In my last post “HR Software: reflections on change management” I put forward three questions all HR professionals to ask when embarking on an change management project for an HR technology solution:
- What should I do and how?
- What are the consequences / benefits / penalties of doing or not doing it?
- How much will it cost me in terms of effort?
In this new post we are going to try to understand, analyse and address these issues.
Current situation vs. desired situation
From a practical point of view, while considering the issues mentioned in our previous post, it’s worth reminding ourselves that we must be quite clear about the final goal we want to reach, or alternatively the starting point in the current situation. We need to gauge how close to or far from them we are when analysing each of these issues. These will be part of the guiding principles for our actions plan for facilitating change management.
Based on the previous point, we must analyse what impact the new HR technology solution is going to have on people, processes, organization, and more. Moreover, this impact may or may not be critical, affect many or few people, among others. That means we must be very certain about what new things will be done, which ones stopped or done differently, which ones will be done by others, etc. This will necessarily entail communicating, training, informing, promoting, among other activities. Besides, such activities must be standardised in our plan of management actions plan.
Who are the people affected? What things should they be doing that they didn’t do? Who should communicate this and/or prepare them? A change management model must clearly define who sponsors it, who acts as a change agent, who must be a change recipient.
Moreover, Darryl R. Conner in "Managing at The Speed of Change" points out that it should be remembered that although changes are sponsored cascading top down, they are made from the bottom upwards. In other words, it is necessary to have the right level of institutional support, but without ignoring who are the ones who must change. Plus, we must consider that not all functions can be sponsored by the same people, nor do they have the same targets. This means that certain figures can act in one or another role at different times and with different audiences (the main example is middle management, who generally are agents and targets, or even sponsors of change).
A third point to think about with stakeholders has to do with the users of the solution. Bear in mind that the key user of an HCMS solution is the HR professional who will ultimately work with the tool. While notably the purpose of these solutions is often to decentralize the function, this of course impacts managers and collaborators.
If we take performance appraisal as an example, clearly, it’s HR who will exploit results, define competencies, set thresholds, etc. However, it is no less true that managers are the ones who appraise their team using the solution. So, there’s a minimum of three users to manage: the HR user, who must know how to configure the solution; the Manager, who must know how to use it to appraise; and the Employee, who must self-evaluate, view the results, confirm the appraisal, and more—depending on the process implemented. If the employees don’t use it and don’t access the portals made available to them and/or maintain "parallel" processes, the implementation process may be deemed a failure.
And with all this we come to the key point: how do I manage these aspects? Keeping in mind everything analysed so far, we can apply the following simile: we’ve already done the work in the kitchen and we’ll move on to "present and serve" change management through addressing these three compulsory aspects:
- How the technology solution works. Besides it actually working, we will take a look at some additional aspects that should be thought through.
- Communication plan. People must know what, why and what for and this is done through a communication plan.
- Training plan. People must gain the know-how, and this requires a training plan.
How the HR technology solution works
A given for the change process is that the technology solution must work. Yet this is also about making people feel that their opinion counts. As we will see later on, this implies that feedback tools must be enabled so users can give feedback on the process.
Furthermore, the process covering implementation, configuration and use becomes more complex as more and more modules and functionalities are implemented. So, it is a good idea to roll out the implementation in phases to enable users to progressively become familiar with the solution and have good experiences that drive the process.
- The communication plan
A brief walk through of the communication architecture will help us to establish some key parameters of the plan. The common elements of a communication model include:
- Sender: just as the name indicates, this is the person who sends the communication and who has been chosen for his ability to "legitimize" the change.
- Receiver: refers to the person who receives the message and who generally will be the target subject and/or the change agent.
- Channel and media: that we are going to use as a support, such as mail, in-person presentation, phone call, posters, videos, etc.
- Message: what we are going to communicate, in a change process this must include motivational messages, information on dates and milestones, actions expected from the professionals, queries resolved, etc.
- Barriers: what elements can interfere with reception and understanding the message.
- Code: how we communicate with the receiver to make sure that we are tuned into the same code of behaviour. Messages that are too corporate or too familiar can certainly distort the message content and how it is understood and accepted.
As this is a plan, here’s something else to think about. The actions identified must in a time framework that is in line with the defined implementation strategy and communication sequenced accordingly. And at this point we should remember that communication does not end with the launch of the solution, but that it is of vital importance that after implementation there is communication on the successes achieved and on how problems will be managed as they surface. It must be stressed that for there to be real communication in our plan, there must be space for feedback (such as a suggestion box, a help desk, etc.)
In any case, although it is up to each organization to decide what and how, we suggest a series of messages and key objectives that should be included in the communication plan:
- Convey the importance of the HR technology solution to be implemented and the need for involving all the stakeholders.
- Communicate the benefits and advantages of the project for each of the identified groups and for the company as a whole, as well as the main milestones of the process.
- Promote a positive environment to minimize possible negative impact.
- Manage the expectations of the different stakeholder groups.
- Clarify for each stakeholder, their role in the change evaluation process and their actions to be done.
- Obtain feedback on the process, both on the implementation and the results
- Give answers to questions people will be making: “What is expected of me? What impact does it have and what benefits will it bring?”
- Facilitate, support and promote progress towards the desired model and to prepare for the next evolutions.
Evidently not all the objectives can be tackled through each of the actions, so you should also think about both what you want to communicate, and the effect intended, which can be summarized as follows:
- Inform on the main issues that all stakeholders must be aware of by maintaining direct and proper communication throughout the implementation.
- Use all communication channels available, to ensure that all groups are impacted and receive information before starting the implementation process.
- Impact on the attitude and motivation across groups, with the purpose of motivating and involving them in the process, as well as managing their expectations.
- Transmit and explain the feedback or listening mechanisms, so that the groups involved can voice their opinions, concerns and suggestions about the implementation itself and the activities afterwards.
- Manage the stages of the implementation of the process and the process itself and eliminate resistance from ignorance and uncertainty.
- The training plan
At this point and with the communication plan, professionals will know what they have to do. It is then time to prepare them on how to do it, this is done through the training plan. Here we must consider:
- Train the change agents: on how they should manage change and in what is expected from them. This implies that they must be prepared for the role, both at the level of communication and at the level of training their teams.
- Train HR users on how to use and manage the HCMS: basically in the aspects they will have to work with daily, the benefits they will obtain and, at a process level, in how they should be configured and developed in the solution.
- Train users and managers how to use the solution. We have already seen that much the success lies in the fact that these users actually work in the application, thus reducing the HR workload in aspects without added value where HR played a transactional role. This point is crucial for professionals, whose support tool changes for a process they are working on; they need to receive "hands-on" training focused on how to use the new solution for the process. This is quite different from what must be done when a new HCMS deployment delivers new processes not done before. For example, a company using the HCMS to implement a performance appraisal process that hadn’t even been done before. In this case it was necessary to not only train on how to use the application, but also on what it means to appraise, so as to avoid bias during appraisals, in developing performance appraisal interviews and action plans. In short, upskilling users in areas to do with the HCMS that were previously outside the scope of their work.
To conclude, I believe that the various lines of thinking here show the importance of change management, as Richard Beckhard, a pioneering consultant in change management issues and an assistant professor at MIT, pointed out that the problem with most changes is that they meet resistance from the unseen barriers.
So, let’s make sure our project doesn’t resemble the Titanic sinking when it hit the iceberg. Let’s become aware of the large chunk of submerged ice, which is often our greatest asset as an organization: THE PEOPLE.