As a business consultant for multiple large-scale digital initiatives, I have found that there are few high-performing companies that do not understand the value of IT change management at an enterprise level. Yet, it is often difficult at the stakeholder level to gain the buy-in for change — and unfortunately, change is impossible to implement without new behaviors adopted from the ground up. 

Digital transformations call for rapid growth and need for increasingly advanced tools and technologies, yet unfortunately, change management can still often be sidelined as the “fluffy” piece of the puzzle, especially by technical stakeholders. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, however, staff productivity decreases up to 75% during unmanaged change.

As we know, a new process or tool is useless without its full adoption at the user-level. The heavy lifting of change is great for cloud initiatives, where most organizations have fragmented and siloed teams that require a new culture of greater collaboration in order to achieve the value of an implementation. 

My work as a business consultant and change management lead has led me to a few insights and best practices:

1. Numbers: Translate Change into Business Terms.

Change can be painful and inconvenient in the short term, and it becomes even more painful when the long-term value of the change is unclear to users.  It is important to position change not as a separate entity – but as a critical stepping stone to ultimately solving pain points and reaching business goals. Whenever possible, illustrating the bridge between behavioral change and key business KPIs is essential, using industry data and statistics as needed.

For functional stakeholders, change activities need to be translated directly and clearly to relevant performance impact; putting numbers and analytics to change is by far the most impactful way of showing just how integral it is to business success. Likewise, illustrating the current pain points and translating them in terms of lost revenue, so that stakeholders can understand the impact of both including and not including change, is integral.

For technical stakeholders, a process-centric approach to selling change management may be more effective. Tying change management to key process indicators and operational efficiency, in addition to business value, can help to minimize resistance. 

2. Address Organizational Pain Points through Stories.

But it’s not always enough to talk only in numbers!  Neuroscience shows us that the human brain is both rational and emotional, and the two need to be synergized in order to stimulate actual change. 

For the change effort to really take off in your organization, the stories being told about the need for change need to hit close to home. That means first understanding in-depth the pain points from the perspectives of the customer, the agent, the sales person, the manager etc. as human beings, from a qualitative perspective through understanding specific experiences. 

These stories can then be reinforced with the numbers as tangible evidence — bringing in internal data to show, for example, how customer satisfaction has declined over time as a result of poor business processes. 

3. Emphasize a People and Systems-Focus.

During a new software implementation, it is all too common to focus on the changes in processes and tools while taking for granted the “people” aspect of change management. As businesses become more and more virtual, it is easier to forget that there are real people and problems behind the tools. 

For IT transformations, almost every business suffers from a situation of historically siloed business units: sales, marketing, and customer care often having completely different, myopic points of view of the business, KPIs, and priorities, resulting in mismatched data, confusion, and often, resentment between teams.

Whenever possible, the importance of holding alignment meetings and conferences between diverse, interdependent functional groups cannot be overstated. Having a external business consultant to facilitate these meetings with skill and without bias is a good measure.

One of the most effective communications strategies I have found is facilitating cross-functional value-stream workshops across impacted business units, with the purpose of visualizing and aligning on the interdependencies and bottlenecks specific to each function and ensuring each function/piece of the value stream is given equal importance.

Ultimately, one of the main purposes of these cross-functional meetings is to stimulate behavioral change in employees and help them see the need for collaboration across the enterprise in order to solve many of the pain points.

4. Clarify Accountabilities.

Designating a cross-functional change management leadership team — change proponents who will take the lead in championing business transformation to their functional units, is a key action item from these meetings to assign accountability for change across the organization.

It is not uncommon that some or all employees will not even know what “Change Management means,” and why a Change Management team exists. In the midst of existing uncertainty on processes and technology, bringing in new faces and role titles can add to the confusion and fear of change.

Thus, early on, it is essential to introduce and position the Change Management team clearly if it has not already been introduced, as well as clarify accountabilities for change across the organization through a RACI or similar diagram.

Finally, remember that change is a process and not a one-time event, so it is essential to incorporate user adoption as a key indicator that is tracked over time for a business transformation.

As a business consultant, I have made it a practice to report on user adoption across the organization, and correlate it to key performance indicators, as an effective means of bringing in the “people” focus and increasing investment in IT change management activities.