More than 80 years before Dr. Spencer Johnson’s allegory, Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, became an instant New York Times business bestseller, Woodrow Wilson summed up our inherent struggles with change more succinctly: “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
Why do humans react so strongly to change? Mostly it’s because change causes two things we don’t like: uncertainty and stress. While our default reaction may be to resist change, we know that when certain practices and approaches are applied to the management of change, both the overall experience and associated outcomes are vastly improved.
This holds true for organizations undergoing enterprise software implementations, specifically HR technologies that impact current and prospective employees. Given the hyper-growth in tools and technologies that support talent acquisition and management — such as applicant tracking systems and talent CRMs — many TA and recruiting teams currently have a large-scale software implementation underway or are planning for one. But selecting quality technology is just the beginning; ROI is reliant upon the proper use and planned adoption of the system. Change-management practices can aid you tremendously in this regard.
The Change-management Premise
Our change-management experience teaches us that better outcomes are realized when there’s strong and visible leadership for the target project, coupled with employee involvement across all key phases of the deployment. Change is also more effective when projects are rooted in a detailed scope with clear roles and responsibilities defined for all team members. And, of course, there must be effective communications throughout the entire change process, including critical feedback loops.
Within the premise outlined above are a vast number of practices leaders can apply to the three segments of an implementation: before, during, and after. However, there are several practices that are most essential to a seamless implementation and long-term success.
Before: Don’t Leave Anything to Chance
Most organizations start by assembling an implementation team and assigning tasks, but then fail to establish clear goals, roles, and responsibilities that are data-driven. Would you let a homebuilder show up and start building your new home without first signing off on the detailed architectural drawings? Unless you want to live in a “Winchester Mystery-styled” house, the answer is “no.” You’ve already invested significant time in defining a need for a new system, building your business case, and selecting a vendor. Keep that momentum going and get more ROI by not leaving things to chance. Two change-management approaches that will help you avoid figuring-it-out-as-you-go include:
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- Define the metrics and measures that you will use to track your implementation team’s progress. Don’t just tell team members that they’ll need to participate in testing. Communicate exactly how much time is expected, what the testing will involve, and how each person’s testing efforts will be measured. Be as specific as possible so that there’s clarity and agreement among all team members before their work begins.
- Assign a team member who will own the workflow inconsistencies that arise along the way. Even though you identified workflows for the purposes of vendor selection, it’s common to uncover inconsistencies across business units and geographies, such as the offer letter templates or interview feedback forms being used. Having someone who owns this will make it easier to transition everyone to the agreed-upon standards that will define your go-forward processes.
During: Overcome the Hurdles
Implementations are about folding pre-defined processes and goals into the application through configuration, so a significant amount of the work happening during the project will be devoted to tracking how the application supports those processes and what they “look and feel like” in the system. Two things to pay attention to as this occurs are:
- Recognize that you may need to address the way that your team works in order to resolve issues. While managing a recent implementation, one of the customer’s project leaders joined a status call flustered because the team had been running use cases and learned that candidate rankings were being done on spreadsheets and lead lists were kept on index cards. Fortunately, they viewed this as an opportunity to examine why people were working this way and configured the software to support process changes. Now, all users can easily see and manage candidate rankings and instantly find and nurture leads based on the criteria most important to them.
- Plan out the external user experience before the new system is about to go live. Too often, organizations focus their attention on the internal user experience, and the external experience becomes an afterthought. In the case of an ATS or talent CRM implementation, planning for external users means understanding the experience of current and prospective applicants. Will they be migrated over or invited to create a new profile? Will they have to set up a new username and password, or will their existing credentials still work? These considerations should be driven by the quality of existing data, the ease of extracting data for migration, and how far back candidate data should be ported.
After: Keep Looking Ahead
While it’s tempting to view the go-live switch for your system as the finish line, there’s still work that must take place post-implementation in order to ensure effective change across the entire organization. Among the most critical steps:
- Train people on both the software and the processes that have changed as a result of the new system. Change isn’t limited to the software itself. As noted earlier, you’ll likely experience changes in processes as a result of the new software. Don’t expect that people will understand the process changes simply by being trained on the software. Create training sessions or modules specific to process changes, and always communicate the rationale for the changes.
- Hold a debrief/next steps session to define what success should look like over the next three, six, and 12 months, and develop a plan to get there. Talk through what worked and what didn’t, summarizing your main takeaways and the implications for subsequent communications and trainings.
- Assess success criteria on a continual basis. You bought your new software because your business changed (or needs to change), so don’t take a set-it-and-forget-it approach to deployment. Restate your software success criteria every three to six months, reflecting direct input from users and shifting business objectives to continue driving efficiency, compliance and overall process improvement.
In addition to the practices above, the most significant thing to remember is that change is not a one-and-done process. Viewing your new technology platform as a tool that you should work to continuously improve will further support an effective roll-out, keeping your teams actively engaged in adopting — and advancing — their new talent ecosystem.