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Manage change upfront to overcome user resistance to IT initiatives

Consultant Steve Weissman offers expert advice on how to manage change and win user support for critical technology projects.

We're looking at several major new IT initiatives, and we could use some advice on how to manage change. Specifically, what's the best way to prevent users from digging in their heels and resisting as we launch these critical IT projects?

As I've been consulting and teaching over the years, especially recently, I'm finding this issue -- how to manage change -- cropping up earlier and earlier in each class and in each engagement.

Change management -- the "people side" of technology improvement -- is probably more important to the success of the outcome of the initiative than the raw technology itself is.

Nothing will cause you to leave value on the table faster than having people who are resistant to the fact that something's going to change.

I know that sounds backwards, because technology certainly is critical. But nothing will cause you to leave value on the table faster than having people who are resistant to the fact that something's going to change.

Every instance is different because every organization is different. They're different sizes; they have different personalities and different corporate cultures. There's definitely a generational factor at work, although not universally.

But if there's a single tenet that I try to apply across all the situations that I run across, it's that you can best manage change by involving the different people who are going to be affected by this new technology or by what's changing, as early as possible in the overall initiative.

What you want to have happen is to have these different constituencies feel that this something that's happening for them rather than to them. You want to make sure that they understand that not only do they have a voice in what's going to happen, but that that voice is listened to.

It's like parenting. You always want your children to feel like they've been heard and listened to even if your answer isn't always "Yes."

To really manage change, it's important that the people involved feel empowered and that they feel they can have an effect on what's going to happen. This can be as simple as responding to a suggestion by saying something like, "Look, we can't do that right now, in Phase 1. But we can put it on the list for Phase 2."

You need to involve representatives of all the affected groups through the lifecycle of planning and implementation. That's so that the groups can hear each other's suggestions and maybe say something like, "You know what? I hadn't thought of that particular suggestion, but it would provide our department with a huge benefit too." So maybe that suggestion moves off the list for Phase 2 and back onto the list for Phase 1 because of this cross-fertilization.

Either way, if you manage change effectively, people feel engaged. They feel like they can shape what's going to happen to them long before someone in charge plops something new down in front of them, saying, "Here, use this." That goes a long way toward ensuring overall success.

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In launching IT initiatives, how often does your organization seek input from the affected users?