Editor’s note: TechRepublic member Ben Woelk is a technology change management consultant for Words By Design, an IT communications consultancy. After posting comments to an article, Woelk submitted this article describing how his company worked with a client to ready users for a technology upgrade.

By Ben Woelk

As inevitable as technological change is, resistance to new technology in the workplace is just as unavoidable. New technologies often involve time-consuming and expensive migrations and affect users’ productivity.

Consultants can employ a variety of communication and training tools to increase the success and rate of technology change and absorption for their clients. These are the methods we used at Words By Design, Inc., when we helped a client migrate to a new technology.

The contract
The contract entailed helping users at a Fortune 500 company understand the changes they could expect when the business migrated from Windows for Workgroups/Office 4.3 to Windows NT/Office 97 over a two-year period.

The company had previously migrated users successfully from its proprietary system to PCs and client-server technology, so it understood the need to ready workers for the change. But because some users had adopted earlier releases of the software with mixed results, employees were uncertain whether this latest change would be beneficial.

To foster openness and create an atmosphere conducive to change, Words By Design launched an internal marketing campaign to prepare the end users for change and set expectations. We also worked with the client to develop targeted learning support to help users prepare for, survive, and thrive through the migration.

The internal marketing campaign combined enterprisewide, deployment communications and “getting ready” events to prepare end users for the technology change and to draw them to the training events. Here’s how Words By Design created an internal marketing plan for the client.

Assessing the audience
We conducted focus groups and worked with IT representatives of affected business units, such as the sales force, to help target our communications and increase the likelihood of users being prepared for the technology change and to reverse any negative perceptions of Windows NT.

Building the plan
At this stage, we outlined the client’s desired outcomes—to have users eager to embrace NT and ready them for the migration—and selected the processes and vehicles that would help us achieve them. The client included communications representatives from affected business units so that we could develop a plan with them that met their needs.

Consultants need to remind their clients that the plan should encompass the entire change time frame. It’s best to use a combination of general enterprisewide communications and specific communications tied to the deployment schedule.

Enterprisewide communications
The enterprisewide communications had two key components: a monthly newsletter devoted to the upcoming technology change and an intranet site that served as a repository for all communications regarding the change. The newsletter previewed the upcoming software components, gave hints and tips for using the new software, discussed interoperability and file conversion issues during the transition, and acknowledged the difficulties faced by users.

The intranet provided detailed information about the components of the change, including file conversion and interoperability issues, a repository of previous newsletters, detailed deployment schedules, and a searchable database of hints and tips for using the new software.

We also used the newsletter and the intranet site to make users aware of any software development delays or deployment problems. Remember: End users are probably not as technologically savvy as the members of your IT organization. Write to their level.

Deployment communications
Additional communications, such as voice mail, e-mail, and posters, provided up-to-date information for users as the software was being deployed. A schedule was also created to ensure users were prepared for the transition, with communications activities starting up to 12 weeks prior to deployment and continuing until after the deployment occurred.

“Getting ready” events
Because the users had so much uncertainty about what the change would encompass and how severely it would affect them, we developed a series of “getting ready” events to give users a demonstration of the new software. In lunch-and-learn sessions, an instructor conducted a one-hour overview of the upcoming changes. At technology fairs, a series of booths allowed users to actually try the new software and interact with expert users.

Bottom line
Consultants must use a variety of communications vehicles to tell users that change can be good in spite of the obstacles and short-term inconveniences. Traditionally, communications have been dismissed as too expensive and relatively unnecessary.

However, the cost of low productivity, low morale, and potential employee turnover is much higher. Well-planned communications can keep everyone moving towards the final goal of improved (and embraced) technology options.

As you prepare your communications plans, keep these ideas in mind:

  • Be honest about the disruptions that occur during even the most successful technology transition.
  • Focus on the benefits the end users will receive while acknowledging the problems technological change brings.
  • Sell end users on the benefits of the change by developing an internal marketing campaign.
  • Tie marketing plans and training and documentation plans closely to deployment planning.

How do you “sell” technology change to your clients?

Have you used some of the same methods described here? Tell us about them by sending us an e-mail or posting your comments below.