Whether you're General Motors or a small to medium-sized company, people are central to your business -- and successful change management relies on those people.
Human behavior is the same in both big and small companies and the leadership qualities required to manage change does not differ by company size.
The issue of executing operational change is front and center in thousands of companies, as they renew systems to digitize processes and become more productive. But this new wave of systems spending will not deliver any real value unless it significantly affects how companies and their people do their work. A CIO might argue that's the business of "line" management. But when a systems investment doesn't pay off because it is poorly implemented on the factory floor or in the corporate office, blame always comes back to the IT organization. Worse yet, the company won't get any benefit from the time and money it has spent.
Systems that change the way a company operates require close collaboration between IT and the line. This is particularly true in the whole ERP game. IT managers must think like line managers, anticipating every possible roadblock and breakdown, taking steps -- in advance -- to minimize blockage or slowdowns. Here's some advice about what to do:
Jointly develop a roadmap or blueprint for the change. When an IT effort affects how your company operates -- and most worthwhile IT efforts do just that -- a project plan is not sufficient to produce business results. You need a roadmap, a detailed description of how you are going to get from beginning to end. The roadmap should show both tasks and events, with delivery times and fixed accountabilities. It should answer the questions who must do what and when, and its scope should include the whole company, not just the IT organization.
A compelling roadmap might also show tombstones, indicating where problems are likely to arise -- like the first time that real data is being converted or that a new job is to be filled. These are moments of truth, when an effort keeps moving forward or breaks downs. Anticipating what might happen keeps you moving through the change.
Make sure that an executive is on the job. Most IT efforts include talk about requiring "executive support." But mere support is not good enough. In an ERP implementation, for example, there are hundreds of choices (maybe thousands for some companies) to be made about process. For example, will the standard reports in a software package be sufficient or will reports have to be customized? What will be the order of implementation if multiple sites are involved?
A project team can debate these choices for months. To prevent delays and bad compromises, make sure an active and informed executive is on the job and is ready to make decisions.
Know that the line people are with you. When an IT effort is launched, both IT and line managers can be seen nodding their heads in support. But people are usually indicating agreement to the big idea being proposed. No one typically argues with the need for better customer service, improved cash flow or more efficient manufacturing. Beware: Not everyone may agree with how a change is to be implemented and who it will affect. You have to put enough detail in front of managers to know that they are in agreement with the implementation plan. It's better to have arguments early in a change process, than to realize months later that you did not have the engagement and leadership required.
Know how you will measure success. Every worthwhile change should have a clear set of objectives. If your objective is to improve customer service, by what measure -- response time, hold time on the telephone, minimum returns? If your objective is to improve supplier relationships, by what measure -- number of breakdowns, out-of-stock materials, supplier success? If your objective is to improve the effectiveness of human resource management, by what measure -- attrition rates, employee satisfaction, recruiting yields, costs? Whatever your objective, get clear on the measures and start measuring results as soon as possible to be sure that you are on track.
Getting through change requires active management -- usually more than you think.
James Champy is chairman of Perot Systems Corp.'s consulting practice and head of strategy for the company. He is also the author of the best-selling books Reengineering the Corporation, Reengineering Management, The Arc of Ambition and X-Engineering the Corporation.