Change management – a great product is not enough to be successful. You still have to convince people to use it.

This is not a text about marketing. Nor about the value proposition. Or at least not just about that. If you have a new solution and you want people to use it, you should also take care of change management, and how to overcome the natural resistance to change. Otherwise, your outlay will not bring an adequate return on investment.

Digital implementations of solutions such as Digital Employee Experience (DEX), contractor, or B2C systems almost always require learning a new routine – both from the people who will fulfill their needs with them and from those who will support them. What can you do to ensure that the benefits outweigh the workload and that the acquisition of new competencies is painless?

From this article you will learn:

  • Why are most changes in companies not considered a success?
  • What, apart from system readiness, needs to be taken care of in digital implementations?
  • How to prepare the organisation for change?
  • Who should be involved in digital change in the company?

In general, if an organisation makes a change, it does so to gain something. It may be about gaining a competitive advantage or catching up with competitors, saving money, improving operations, in short: solving a specific problem the company is facing. However, as implementation progresses, there are times when we start to act as if the implementation is an end in itself. A frequent result of such an implementation is a disappointment – on the part of the company’s employees (because it was supposed to be better and it is more difficult), the management (because there were supposed to be profits and it seems that we only spent) and the implementation team (because we worked hard and everyone just complains).

Analysing the projects we support for our clients, we have noticed several important aspects that, when taken care of, help to better manage the change and achieve the intended benefits.

Why the change, i.e. the goals

Although it seems obvious, when carrying out a task we should keep in mind at all times why we are doing it. Therefore, you should write down, as concretely as possible, what goals you want to achieve by implementing the change and keep these goals in mind at all times.
The goals you set must be SMART. Thousands of texts have been written about this, so just as a reminder: SMART is an acronym describing the characteristics of a well-set goal.

Goals set in this way give a clear indication of where you are heading and when you are off the path that leads to them.

Working on dozens of digital change projects, both in the Digital Workplace and external customer service solutions, we have developed a list of ten areas and their assigned goals that typically guide our clients. We use this list as a starting point to define the ‘smart’ goals of the project we are working on with our client.

  1. Usage – what proportion of employees are expected to use the implemented solution and how often? An example target would be the number of users returning to this system at a certain frequency.
  2. Productivity – how will the new solution improve work? Example goal: Employees spend less time finding the information/documents they need.
  3. Quality – defines the reliability of the performance of the tools, as well as the information delivered through them. In the case of an intranet as a knowledge base, a fairly common objective is ‘The current version of a document (relevant to some user group) is the easiest to find’.
  4. Engagement – an area that is particularly relevant if we are dealing with the implementation of a community-type platform. For example, the aim may be to increase user-generated content (in specific languages, formats, or meeting specific quality criteria).
  5. Affiliation – for DEX tools (for example, an intranet), common implementation goals are to integrate employees into the company, to inform them about procedures, successes, or changes in the organisation, and to create a platform for sharing knowledge and achievements.
  6. Reach – who you want to reach with your solution. In the case of DEX solutions, it is worth determining for what proportion of employees you want your solution to be the first channel for dealing with the core tasks you enable. This area is complementary to the area of Usage (sometimes the fact of having access to a solution does not mean that users are using it).
  7. Accessibility – understood as the adaptation of functionality, as well as form and content on the intranet to the needs and specific requirements of users. For example, are the published documents understandable for every employee or only for educated office workers?
  8. Approach – what attitude do users have toward the new tool? Are they satisfied with it? Do they see it as a necessary evil or as their first source of work-related information? Are they willing to recommend it to colleagues?
  9. Cost reduction – the new implementation is likely to be another tool in the company’s portfolio. It is worth choosing a tool that will give savings and, rather than duplicating the functions of other tools – replace at least some of them.
  10. Governance – a common reason for implementing a new tool is to improve cyber security (including reducing the use of unauthorised communication tools and information repositories by providing appropriate functionality in the company’s managed system).
    A second important aspect of governance in the context of new implementations is the ease of use of the new tool by, for example, those providing content or handling workflow processes.

What it will change and for whom – i.e. stakeholder groups and expectation management

By definition, the change is intended to make a given process and its effect positively different from before. Inevitably, the change will affect the work routines of those involved in the process and the recipients of its effect. Often the change will also affect in some way other groups that are not direct participants or recipients. For example, a change in the way discounted train tickets are sold will be of interest to passengers, but also to cashiers, customer service, travel agents, children, and youth leisure organisers, or other companies offering this service.

Even changes in favour in this respect may be perceived by some as disadvantageous (they will, for example, force changes to the IT systems that external companies use to provide their services).

It is worth analysing how the changes we want to make will affect direct and indirect users, as well as ‘non-users’. This will allow us to adequately prepare for the reception of our actions and manage expectations to some extent by adequately communicating the changes, their timing, and scope, as well as the impact on target groups.

This means that even before you start implementing change, you should define your target groups and indirect stakeholders and think about how you want to manage their expectations and respond (or not) to their needs.

A stakeholder map is a good tool for this. Preparing a stakeholder map involves listing direct and indirect stakeholders and assigning them to one of four strategies for dealing with the design and implementation of the tool and its associated procedures. These four strategies are:

  • Work closely and manage carefully – take into account the needs of this group, actively involve its members in decision-making (at the very least get approval for key decisions and changes) and observe their attitudes, reactions, and opinions and respond appropriately and quickly.
  • Keep informed – this is a strategy for dealing with groups who will benefit from the solution. Communicating decisions and changes before they take effect will allow them to prepare for new ways of working and will increase their confidence and speed when they start working with the tool or its new version.
  • Keep them happy – this strategy should be adopted in relation to people whose opinion of the tool may influence the financing of the tool and its implementation, or the decision to maintain or stop work on it. In addition to informing (in the first instance about successes, ways to solve or prevent problems), communication with this group should be built in such a way as not to create the impression that the implementation may be a source of problems or even a threat to the proper operation of the company.
  • Monitor – this strategy is sufficient for those around you who have no direct influence on the project. Information about the tool and its implementation will reach them mainly through the other stakeholder groups. Monitoring their opinions and reactions will help prevent possible misunderstandings, spot emerging concerns, and respond to them in a timely manner.

What if I take a shortcut – what happens when you neglect change management?

You might wonder why you need to commit so many resources, including time, when the decision to change has already been made anyway. Perhaps all we need to do is to list the objectives and recommend what users should do. Let’s illustrate this with an example of two implementations.

In a certain large manufacturing and trading company, let’s call it Company A, the sales team located at the head office decided to introduce a new digital system for sales representatives. The system was to be used to show the current offer, how products were presented, pricing grids, and the reporting of orders collected by the representatives.
 Due to the diversity of the markets served by the company, we were invited to gather the needs of the local sales teams. Our task was also to define the range of functionalities and data available and entered into the system – so that it met the needs of the entire organisation.

It became apparent early on in the work that:

  • The local units are largely independent of the head office. Cooperation between them and headquarters is based mainly on goodwill and seeing (or not) the benefits and complications of this implementation.
  • Some local units have already invested in similar systems, tailored to their specific markets, and are bound by contracts with suppliers or need to amortise the expenditure incurred
  • In many units we found out about the planned change – head office did not inform the teams about the planned changes
  • The head office team showed no willingness to consider the extent to which systems used locally could inspire this global one and whether they could be integrated with it.

The project caused a lot of rumours and resistance in the company. Local managers started talking to managers they knew from head office, not even linked to the sales department, trying to stop and discredit the project for fear of the consequences for the work of their teams.

The sales reps and their regional managers were the first to be told that the ‘top’ was making a revolution, with no regard for them and how the change would affect their work, and that they wanted to control them more tightly (which was not true).

At Company B, on the other hand, the project to build a new global intranet started with the selection of locations where behavioural and expectations surveys would be conducted. The distribution and content of the surveys and the invitation of people to short online interviews were consulted and coordinated with representatives of the local teams. This way, we knew, for example, that asking factory workers to access the company’s internal digital services via their company smartphones could lead to protests in specific locations (the trade unions would demand company phones for the workers). Those who took part in the research not only provided us with extremely interesting information about the location-specific solutions used. Some of them, moreover, shared with us and with their colleagues that the company really cares about their needs and asks for the opinion of rank-and-file workers.

This participatory model of building the intranet manifests itself in the following stages:

  • A competition with prizes for the name of the intranet was organised. More than 150 group entries (this was a condition of the competition) were submitted from all over the world. The winning name was submitted independently by 7 teams from different organisational units
  • The creation of subpages and forums for local units is preceded by work with their representatives. This enables these individuals to better understand how to further maintain and develop ‘their area’ on the intranet
  • For the quick and direct collection of feedback and bug reports, we have launched a special, simple tool accessible from any subpage. If an employee reports a need for assistance, designated people contact them within one working day
  • Implementation in additional markets is preceded by an appropriate communication campaign, tailored to local needs and opportunities
  • Training materials and tips to improve work using the intranet are available in different forms and languages and activities offered to employees
  • Periodic reviews are organised among the central team and with local teams to plan improvements and support for editors and intranet users.

You can read what else you can do to take into account the needs of users and the solutions they use to problems in the article Design studio – a way to involve employees in creating new solutions.

What and when – a clear implementation and change management plan

Project schedules usually include a list of implementation activities with specific dates for reaching milestones. Very often, however, these plans do not include information and education activities. As a result, already during the course of the project, a ‘communication person’ is co-opted into the team to undertake ad hoc activities. Or worse, it falls on the IT team to communicate the changes to staff and customers. When change communication does not include objectives, does not take into account the needs of future users, and is too technical – it becomes ineffective. Instead of preparing for the change, such communication introduces nervous anticipation of potential problems with the stability of task execution.

In companies where change management is regarded as an essential part of implementations, outreach activities are planned in advance. This sequence of deliberate steps creates an expectation of positive change for the target users, as well as other stakeholders, and an opportunity to realise team and individual goals and needs.

Many companies are keen to share implementation successes and how they were achieved. We, too, gather knowledge on how to informally support implementations and share it with our clients.

Effective methods include onboarding for new users built into the digital tool, or easily searchable digital and printable manuals consisting of brief descriptions of individual functions. Good methods include demo days and other forms of presentations and training for those who are interested, videos presenting the goals of the change and the benefits for particular user groups, or tips on how to make everyday tasks easier. Importantly, the various forms vary in their effectiveness depending on the target group and the phase of implementation. Therefore, it is important to know the needs and expectations of the target groups and to plan the sequence of activities and tools to be used.

Observe – measure – react

If you have set your objectives well and know where you are going, it will be easier to see whether the measures you are taking are having the desired effect. To ensure that you don’t deviate (or notice when you need to change course), you need to measure the achievement of your objectives in a planned manner and with a pre-defined frequency. As mentioned earlier, objectives need to be measurable and have a timeframe for achieving them. Therefore, part of a good implementation plan is the frequency and method of measuring the achievement of objectives.

For the projects we support, we have developed a framework called The Digital Employee Experience Navigator (DEEN). The navigator facilitates the setting and operationalisation of objectives and indicators, which we define together with the client and implement measurement tools. Periodic reviews of the indicators help manage change and keep the digital implementation on track.

The aim of our framework is to comprehensively define the objectives and how to monitor them. The resulting information is used to evaluate and manage the success of the project based on the results obtained. For the ten key areas where digital change is expected to deliver improvements, we have prepared a list of objectives typically set for implementation. These objectives are then subject to refinement – thus providing a list of metrics to be monitored. For each metric, we identify the source of the data and how it will be measured. The metrics are reviewed periodically to assess the level of achievement and take corrective action, if necessary.

Information = facilitating change

The activities described here are meant to support change in the organisation, not replace it. A great product or service, an innovation in the way things are done, deserves a proper introduction. Without planned and purposeful action, even the best idea and the most effective solution may not deliver the intended benefits.

As humans, we tend to fear what is new and unknown. We are guided by the principle of limited trust for novelties and prefer someone else to test them, taking possible risks. By reaching out and addressing users’ needs, familiarising them with the new – before it arrives – and preparing people to use the new solution, you will increase the chances of successful innovation implementation. By embedding information and education activities in your implementation plan, you will be prepared for the inevitable fears and resistance. In this way, you will not waste energy on relieving crises but will prevent or mitigate their occurrence.


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    Michał Madura
    Senior Business Design Consultant

    +48505016712 +48505016712