By Gavin Halse and Henry Boshoff
Resistance to change is only human.
In Part 1 of this series about change management in software projects, we highlighted the importance of including a formal change management strategy as part of every software implementation. We also introduced some of the theory of change and change management models. In Part 2, we looked at established change management frameworks, and some common mistakes software project teams make on implementation projects.
In Part 3, we continue this discussion by looking at the readiness of an organisation to change. Organisational readiness for adopting new software is a critical success factor. The same solution might work perfectly in one organisation, and fail spectacularly in another. Why is this?
Start with organisational culture.
How do we quantify organisational readiness for a new software system? Is it the existing ICT infrastructure? Perhaps there are current business processes and a well-established procedure. People might be already accustomed to using a software package that needs to be replaced. It might also be the quality of leadership, the innovation culture, how people are incentivised and a hundred other factors.
A great deal of software readiness depends on the “organisational culture”. No one organisation’s culture is identical to another. Some companies have a “command and control” management style, while others use a collaborative approach. Implementing new software systems within these different organisational cultures will require different change management techniques.
This article will assess organisational readiness for change by considering these factors.
“Change Management” terminology
“Change management” is unfortunate terminology. It originates from the command-and-control school of management. By referring to “Change management,” you imply that a manager can force change in others: i.e. “Just do as I say!”
This suggests that making subordinates comply with instructions is simple. But from experience we all know that the resulting change will be temporary, and people will soon revert to their old ways.
Examples of situations where command and control change management is the best approach are the military and heavily regulated industries. Strict adherence to standard procedures and immediate compliance to instructions is vital to success in these organisations. Leadership styles in these organisations will be rigid, inflexible, and hierarchical.
Command and Control
While the command-and-control approach was quite prevalent in industrial companies in the past (when the first change management models were developed), this is not the case today. Modern industrial companies have on the whole adopted a more empowered and fluid/flexible leadership style.
The details of a software change management program must consider the organisation’s leadership style and its impact on how individuals are motivated.
It is human nature to distrust any change where people are forced by command to do something they might not like. In most modern companies, unless individuals engage with “what is in it for me” and conclude that the change is worthwhile, they will actively resist the process.
A new way of working
In recent years the workplace has moved on significantly. In many “white collar” jobs, the recent Covid19 pandemic changed many job to remote work. Modern communication tools made it possible to work as part of a worldwide distributed team. The ability of a candidate to work as part of a self-managed team has now become a key consideration when interviewing candidates for a professional job.
Changing Factory Work
The mining and manufacturing industries were also subject to these recent workplace transformations. Even within the largest organisation, work is now often the responsibility of small, distributed teams, and these need not all be physically on-site.
On the factory floor, a typical worker might report to his shift daily, just as in the past. However, the same worker will be far more “connected” than his contemporary from the past. For one, they will carry a mobile device with more computing power than ever imagined in 1990. The ubiquity of mobile devices and applications has fundamentally changed how individuals in society communicate, gather information, and make decisions. The modern factory worker is influenced very differently than was the case before.
To encourage change, individuals need to be motivated towards a goal that they can personally relate to.
Often on software projects, we hear complaints that “senior management needs to be more involved”. The assumption is that with the mere presence of a senior executive, change will automatically follow. We should constantly challenge that assumption.
Are the very senior managers in the organisation the real role-models and influencers of end users? From experience, this is rarely the case. The real influencers are much more likely to be found in end-user peer groups. Sometimes these influencers are in other parts of the organisation, or even outside the organisation. In the factory environment, these people could be from the pool of trainers, supervisors, team leaders or just the “popular guy” everyone respects and consult with their problem.
The idea that a “senior manager” can just arrive and, by decree, demand change is flawed. Our recommendation is therefore to make the effort to identify the real organisational influencers and engage them early in your change management project.
Getting influencers on board is one-way that a project team can lead people through a change process.
But much more is required. Individuals must also feel that they have some say in the decision making. People get a sense of buy-in when as individuals they have a chance to contribute directly towards the outcome. They then become true stakeholders.
Look for opportunities involving individuals in critical decisions that will engage them and give them a stake in the project.
Change agents can play an essential role in a software project. A change agent is a person who understands the project’s goal and sees the benefit of a new way of doing things. They must be trusted and able to influence the people most affected.
But change agents need to be more than paid evangelists for the cause. Change agents should also be neutral and able to give the end-users a voice. Change agents must therefore ensure that communication flows back to the project decision-makers, and ensure that legitimate end users’ concerns are properly considered.
Remember that we are dealing with people that must still form an emotional connection with a changed way of working. Each person will have to invest time to skill up, whether training on the new software or adopting a new business process. Each individual needs to be encouraged along this journey. Every success in this regard, no matter how small, should be celebrated.
We will look at other organisational readiness factors in the next part of this series. Organisational culture and management style is one of the most important predictors of software project success, but there are others.
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