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March Madness at SteelBridge: A Change Management “Dream Team”

Originally posted for SteelBridge BASKETBALLHOOPSolutions on April 6, 2016:

While the NCAA Basketball Playoffs were in full swing, the sound of referees’ whistles filled my house. I wasn’t the one glued to the TV until the wee hours of the morning, although I followed the brackets and even had the conference apps on my phone. The biggest influence March Madness had on me was that I thought a lot about what it takes to be a championship team.

You may remember when the NBA’s top players went to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Sports Illustrated dubbed them the “Dream Team”—every coach’s fantasy and every fan’s delight. Countless articles have analyzed the athleticism, skills, and competitive drive that made them so great. I don’t know the difference between a point guard and a power forward, but experience has shown me that, in general, the best teams have complementary skills, each member uses their strengths, and all have a deep desire to work together to win.

The change management teams SteelBridge works with on technology implementations like Workday are cross-functional—including HR, IT, and Finance, at minimum—so they represent different viewpoints and skills. When they operate as a team, implementations are more successful—deadlines are met, resources are shared, and the lines of communication are open. Often, however, the functions engage in turf battles or work at cross-purposes to get what they want out of the initiative. In the end, no one wins.

A complicating factor is that it takes more than day-to-day skills to manage change successfully. Call it an orientation: a mindset that puts the organization first, so that all parties cooperate to reach a solution that works for everyone; an appreciation for each other’s diversity, maintaining open dialogue and respect for each other’s point of view; and sharing best practices across silos to avoid duplication of effort and provide a fresh perspective.

With all that in mind, we at SteelBridge have assembled a wish list of characteristics for our Change Management Dream Team. They include:

  • The CEO’s competitive mindset: Thinking like a CEO means viewing change capability as a strategic advantage over less agile competitors. My Dream Team would understand the broader context in which change occurs and factor in the speed and scope of change—in social, political, and economic forces, in the advancement of technology, in the composition of the marketplace, and in the needs and demands of customers, shareholders, and the public. The result would be that every initiative would advance the organization’s mission, vision, and goals.
  • The Finance function’s ability to build a strong business case: Change management is often considered as a cost, because monies expended to plan for, communicate, train for, and implement change are easier to track than the benefits realized from it. For example, productivity, engagement, and retention are outcomes of good change management, but it is difficult to show a direct, causal effect. The rationale behind articles that urge Finance and HR to collaborate on predictive analytics makes sense for change, too: Using finance’s skills, the Dream Team could translate the language of people and change into the language of business, harness the data from HR and business systems, and develop appropriate, balanced measures to demonstrate the return on investments in change.
  • The Marketing function’s expertise in driving awareness and buy-in. Marketing’s value-add to change management goes well beyond the obvious communication and presentation skills, because the goal of change management—gaining user acceptance—is primarily a marketing exercise. Research and market analysis identify key “segments” of users with different needs and preferences. In change management, stakeholder assessments are one important research vehicle. They uncover types of users, what they want, which communication channels are most likely to reach them, and which forms of learning they prefer. Using marketing skills to tailor offerings to various groups would allow the change team to meet their needs more precisely, leading to a higher level of user adoption.
  • The CIO’s emphasis on portfolio management: IT’s evolution from a cost center to a strategic business unit has required greater control over IT project selection, execution, and status. To align IT with business goals, CIOs have learned to manage initiatives, projects, and upgrades as though they were a portfolio of investments. Given the potential for multiple initiatives and numerous process owners, taking a portfolio approach to change management ensures that initiatives work together to meet core business needs.
  • The HR function’s sensitivity to the factors that influence employee engagement and commitment: Recent studies have demonstrated the impact of an engaged workforce on productivity and profits. As we pointed out in an earlier blog, engaged employees are better at change. Their sense of commitment to their organizations and their jobs, their trust in honest, authentic leaders, and their expectations that they will get the tools, training, and resources they need to do their altered jobs are powerful forces. The factors that lead to engagement – culture, work environment, management and leadership style, challenging work, performance feedback, fair rewards, and growth opportunities—are largely considered HR’s domain. However, every line and staff function must consistently carry out the organization’s promises in order to get the most from their workforce.

That is the same message we want to convey with the structure of our Change Management Dream Team: Organizations that treat change management as an enterprise-wide initiative create an environment that views functional differences not as a deterrent but as an advantage. In that environment, HR can be the catalyst for encouraging all parties to learn from and adapt each other’s unique perspectives to reach creative solutions. When organizations leverage the wisdom gained from functional diversity, strong partnerships flourish and everyone wins.