The benefits of a modern technology infrastructure are clear. Get the implementation right and you will reap rewards such as business insights, greater efficiencies and cost savings.
But achieving a great technology implementation is no breeze. Hard work and time investment are required to get it right. This is because all technology projects are also very much a people projects. Indeed, the human element can make or break a technology project. You simply cannot have a successful technology implementation project without first getting your people behind it.
Having seen IFS through a 24-week period of implementing our own technology globally, IFS Applications 10 enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, I’ve gained some career and (frankly) life lessons that I’ll always take with me.
Build a community
Ownership is important. So, if there are members of the team that want to be involved in the project, then by all means let them have a role to play. For our project, we brought in subject matter experts from disciplines throughout the company for focused work within the project. Activities were chunked down into very granular processes. Thanks to the inter-departmental approach, and our focus on workstreams, the result was that people got behind it and owned it. I saw them share insights, collaborate, generate ideas and contribute in a way that reflected the level of community we built around the project itself.
We took a long-term view of the project, so were mindful to be open to feedback and amend our approach accordingly. Even though this sometimes meant an overhaul of items we had thought we completed, we leaned into both the negative and the positive outcomes. And the end result was all the better for it. We used the stop-start-continue methodology to great advantage. By that I mean, identifying what things we need to stop doing, the things we want to start doing as well as the things we wish to continue doing.
While we did a lot of the implementation with existing employees ‘double-hatting’ over those weeks, a change management professional also proved valuable. Apart from helping to moderate the all-important human element of change management in the project, the level of employee engagement was enhanced by the fresh perspective of a seasoned expert. We then used the experience gained and resources created to feed back into our change management teams for the benefit of future customer implementations.
Lead by example
Like all successful projects, ours was led from the top. Guidance and sponsorship needs to start with the CEO and the whole senior leadership team from Day One, but crucially throughout the lifespan of the project. Communication should be clear and assertive from the start – validating the needs and importance of getting the project right, demonstrating a commitment that the technology will underpin the business processes, explaining the importance of the program, and inspiring and incentivizing people to work quickly to deliver the project on time. Other senior leaders need to replicate this. Success then comes from achieving high morale and maintaining that peak, rather than allowing it to fluctuate and having to respond on-demand.
Encourage peer-to-peer leadership by harnessing the momentum of those with a positive approach. From department heads to line of business managers, look for peer leaders anywhere that teams of people work together.
For example, we had a number of superusers in our project who were skilled up early on in the program. Some of these were people who had put themselves forward to help with, for example, data entry tasks. They’d learned new skills and had become able to share what they learned. Our superusers even wore special t-shirts during the launch week so they were easily identifiable by employees who needed to turn to someone for hands-on, specialized assistance.
Test and refine
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. So, despite best efforts to co-create new technology and processes, we know it’s only possible to truly understand it once it’s live. So, we ran pilot tests. These served to iron out minor bugs in the system. After all, adjustments are inevitable.
Seeing how well end users get on with a new system in its real-world scenario is a valuable experience and employee engagement is greatly enhanced by involving real users at this stage mean, as they feel they are a part of the process. And of course, at this stage of the project it is not too late to make user-requested changes. For that reason, I advise leaving enough time for more stop-start-continue evaluation at this stage.
Communication is key
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of high-quality communication company-wide for the duration of the project. Once per month newsletters won’t cut it. It’s too ‘top down’ and ‘after-the-fact’. Without buy-in from employees, projects like these struggle to get the footing they need to be successful.
Our communication strategies were varied, always with a view to keeping the communications fun and inspirational. This included videos from project leads on Workplace, town halls, lock-screens on PCs, TV screens at our office locations, an intranet hosted FAQs and milestone updates.
Organizational change is most successful if people are always at the center of the change implementation and feel they have a voice throughout the process. Change management should be as proactive, inclusive and as open as possible. External change management expertise can really help, but in the end, the organization itself must lead from the front.
Change is a constant. That means that we are never ‘done’. Businesses will always evolve and to ensure that technology is always delivering on its promise means marrying agile technology with a change mentality.