Avoid The Silent Killer - Lack of Change Management!
By: Craig Dellorso, CEO, Confluence Global
May 1, 2019

Embrace Change

One thing I’ve learned in my 20-plus years in and around association technology is that you actually can manage change – for better or for worse. In this post I will relate some of my experiences that will hopefully help you as you approach your next big change.

When you set out to fundamentally alter your organization, it can be daunting and unsettling. The good news is… this is completely normal. It’s expected. Once you embrace that reality, you can move on to owning it.

From the top down and all the way back up again, there are all sorts of feelings, sometimes ranging from happy anticipation to feet-dragging dread. I get that; I really do. I have watched it happen with every type of group, big and small.

At this point, I feel like I could walk into a kick-off meeting in a conference room and pick out the early adopters who are excited to get the latest and greatest technology and at least one bona-fide Negative Nancy ready to naysay at every stage of the project. Almost everyone else is skeptically waiting to see what happens.

In fact, we recently finished a project that is a perfect example of how the success or failure of projects large and small are all about change management and support across the organization. This group had two failed software implementations over the previous six to seven years. Now I’m sure there was plenty of blame to go around on all sides, the vendor, the client, the product. But the real missing ingredient was the willingness and dedication to change, and the lack of ability to execute on that change.  Sure enough, when we walked into our kick-off meeting with them, we could feel the “here we go again.” Fortunately, they had new leadership who embraced change, communicated well, and approached the project from a positive position.

Communicate to Manage
What distinguishes a successful project from an unsuccessful project is communication. No matter how much planning goes into defining technical tasks, the project will fail if you do not ensure all staff understand and feel part of the project.

The tried and true approach is fundamental. At defined milestone moments in the project, you have to telegraph what will happen, then explain what is happening as it’s happening, and then remind what happened.

In the project I mentioned earlier, our ultimate success was based on a realistic and positive message communicated consistently and at key points throughout the project. That messaging was sent to the group as a whole and maybe more importantly, to the individuals who would be affected by this change. People want to know what’s in it for them; your job is to help them see it and want it. The only way to do that is through great communication.

If you’re doing it right, the executives are actively part of the process. They need to establish that there is no turning back, that everyone needs to learn the new system, and everyone has a voice. When you’re done, you make it much more likely that all stakeholders feel you invested wisely.

Invite Positive Personal Buy-in from Individuals

But executives don’t know the nuances of the old system. They don’t know the nuances of the new system either. They can’t do it alone. That’s why you need to include data entry associates, customer service staff, managers, and senior-managers in the process as individuals. The job titles are not required to learn something new. It’s the living, breathing person with a commute, and a mortgage (or rent), and a student (or student loan) to look after, and maybe an unexpected home repair to manage. You can’t let your project become just another thing they have to endure.

As Nick Tassler points out in the Harvard Business Review, we are more likely to find ways for projects to fail -- to think negatively about their chances -- especially when we frame the process as difficult. This is important to keep in mind. To overcome negative bias, you need to keep your language positive and avoid phrasing it as overly difficult.

You also need to actively invite individuals to invest themselves in the project and think positively about it. You cannot imply that it would be nice if they got on board. You need to directly say it early and often.

When I meet with key stakeholders, I say some version of this: “You are important to the success of this project, and I appreciate your willingness to find ways you can make it successful.”

What I am doing is asking them to forget why they may NOT want this change, and I am getting them thinking about what they can do as individuals to make the project go well. Then it’s not abstract. Then it’s not someone else’s project. Then it’s their project they are trying to make go well.

Be Deliberate

One thing I’m proud of as the CEO of Confluence Global is that we dedicate ourselves to our clients as people. We work closely, sometimes for weeks and months and years. We want our projects to be successful because we believe in the missions of the associations and nonprofits we serve, and we believe in our clients as professionals.

That’s why we include change management fundamentals in each project we do. It’s a deliberate process that honors the work we are all doing together. We help executives make decisions and stay involved. We invite all staff to feel part of the process and all stakeholders to feel they invested wisely. At the end of the project, we want there to be no doubt that our clients and their beneficiaries are much better off than when we started. And I encourage you to do the same.


Learn more about Confluence Global's Change Management Services

Meet the Author!
Craig Dellorso, Co-Founder & CEO

Based in Fairfax, Virginia, Craig calls upon 20 plus years of extensive leadership, technology, and operations experience in the association and nonprofit space to provide customers with transformative solutions and guidance. Having worked both in an association and as a vendor to the industry, his blend of experience provides association and nonprofit clients a unique and valuable perspective for success. He has built a reputation of integrity, innovation, and service excellence.

Connect with Craig on LinkedIn! 

About Confluence Global

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