They won’t go changin’ just to please you: Change management strategies to support intranet adoption

Imagine you’re a typical employee, just trying to figure out how you’re going to do what you need to do with the tools you’re used to using, when management comes up with yet another “new” and “revolutionary”innovation” or “transformational” tool or idea.
There’s a good chance that, even if it was introduced as a good change, most employees have been through enough hype about the newest “flavor of the day” and are a bit jaded. Which means they’ll either resist the change or ignore it expecting that it will be replaced by the next “revolution.”

If you’ve been tasked with transforming your organization’s intranet, your project could be viewed as just another transformational initiative, and just like other such projects, change management is the single most vulnerable point of failure in project implementation, according to a recent study by ProSci.

In its recent survey of 327 companies in 53 countries, ProSci discovered that resistance to change within the organization was cited six times more often than any other as the number one obstacle to successful implementation of a project. Furthermore, when surveyed, and given the benefit of hindsight, the project teams picked more effective change management as the top activity that they would do differently on the next project.

In other words, developing a strong information architecture and implementing a robust CMS will not be enough for ensuring that your great intranet is actually adopted: you need to understand and apply the established best practices of change management.

Wikipedia describes “change” as the word used to describe the transition that occurs from same to different. This hopelessly vague but powerful word reveals nothing about the nature of the “different” thing that is about to occur. It doesn’t tell you a thing about whether it’s good, bad or indifferent.

Yet management always seems to expect its employees to jump on board and embrace the new process, tool or whatever, with open arms and a willing spirit. However, most people dislike change. In fact, even if the change involves something that is undisputedly better, change is uncomfortable at best and downright resisted at worst.

So while organizations pour millions of dollars into building the right intranet or system, they need to spend an equal effort ensuring that the new change is accepted and embraced by its users. After all, if the solution is brilliant and no one uses it – what’s the benefit? This is the fate of many hyped consulting or management reports on solution “x” . Alternatively, if the solution is faulty and ill conceived, but the users accept it, the business will miss out on the benefit of a truly well researched solution.

So in basic math, the formula is: E = Q X A

Effectiveness = Quality (of the solution) X Acceptance

You will note that, in the equation, if either one of those variables is low, it impacts on the overall effectiveness of the solution and you don’t get extra points for an exceptional score on either side of the equation. They are interdependent.

So while development of an intranet can change quickly, with its neat, orderly, logical processes relentlessly churning out its end product with precision and exacting uniformity, people are the exactly the opposite. People don’t change on cue; people issues are never neat, orderly or logical …or are they?

The answer is yes and no. The process by which most people come to accept change is a lot like the well established process that people undergo when grieving a loss – because in a way, even though you are gaining something better through the change, whenever you change a tool, a process, management structure or whatever, you are losing something else and no matter how dysfunctional or antiquated the tool, or process, there is an inevitable comfort of the “devil you know”.

While the time that it takes to go through the change process may vary dependent on many variables such as the general trust and environment of the company, the strength of the solution, the general degree of change experienced within the organization, the actual stages are quite predictable.

Stage 1: Awareness

Staff must be made aware of the change and how it will impact them individually as well how it will impact the organization. The more significant the change, the more important it is to ensure that the full awareness of this change is imparted. This can include informing the team via email, the intranet or a newsletter, but that is only the start. If there is a real change in the day to day jobs of your employees, lip service to having “informed” the staff of the change is not enough. There must be a genuine commitment to ensuring that staff fully appreciate the nature of the change and that they have opportunities after this initial awareness to address the inevitable denial, resistance and questioning that is going to occur.

Stage 2: Resistance / denial / anger

After all, change is difficult and wouldn’t you want to ensure that all the bugs had been ironed out before investing any of your emotional energy? This stage can be lengthy, heated and repetitive but if there isn’t adequate consideration of the issues raised and consideration given to potential modifications to the proposed solution, it can forecast the failure of the ultimate implementation.

This is often the trickiest part of the change management process. Management feels that they have done their part to “inform” the employees of the change and expect or at least hope that employees will move directly to the conclusion that the change is a great idea and welcome it with open arms.

On the other hand, employees may be just coming to the full realization that the change may not make their individual lives any easier at all or, at the very least, it’s going to get worse before it gets better, as the new tools or processes are learned (just ask anyone that’s gone through an SAP implementation).

At this stage, chances are the project or management team are keen to get going to the implementation stage and reap the benefits of their brilliant solutions. However, people are not so easily persuaded. It takes genuine effort, commitment and time to address concerns and realistically look at some of the issues that may have been overlooked. Ignoring the resistance does not make it go away. It simply resurfaces – potentially at some very inopportune times.

Stage 3: Acceptance

Congratulations! If you have successfully taken the efforts to navigate the first two stages, you will start to see the resistance die down and a gradual acceptance that the change is going to occur. This does not imply that the staff agree that it is the right solution or that they like it – it only means that they are no longer under the delusion that the change is going to be cancelled or avoided – so heated debates and arguments die down. It’s time to get on with it.

Stage 4: Buy In – The Holy Grail

If the solution is strong and you have completed all the steps up to this point, you should see the team come around to your way of thinking. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are out of the woods yet, because change isn’t always a linear process and it is possible to go back a step or two at any stage, but with the right planning and knowledge of the stages, you should be able to see what obstacles stand in your way and navigate your way through to a successful implementation.

Knowledge is power and despite how we proclaim our differences, most of us handle change in pretty much the same way. We don’t like it. So the next time, you’re about to implement the next best thing since sliced bread, remember your basic math.

Effectiveness = Quality of Solution x Acceptance

Prescient Digital Media is a veteran web and intranet consulting firm with 10+ years of rich history. We provide strategic Internet and intranet consulting, planning and communications services to many Fortune 500 and big brand clients, as well as small and medium-sized leaders.