How to deal with change

How to deal with change

Introducing new technology is difficult on many levels. But by drawing on psychological principals, the human side of the process is much easier.

Many IT implementations fail to realise their original objectives. One symptom is that planned functionality is not utilised by staff to the fullest extent. Another is a noted tendency for staff to fall back into their ­comfort zones, using manually maintained records, spreadsheets and the like.

Often, the root cause is that insufficient attention is paid to the human aspects of change. Knock-on effects are largely financial. If more resources need to be brought in to effect lasting change, this dilutes the strength of the original business case.

While change management expertise is not a core competency expected of IT chiefs, recruiters assert that this need is changing. Indeed, many leading CIOs have strong business transformational change experience.

The key pillars such change are:

Application systems: For example, a new business intelligence capability.

Business processes: Usually foundational, in delivering required business outcomes.

Organisation: Made necessary by the new systems and processes, perhaps involving changed responsibilities for certain staff and the creation of new roles and incentive ­programs, to assist in attaining agreed goals.

Culture: Establishing an environment in which people accept change positively and actively embrace new ways of doing business.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1926 – 2004) first came to prominence through her seminal work On Death and Dying. Influenced by her experiences in concentration camps, then supported by her training as a psychiatrist, her book reached best-seller status for its genre, becoming a handbook for many who were passing through the process of grieving.

Her work has been utilised by change ­management professionals worldwide to assist in managing people confronted by immutable change. Among these is the US Army, which has a dedicated website, the Army Business Transformation Knowledge Centre, focusing on such subjects.

Having much relevance to organisational change, Kubler-Ross defined five stages of emotions that are triggered in response to change. In chronological order, these are:

Denial: Marked by refusal to accept the facts, then the onset of defensive behaviour.

Anger: At an individual level, this may be focused inwardly but it is more likely to be expressed in an overt fashion in a work or organisational ­context by seeking the support of ­others who are similarly affronted.

Bargaining: Compromises are sought with the intention that some of the proposed ­elements may be tempered by management to make the changes less threatening.

Depression: Fear and uncertainty have descended as the reality of the proposed change looms large.

Acceptance: Objectivity has reigned. The change will happen and nothing further can be done about it. Life must go on.

There are two major ways this knowledge may be built into a change program:

Explain the Kubler-Ross stages to staff as an integral part of what is happening. This empathetic approach will allow them to understand their reactions and ultimately work their way through to acceptance.

Develop a structured change program. Acknowledging that change can take time, consider use of the Commitment to Change Model. Based on work carried out by the US-based group Organisational Development Resources Incorporated, this involves a defined three-stage process.

Inform: This lays the foundation for change, making stakeholders aware of what is proposed and promoting an understanding of the reasoning behind the changes.

Educate: A more detailed process aimed at clarifying to stakeholders how the change will affect them and precisely what they have to do when performing day-to-day activities.

Commit: This is the final step. It's often carried out unconvincingly and sometimes skimped in IT implementations but this step is intended to embed the new way of doing things into everyday life for all stakeholders.

Consider taking these actions:

Resource projects so that sufficient funds and time are given to change management.

Use the prevailing literature to build a case for having sufficient change management information and resources.

Partner with change and people-centric professionals, such as those from HR, to assist in bringing about lasting change.

Avoid assigning a change manager – the title alone can trigger staff resistance. Rather, embed change within the overall implementation program, and perhaps use a title such as communications manager.

Be prepared to engage external experts who can carry out staff climate surveys, to deal with the human aspects of change.

Doing so will help you to deliver change effectively with minimum disruption.

Rob Mackinnon is an adviser with IBRS. Email comments to

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