Large scale and complex technology solution implementations, such as Workday, Oracle, and Salesforce, have become the norm across industries. Robust teams of technical experts are employed to determine system requirements and write and align code to make the system vision a reality. With new technology comes various promises, such as improved effectiveness, lower costs, and a more seamless customer experience.
These benefits are jeopardized when organizations fail to consider change management. Regardless of the amount or quality of technical talent utilized, existing teams often do not have the training or the time to engage end users to buy into the technology vision and fully adopt the new technology. As a result, the likelihood of continued employee engagement decreases. Not paying proper attention to the needs of employees during a large-scale, multi-year implementation can make or break the initiative and can cost a company millions of dollars if end users do not fully adopt it.
Executing IT change management often requires many diverse resources. A 2013 study conducted by PROSCI found that the majority of projects had “insufficient resources during implementation” with “less than 40% reporting ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ change management effectiveness.” So how can you maximize the effectiveness of your available resources? One of most important change management components to accomplish this is the Change Agent Network.
A Change Agent Network (often also known as “Change Champions” or “Change Advocates”) is a selected group of individuals representing various parts of the business that will be affected by a change. They play many roles, including communicating changes to their teams and representing their needs and concerns. They use their influence to ensure employee engagement and encourage quick adoption of the change. Several benefits of an effective Change Agent Network especially relevant to a technology implementation include the following:
- Trusted communication: Repetition of communication is important, and communication from trusted peers adds credibility to the message. Change Agents should be active supporters of the project throughout, understand the benefits of the specific project and overall technology vision and strategy, as well as have the communication skills to relay them to their team or group.
- Honest feedback: Change Agents report back to the change team during routine meetings. They highlight some of the biggest concerns expressed, and the change team provides their best efforts to address these concerns. The Change Agents also may provide insights that are useful for the technical team, especially if the team uses an Agile methodology that allows quick system changes that better meet the needs of the users. Change agents act as the voice of the end users, representing them throughout the project lifecycle to help increase satisfaction and adoption.
- Accessibility: Leadership and IT are not able to see all impacts of a project firsthand. The Change Agents have a better understanding of the sentiment in their department or in the field. They bring a realistic perspective of how the new technology might impact the team, and thus can help shape effective communications. Change Agents create appropriate messaging and cascade those messages accordingly.
How do you design and run an effective Change Agent Network for a large-scale technology implementation? Here are a few tips:
- Change Agent selection is key: A Change Agent must be trusted by both their peers and by management. They need to be supportive of the change, have an aptitude for technology, and be quick learners especially if there is unfamiliarity with the new technology. They generally show an explicit interest in the project and can be involved in the design, creating a sense of ownership. Additionally, at least one Change Agent representative from each part of the business impacted should be involved.
- Provide adequate training: The project team must teach Change Agents not only about the project itself (such as the scope, the “why” behind the technology decision, and the timeline), but also how to act as an effective Change Agent. It should be emphasized that they have the power to accelerate the change adoption process, which will increase both productivity and profitability within the organization.
- Maintain continuous contact: Conduct regular checkpoints with the Change Agents. This keeps the Change Agents in the loop as much as possible and informs them of the progress on design and implementation, including both wins and setbacks.
- Put their communication skills to work: Facilitating messages between the formal project team and the end users is critical. In technical environments, Change Agents act as bridge between the two groups and often have to convey and translate difficult concepts, which must be delivered enthusiastically and confidently. The team should design various types of communications for cascading important messages through Change Agents.
Assembling the appropriate Change Agent network, training them to be effective, and engaging with them on an ongoing basis will increase the likelihood of success for multi-million dollar, transformative technology implementations.