I have been part of many major transformations over the years including M&A, enterprise-wide systems implementations, processing system creation and implementations, new facility roll-outs, accessibility … the list goes on. The biggest mistake I see companies of all sizes make is to underestimate the true scope of a transformation. In this piece, I’m breaking down common transformation blindspots I’ve encountered over decades of change management so that you can “get ahead of it” in your organization, and ensure successful, sustained transformation.
Many organizations attempt to “DIY” by adding major strategic efforts to an existing leader whose area of responsibility is most closely related to the effort. These leaders may have strong belief in the project and serve as cheerleaders - but when they lack practical experience in change management, their project may be set up for failure from day one.
I was once asked to weigh in on the rollout of an ERP in a large company, and began by asking about plans for training employees on how to use it. The answer: they had no training budget. They were approaching rollout with hope as a training strategy - but luckily we were able to shift around some budget to invest in this crucial element for successful implementation. This project had been planned by thoughtful senior leaders - and still the rollout almost happened without a critical piece of the puzzle. Rather than serve as a critique of the leaders who planned the project, I see this as a reminder that involving a leader or consultant with specific change management experience is a huge opportunity for many companies.
Alternatively, some companies “DIY” by placing a project manager or project management function in charge of a major change. While these employees have many excellent skill sets for budgeting, planning, and execution, the strategic thinking is often missing.
I once had a project manager rolling out a major system for a global workforce tell me, “Well we don’t have money for foreign language translation of this training, so we’ll just wait to see if anyone complains after the implementation is completed.” Non-English speakers made up a significant portion of the intended audience - and using a reactive strategy would have been a huge risk. The good news is that we successfully lobbied for the 40K to do the needed translations and achieved the successful implementation of a multi-million-dollar global system implementation, including high adoption rates and engagement. We dodged a bullet.
In addition to foreign language considerations, I’ll share a few other blind spots I have seen many times over the years during transformations. It is worth noting that these “misses” are not only costly in the long run in terms of money, but also in terms of employee trust, engagement, and retention.
Leadership communication is inconsistent. When an implementation is approaching, but employees are receiving mixed messages (or no messages!), you are likely setting yourself up for failure. The winning combination in terms of communication is a unified leadership team, and centralized messaging so that everyone in the organization is on the same page. Your workforce can either become your biggest challenge or greatest source of support in smoothing the friction inherent in transformation. For more on this topic, here’s an entire blog devoted to the subject.
Training budget is low or non-existent. For instance, I have seen a company commit $0 for an enterprise implementation that typically takes 100,000 role-based learning hours for day-1 readiness. When no training is planned (and planning means committing budget whether it is internal hours or a consulting/contracting arrangement), you will almost certainly fail to achieve the leverage you expect from your new tool, process, or technology. And, you will erode your organization’s trust in your ability to invest in resources that make their job more efficient and effective.
Accessibility is not even considered. While some see accessibility as low priority or even a regulatory headache, remember that making your company’s best resources available and useful to all is truly in your company’s best interest. How would you feel if your company rolled out an amazing new tool that all your teammates were able to use, but not you? Consider anything you do through this lens - both in terms of creating resources that are useful to all, and in developing implementation training for these resources. It is worth the cost, and if you are forced by a regulatory board to incorporate these, the loss of trust you will experience from your employees will hurt your bottom line just as much as the dollars you will surely have to invest.
Time Zones are not factored in. I have had the experience of working for a global organization where time zones were as wide as 12 hours apart. There was just no way a team on the other side of the world was going to be able to attend every meeting - and we had to determine a way to work together partly asynchronously to successfully complete our effort. But even time zones within the U.S. are worthy of consideration. Be aware of normal working hours and break times of stakeholders who will need to attend ongoing standing meetings or trainings. When these types of meetings are planned over sustained periods, as they often are in major transformations, certain groups can carry an outsized amount of burnout if you are not careful.
It is never too late to pause and evaluate your plan as you create your company’s most important transformation, or even to course-correct if you are already in the midst of a one that is not going as you’d hoped. Remember: you don’t have to do it alone. Assess your internal resources to determine where you may be able to get more leverage in addressing blindspots. If that is not enough, engaging an outside partner is a great way to complement (and avoid overwhelming) your existing resources. When you seek out the expertise and advice of experienced professionals, you take advantage of the wisdom of experience that accelerates your success timeline without adding a lot of effort.