Changing the Minds of Employees in Finance
I was working with a mid-size professional services firm that was implementing a new financial system. The CFO asked me to work with him to help him manage this project with his team, with a focus on managing communications and change. He had a project manager who would be managing the day-to-day of the project.
In initial conversations with the CFO, I learned the following:
The CFO realized that simply because the executive team supported the project and were ready to change financial systems, it was not sufficient. He needed to buy-in from the financial and payroll team in order to ensure the move to the new system was a successful one. He also noted that the project was officially kicking off within a few months and he wanted to be sure that a good number of the finance/payroll team were on board – even if not all of them were.
Further conversations with the CFO revealed the following:
We scheduled an initial department meeting with finance/payroll. Our goal was to share initial information about the project with a focus on benefits to both the organization in implementing a new financial system and to the individuals in finance/payroll. We needed the group to understand what was impacting this change and how their support was needed to ensure the initiative was successful. We also held a product demo so that the department members could see the new system “in action.”
The initial meeting went well; feedback was positive overall. The group understood the issues faced (the problem we were solving for) and seemed interested in the demo they saw. Some great questions came from the group!
We asked the group to spend some time digesting what they saw and heard in the meeting and that we would be setting up a subsequent meeting to talk further about the project and how we would like them to be involved. We asked them to put together any questions about the initiative that we could address at the next meeting.
The Second Meeting
The second meeting with the group was well attended, everyone made time on their calendar and attended the meeting. This was a good sign! We knew we still had a few resisters, but we also knew that they were interested enough to show up!
We took the first hour of the meeting to answer questions about the product being selected which had been submitted to us after the first meeting. We also knew there would be other questions that would arise. We had the vendor in attendance so that we could be sure to provide answers to all questions at that time and need no, or little, follow up. We knew that the quicker we could get people what they needed, the sooner we could increase their comfort level and move forward on the project.
After the demo at the first meeting, it was apparent that individuals in the room were excited about the possibilities of the new financial system. Certainly it would make their job easier and that was apparent to everyone. Even the individuals who implemented the system being replaced seemed excited, though we still knew we had to win them over.
Once all questions were answered, we focused our conversation on the need for participation on the project in a number of areas:
Everyone wanted to participate in some way; although we knew that some simply wanted to participate to maintain a feeling of control. That was fine with us. As long as we could get them to participate, we knew that we could eventually get them to come along and support the project. By participating on the project, they would feel that they had some control over what was happening rather than idly sitting by and waiting for the project to be rolled out.
We set up a preliminary resource grid as follows (shows key responsibilities):
Other members of the payroll and finance functions would also be involved in the project, participating as needed in meetings and workshops related to the new system rollout and supporting the core project team members. The individuals in the table above, however, would be actively involved in the project and participating on a day-to-day basis – they were members of the core project team. They represented a variety of backgrounds, experiences and longevity with the company.
In summary – our introductory meeting with these individuals enabled of us to begin to establish a working relationship with them and get them engaged in the project. This second meeting enabled for continuing that relationship building and getting members of finance and payroll involved in the day-to-day work of the project, thereby increasing their commitment to the project. We knew that as they began to work on the project, their commitment would continue to increase and they would become our project champions – engaging others in their functions in the project and pushing to its success.
Having regular conversations around change enables for creating a learning mindset – a mindset where employees appreciate, desire and engage in change. When we change, we are learning – we are growing, adapting, getting better. We want to create this mindset so that employees are more comfortable with change, within continuously improving and moving forward.
Regular conversations around change enable for increasing adaptability to change and an increased acceptance of change when it does occur. When working with clients to discuss how to launch conversations around change our goal is to enable employees to look at change from a positive perspective, an opportunity to do something new, different and exciting. It is, obviously, much more difficult to embrace change when the organization is in panic mode; rather – if we think of change as continuous evolving and improving – it becomes easier to accomplish.
Telling stories around change appeals to the emotional side of change – which is what helps employees to connect with and embrace change. The rational side – charts, statistics, graphs, financials, etc. – is important; we need that to stay competitive and ensure profitability – but that is not what helps employees to embrace change. As humans, we connect with the emotional side of change.
When we begin the conversations around change early on, we…
As part of regular monthly meetings with his entire team, one of Abudi Consulting Group’s client’s manager, Alexander, always poses a question that will explore the need to change. Just prior to his last meeting, Alexander asked the team how the department might better collaborate with another group that had just expanded their head count by 50 new hires. Alexander reminded his team that as the other group grew in headcount, it would impact the informal way his team had worked with them in the past. By asking this question, Alexander was pushing his team to look at their current in-place formal and informal processes and to refine them to continue to work effectively with their peers.
Consider how you might engage your employees in conversations around change. What questions might you pose? Here are a few to get you started…
These are just a few ideas to improve your next organizational change initiative. Want to learn more? Check out my book, Implementing Positive Organizational Change: A Strategic Project Management Approach, J Ross Publishing, 2017.
Every project launched is a change project. It may be a simple project or a complex, cross-functional project – regardless, it’s change.
If project managers take a change view of every project they lead, they will do a better job engaging the stakeholders in the project and reaching a successful conclusion. That is because when a project manager keeps in mind that the project she is leading is change for someone, she can approach the project from the perspective of the individuals and how they will need to change. Let’s look at a brief example.
Carmella is leading an initiative to refine processes within accounts payable. While the goal of the process improvement project is to reduce the time for processing payment through the use of new technology, Carmella is aware of three key factors:
With this information, Carmella meets with the stakeholders impacted by the project. She shares with them the goal of the process improvement project – to reduce time for processing payment through the use of new technology and thereby enabling stakeholders to be more efficient in their roles and reduce their manual workload. She further tells them that training will be provided before full implementation of the technology so that they are comfortable. And, she invites them to see a demo of the technology. Additionally, she schedule another meeting with them to discuss their current processes with a focus on where they think improvements exist.
Carmella is engaging these stakeholders in the project. Regardless of Carmella’s perception of the change, she understanding that the stakeholders need to be comfortable with the change if they are to embrace it. If they are not comfortable, they are likely to resist, which will cause the project to fail. Additionally, concerns among the stakeholders regarding the project and its impact on them personally may impact productivity in the group.
When project managers recognize and accept that every project they undertake represents a change for someone in the organization, they will better be able to engage stakeholders in the project. This is done by acknowledging the (potential) impact and addressing early on in the communications and throughout the project the concerns and needs of stakeholders.
Every project has stakeholders that may be labeled as “difficult.” While I’ll acknowledge that some people just choose to be difficult and contrary; many times there is a valid reason for someone being difficult. They are just not expressing themselves in the best way possible. This is not to excuse their behavior; but, look deeper into why they are being difficult.
For example, when I am dealing with “difficult” stakeholders, I listen and ask questions to understand what is going on. Through active listening and asking questions, I have learned of legitimate concerns and worries that were not addressed, such as:
These are all very valid concerns and some stakeholders, rather than having a conversation, may dig in their heels and therefore be perceived as difficult.
Let’s not just label stakeholders. Have a conversation with them to understand what is going on. You’ll be better able to address the situation if you have some specifics rather than just trying to manage a “difficult” stakeholder. Each of the issues/concerns in the bulleted list above are far more workable (able to be addressed) than just changing a difficult stakeholder. Address the (perceived) concerns and issues and manage the stakeholder.
Try it out on your next project with a “difficult” stakeholder. You’ll see a difference!
In the ideal world, 100% of our employees will adopt a change immediately. That rarely happens, of course. And, of course, we rarely get 100% of employees even after a while. To get as close as possible to 100% adoption of change, you must have a plan!
Consider first, how much change you are asking your employees to embrace. The amount of change will certainly impact how much time you should dedicate to enabling for adoption of the change.
For example, a highly complex initiative that crosses multiple functions and impacts significantly how the work is done will require far more time in engaging employees prior to actually launching the initiative. On the other hand, a smaller initiative, that involves one department and simply “tweaks” how work is done can likely be socialized at the same time the initiative is launched.
Consider also, the impact on the change based on factors, such as,
Develop your Plan
Develop a high level plan on how you will engage employees in change, which will eventually lead them to adopt the change. Your plan should include information on:
These are some key documents/information to include in the overall change plan. By thinking about the change, and planning for it, prior to actually launching the change initiative, you are more likely to engage employees in change early on which means you are more likely to increase the number of employees who adopt the change.
Want to learn more? Check out Gina’s most recent book, Implementing Positive Organizational Change: A Strategic Project Management Approach, based on her years of experience working with a variety of large, global organizations on transformational change initiatives.