During any change project two things occur:
- We change a technical or tangible aspect of the supply chain, such as a system, a tool or a process.
- We change the behaviors related to using the new technology or practice we installed.
Companies we talk to think they do reasonably well to manage the technical aspects of change. In many ways this is the easy part. When swapping one ERP for another, the old ERP does not resist being replaced. We need not convince the technology of anything (not yet anyway).
Changing behavior of people is the hard part.
Decades of research tells us that leaders who rise to the challenge of mobilizing their people and corporate communities have a much greater chance of success. In The Gartner People and Purpose-Centric Supply Chain survey, the top three strategies to get people to embrace change relate to the ability to mobilize these social communities. Leadership inspiration, peer networks believing in change and peer networks engaging in change have more impact on change adoption than all other responses combined.
Envision the Future and Engage with Change
Supply chain leaders need to start thinking about how they invest in building a community that can envision the future and engage with the change. Two specific strategies stand out from the study.
- Sharing a vision: ERPs do not need to be inspired to be installed, but humans need to be inspired to use them. Supply chain leaders should be laser-focused on developing a vision for changes they are proposing. Humans want a sense of purpose and a rationale for the direction they are heading. They want to know that making needed sacrifices will bring them to a better place. Envision the better place and show that to your people.
- Social Influence: While the pervasive influence on social media is relatively new, social influence is the oldest method for adoption of change. As humans, we care about our social networks and how we are perceived within those networks. The impact of influencers in those networks can have magnifying effects for the adoption of change. As more people adopt a new practice or tool, others see that their network is moving to that practice or tool, and they will eventually follow along. To this end, leaders should be mapping, understanding, creating new and using existing social networks to accelerate the adoption of change.
The work behind developing and cascading a vision as well as building networks of influence can seem daunting. Leaders have a few choices: they can ignore the work altogether, they can outsource the work to consultants, they can insource the work to HR or they can own the work and make it happen. However, that requires time and a little investment.
Organize to drive the success of change strategies
Most of the leaders we talk to agree that change management is critical to success. However, fewer can point out the resources dedicated to planning and driving the adoption of change. Part of the reason for this might be that “change management” is not one discrete thing. Leaders can see and touch the work in process mapping, systems design, computer programming or QA testing. Each of these has a start, a middle and an end. But change management is not the same. It is a continuous cycle of events that need to be managed, all of them behavioral in nature, that are not as tactile as the design elements of change work. Changing human behavior is messy work, and success requires time and attention.
When we look at the top priorities of Centers of Excellence, teams dedicated to managing change projects, we see that tactile priorities sit at the top of the list (see below). Change management is the priority least identified as part of the remit of a Center of Excellence. However, the same respondents indicated that “Having relationship management and change management capabilities on the team” was the most critical capability to success of the Center of Excellence.
Managing Change Management
So, change management is critical to the success of driving change, but the teams dedicated to driving change do not see change management as one of their top 10 most critical objectives. Who, then, is doing the change management?
Supply chain leaders need to stop offshoring change management to consultants, HR and stakeholder groups. They need to take control. The best companies we talk to have a laser-focus on delivering change management capabilities in the supply chain. These companies have dedicated change management leads, and in some cases, entire change management teams to support the adoption of outcomes for change projects. These teams are doing important work to increase the odds of success.
Setting the stage for success
- Working with project portfolio managers to synchronize the cadence of change events for all of supply chain as well as individual stakeholder groups.
- Engaging with design and engineering teams to ensure they are getting early user needs and coordinating the participation of users in early iterations of the design.
Building a base of knowledge and understanding
- Developing large-scale messages for the life cycle of a change, as well as developing micro messages for individual stakeholder groups.
- Managing the cadence, messaging and methods of communication throughout the life cycle of a project.
Building an active support network
- Working constantly with project sponsors, project leads and responsible executives to curate their understanding of, and engagement in, the project.
- Identifying, training and supporting a network of change influencers to help deploy and support the adoption of the change.
Supporting adoption of new practices
- Developing and planning for the delivery of training programs for pre- and post-implementation.
- Monitoring and measuring the degree to which new technology is being used, and then redirecting efforts to support further communication, leadership focus, training or systems adjustments.
Many companies tell us that they cannot afford to have teams dedicated to this type of work. They also tell us they cannot afford to have the technology they are investing in fail. Leaders must make a choice. Managing humans through complex, controversial and conflict-inducing change is the most difficult work that leaders must accomplish. If they want to reap the returns on investments in technical change, they must invest to organize the significant behavioral change.
Ken Chadwick is the VP Analyst of Gartner Supply Chain.
This article originally appeared on the Gartner Blog.