Hearts and Minds

I am currently working as an associate to another training company, which is helping one of our major utilities with a massive IT rollout.  The new system, which is costing hundreds of millions of pounds, will replace a host of incompatible and crumbling legacy systems, some of which date back more than 20 years, with a modern, streamlined, fit-for-purpose corporate platform.  The change and disruption will be huge, affecting everything from working practices and company structure to the culture and internal communications of the entire organisation.   While the potential benefits are fantastic, there is without doubt also potential for disaster.

Fortunately, this company has learnt from previous less-than-successful implementations, and this time has taken to heart the words of John P Kotter and Dan Cohen in Heart of Change.

They have realised that for such a massive rollout to work, the key is not screens and keystrokes, not bandwidth and reporting, but hearts and minds.  That is not to say that the effectiveness of the technology is not important.  Flaky systems that fall over, frustrating screens that demand seemingly irrelevant information, security that is so tight it prevents functionality – all of these lead to user-frustration and dissatisfaction with the upgrade.  But none of these will be deal-breakers.  As long as the organisation is seen to admit the shortcomings, and works towards improvements as and when the business can, engaged and committed employees will be remarkably forgiving of glitches.  But fail to win that engagement and commitment, and no amount of whizzy screens and new technology is going to work.  Users will look for faults and problems, and as sure as bytes is bytes, they will find them. 

In this case, the commitment to engagement has been laudable.  Future end-users have been properly consulted at every step of the design, from helicopter overview of processes to screen-by-screen input into look and feel.  The company has put considerable effort into hosting a whole series of pre-launch roadshows and workshops to give adequate time discuss all aspects the changes with the entire workforce, including plenty of chance for the doubters to air their (often quite legitimate) concerns, with a corporate commitment to listen carefully to all the feedback.  There has also been an emphasis to ensure that both training and post-launch support are well resourced.

No system rollout of this size can be expected to run without a hiccup.  But with this much effort going into engaging and involving every single member of staff in every step of the journey, the chances of eventual success are very high indeed.

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