Organizational change management is often the riskiest aspect of buying and implementing technology, especially in an industry like human services, where workers are risk-averse due to their desire not to put the lives of families they serve before learning new tools and processes. No agency wants to waste precious time or resources by spending months (or years!) evaluating and implementing a solution that workers don’t end up using, yet key strategies to plan for and mitigate potential risk factors are too often overlooked.

By knowing what motivates your workers to accept or reject change, you’ll increase your chances of long-term success. The following plan is designed for human services and technology, but the strategies are applicable across various industries and change management initiatives.

Follow These General Best Practices

Prioritize Readiness

Analyze your organization’s readiness in terms of technical infrastructure, business processes and culture to identify the key actions you’ll need to take to manage and sustain change. That way, you’ll be able to move quickly and have a high-quality implementation when the time comes.

Listen to Your Staff

Survey your staff to understand which types of technology they’re comfortable using, what they struggle with and how they view solutions they’ve received in the past. The goal is to identify the potential barriers you’ll have to overcome, which might range from user fatigue to resistance to change.

Always Look Ahead

It’s easy to focus on the problem or priority of the moment without envisioning a long-term strategy, but it’s never too early to start thinking about how you’ll optimize your success over time. Be proactive in thinking about how to identify areas for growth, and establish a clear vision and road map for the future.

Beyond these general best practices, dive deeper into three key areas: prioritizing people, consistently communicating and using training to bring it all together.

Put People at the Center of Technology and Process Change

Include a variety of roles and departments in your internal project team to help things go smoothly and to accelerate buy-in across the organization. Select individuals who communicate well, are respected by their peers, work well under pressure and respond positively to change.

As you think about who should be represented on your project team, don’t limit yourself to the obvious. Analyze the entire process that’s changing to make sure you’re not overlooking anyone who needs to be involved, including other business units, support staff and community partners.

You should also be cognizant of how introducing new technology will impact people’s workloads, as well as any other initiatives they’re involved in. For example, someone who will be heavily involved in the implementation team may need more support or coverage elsewhere to allow time to focus on this new project.

Communication Is Key to Setting and Managing Expectations

Communication is another critical, yet often overlooked, factor that can make or break a technology project or change initiative. In fact, insufficient communication is one of the top reasons strategic initiatives fail, so it’s important to develop a detailed plan to set expectations from the beginning.

Communicate Early

Don’t leave anyone in the dark who will be impacted by the change. It’s powerful for end users to hear from the leadership and project teams about why you’ve decided to implement new technology, the positive impact it will have and what they should expect.

Communicate Often

Agency leaders can be hesitant to share progress before they have all the answers, but this hesitation can lead workers to make their own assumptions that the project isn’t going as planned. Regularly provide updates to make sure everyone feels involved.

Collect and Share Feedback

Encourage staff to ask questions or express concerns, and then make sure you respond in a timely manner — even if the response is, “We’re still working on it.” You may not be able to completely alleviate concerns, but making staff feel heard goes a long way in building trust.

Diversify Channels

A mass email may make sense when you’re starting, but something more interactive, like a town hall, will be more effective later. Communicate through multiple channels to ensure that you don’t miss any key information.

Bring It All Together Through Training and Support

Without a solid foundation of training and a safety net of support, there’s a high probability that workers will revert to the “old ways.” When developing a training and support plan, be sure to consider the challenges your organization might face:

Unrealistic Classroom Setting

For some workers, it’s next to impossible to devote large blocks of time to classroom-style training. Instead, try meeting people where they are — in their own work environment. They’ll quickly gain confidence and can apply new skills in processes that are relevant to their job.

Competing Priorities

Workers have many things on their plate at any given time. Choose a format that keeps users engaged so they’re more likely to remember and apply what they’ve learned. Explore delivery methods that use consumable, bite-sized chunks.

Fish out of Water

People are less likely to bring new processes into their routine if they don’t feel like they have the right amount of support. Consider putting together a group of internal champions who are available to provide best practices and encouragement.

With these tips in mind, organizational change management doesn’t have to be a risky business. You can ensure high adoption and ongoing success if you put people first, prioritize communication and training, and have a solid plan to mitigate the risks and fears that typically accompany process changes.

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