Change can be difficult. We tend to resist change, anticipating that it may bring grief, anxiety, and fear of the unknown. But change can also be exciting, positive, and more successful when it is executed with empathy, purpose, and clear objectives.
Several years ago I was a Change Management Lead on a project implementing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. This change was rolling out to 15 different business units including sales, manufacturing, accounting, operations, supply chain, and more across multiple countries. The challenge of this implementation was not only that the teams were distributed all over the world, but that these teams had extremely different objectives and functions. That meant creating customized role-based training, meeting unique technical requirements, and planning for distinct personalities, languages, and cultures.
For the change to be successful, we needed to establish appropriate requirements, ensure adoption, and maximize our ROI. To do that, I stood up as a Change Champion Network dedicated to helping the project succeed.
What is a Change Network?
A Change Network is a group of Change Champions who are responsible to help define a project and contribute to the project’s success by creating a top-down/bottom-up feedback loop. The Change Network often collaborates with both the project team and end-users to identify risks and promote change. As you engage the network, the network in turn engages the end-users and feeds back into the project.
A Change Network provides empowerment to the organization as they go through transformation. Brent Gleeson in his Forbes article, “5 Ways to Empower and Engage Employees to Lead Change, said:
“Inspiring the team is one thing, but physically and psychologically giving them more autonomy to participate in the transformation process is critical.”
For change to be successful, people need to be involved and invested. Your Change Network is made of people who are responsible to lead the communication and inclusion effort, ensuring everyone understands the how and why behind changes being implemented. They are the best advocates for socializing and encouraging the changes that are on the way.
Who are your ideal Change Champions?
Change Champions are no substitute for Executive Sponsors, who are “ultimately responsible for ensuring that the change realizes intended benefits,” according to the PROSCI methodology. Instead, the Change Champions are often closer to the front line and are integral to the project success.
Change Champions may be formal leaders with hierarchical authority, or informal leaders who can influence an organization based on their reputation and ability to network. It is important to select a diverse group of individuals with both personas to champion your change efforts.
Identifying the formal and informal leaders provides a top-down/bottom-up approach with a feedback loop. Your informal leaders are excellent filters to take feedback from end-users and surface them to the key leadership stakeholders and project team. Together, they make up your Change Network, which is responsible for communicating and encouraging the changes your team is implementing.
Figure 1: Change Network with top-down/bottom-up feedback loop
When I need to implement change, I look for champions who are business leads with an intimate understanding of both the business and their teams. I look for someone who has a passion for what is being implemented. If this is a technology implementation, I look to tech-forward individuals who can confidently promote our change.
What is the role of a Change Champion?
Change management is often confused with communications and training. While those are both integral to the process, they are not the only components. The objective of the Change Champion is to catalyze the project and provide feedback on what is working and what is not. Change Champions will:
- Participate in training. While the champions might not deliver training themselves, they should have a voice in role-based training. They know their end-users, if only through the feedback loop, and can advise on best practices for training.
- Deliver communications. Large-scale communications, especially delivered by C-suite executives, are the most effective means of sharing information during changes. Frontline managers or Change Champions are a close second, as demonstrated by the PROSCI methodology.
- Identify challenges. Champions identify technical challenges, including defining requirements. I was on a project where the CRM was rolled out without proper requirements gathering or feedback from end-users. It led to potential security risks, time spent from the end-users, and lost revenue.
- Provide resolution. Champions identify resistors to the change, active and passive, and work to resolve issues. There will be those who are vocally negative about the project, but such behaviors are easier to target and intercept. Those who are passive resistors and passive adopters are more nuanced and difficult to identify. Change Champions can help drive some of that effort to identify, predict behavior, and champion the project.
- Define success. Ideally the project has defined qualitative and quantitative success metrics. Your Change Network can help verify if these metrics are achievable and relevant.
- Improve adoption. I experienced some resistance in a mentorship program I stood up about 4 years ago. Although my executive sponsor had expressed buy-in, he wasn’t engaging as much as I needed and progress was slowing. I reached out to a few of my champions to ask for their support, and they were able to work with their team and move to improve adoption.
How do you engage with Change Champions?
Building relationships with your Change Champions is critical to the success of your project. Here are some ways to maintain engagement:
- Ask Change Champions for their time early in the project, once you have identified the objectives and measurements for success. Be gracious with your request and efficient with their time. This is a job above and beyond their day job. Give them appropriate parameters around time commitment and stick to it. There might be one-off requests, but limit the need to add more to their plate.
- Thank them and, if possible, provide something tangible—even if it is a thank you note and positive feedback to the executive team.
- Provide a “What’s in it for me” so you can give them a vested interest in ensuring their role is valuable to bringing positive change.
- Kick off the program to the Change Network to explain the project, objectives, parameters of their role, and measurements for success. According to Harvard Business Review, maintaining role definition is essential to ensuring success. “Collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and understood.”
- Maintain continuous engagement. Some projects last for years. In the case of the large ERP project I took part in implementing, it was a three-year engagement. To avoid losing momentum, maintain regular engagement with purpose.
- Move the Champions along the Kotter Change Curve more quickly than the end-users’ journey.
- Empower them and provide them with autonomy and purpose.
What are the results?
A key principle to Change Management is ensuring the sustainability of a change long after the project implementation team has finished their part. In mobilizing the change champions, you have equipped them to carry along adoption and success after the change has become adopted, and the project team has rolled off of the project.
Successful change comes when we lead with empathy. Change can be scary and provoke anxiety, especially when we are on change overload, both professionally and personally. Find allies and work to empower them in their efforts. A technology is only as good as the value it brings to the people who use it.