culture. Communication frequency and styles, as well as behavior, are the barometer by which culture is measured by employees. If employees sense the executive team is unsettled by change, they will be exponentially unsettled by it, especially when that change involves changes within the executive ranks itself.

Here are a few things organization leaders can do to help employees embrace a culture of change:

  • Embracing change starts at the top; leaders can help employees adapt to changes with regular dialogue around new developments before or as they happen. Timing is important — leaving conversations too long can create fear and reduce buy-in.
  • The leadership team needs to demonstrate through actions and attitudes they embrace change.
  • Create a portal on the company intranet to keep employees up to date on changes and allow them to post questions and get responses.
  • Team leads or middle managers should make it their responsibility to meet regularly with their teams and discuss developments that impact the company, their group and current or future projects.
  • Employees also have a responsibility to take advantage of available education, technology, discussions and one-on-one meetings to share their thoughts and talk about changes and the impact to their work.
  • Make any tools or techniques available that can help employees bridge gaps in knowledge or capabilities that result from changes.
  • Clear documentation relating to changes in processes, technology or other things should be made easily accessible to all applicable stakeholders.

Changes will continue to happen, meaning managing change effectively will also need to be ongoing. This isn’t just a set and forget exercise. Leaders, change management professionals and project teams need to continually monitor internal and external changes to identify how to address the impact to company objectives and daily operations.

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Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays