Artificial IntelligenceDigital TransformationInformation Technology

Change is Inevitable, Yet it Comes at a Cost

By Miloš Topić, Ph.D., Vice President for IT and Chief Digital Officer, Grand Valley State University

Change is constant, ever present, yet difficult for so many of us to embrace and accept. This challenge is grounded in several factors. First, it is what we know; it is familiarity with existing environments, in short, it’s all about comfort and following a path of least resistance. In many instances, there is nothing wrong with this approach if staying exactly where we are (for a while) is the goal. On the other hand, going to a new product, location, market, technology, process, or tool requires readjustment and recalibration of sorts. Quite frequently, the perceived value does not justify the efforts for most. This is how many people experience change.
Then, there are others, those who thrive by exploring, innovating, and challenging existing norms. Those who dislike routines and repetitive tasks and environments where people are limited in their autonomy, reach and potential, those people are commonly referred to as disruptors, catalysts for change, change agents, innovators, and explorers.

Last several years have introduced many changes to our lives and have caused quite a bit of uncertainty and discomfort, which further inhibits technological advancements and progress across organizations. This also applies to attempts to innovate, modernize, and deploy new technologies across organizations and businesses. Most people prefer not to change, not to learn new things and not to change their existing (familiar) processes. This is not out of ill intent of any kind, but more as of necessity to keep moving things forward. People are generally busy; many feel overwhelmed, so disruptions to their routines are generally not welcomed.

Here is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) could come in. Considering what we have experienced over the past several months with ChatGPT and several other AI services, this change is inevitable. Getting people to see past the initial feeling of threat, and adopt it as a welcomed companion in their daily work is the key. Change, progress, evolution, or transformation are not concerned with our feelings or our readiness at that moment, they simply keep moving forward, with us or without us.

Recently, I was a member of an amazing team that implemented a new Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) solution, which simplified and modernized the experience for thousands of people and reduced our complex environment from four disparate systems to one. While the value provided by modern features and capabilities was evident to most from the beginning, managing change was not an easy or smooth process—this change, like many others, required management, and change management.

Change management is a well thought out, systematic approach designed to help people, teams, and organizations transition from their familiar environments to a future state in an effective and minimally disruptive way. With that in mind, here are some practices that have worked well while introducing new solutions and technologies.

To summarize, managing change is hard, and for so many, it goes against what we prefer, what we know and what is comfortable.

First, begin with why. Then, move onto how.

  1. Define the challenge or problem. Where are the pain points?

Clearly define the existing challenge which will be resolved with the new technology, process, or policy. It is critical for everyone involved to understand what is being addressed and why. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways ranging from a needs analysis to gathering feedback from people who will be impacted by the anticipated change.

  1. Communicate value, opportunities, and benefits.

Once the challenge has been defined, it’s critical to communicate the benefits of the new technology across all impacted areas. It should be clear how the new solution will improve their lives. The message could include explanations of its impact on efficiencies, reducing expenses, and enhancing the overall experience for all. It’s essential to be clear about the benefits of the new technology in a relatable and easy to understand the way to gain support and acceptance from colleagues, partners, and clients.

  1. Anticipate, identify, and address potential resistance.

Resistance to change is normal, and it’s essential to identify and address potential resistance before it becomes a significant obstacle. From the beginning, involve participants in the change process and address any concerns they may have. Providing training, support, and a bit of grace will also go a long way in reducing resistance.

  1. Develop a plan. Stick to most of it but introduce some slack.

Once the benefits have been communicated, and potential resistance has been identified and addressed, it’s time to develop an inclusive and transparent plan for implementing the new technology. This includes creating a timeline, identifying key individuals and areas, and outlining the required steps of the implementation process.

  1. Test, evaluate, listen, adjust…then, do it all over again.

Before implementing the new technology on a large scale, it’s important to test and evaluate the technology to ensure that it works as intended. This includes conducting pilot tests and gathering user feedback to identify potential issues. A sales pitch or a demo can look quite different from a true proof of concept. Invest time, effort and energy and do not cut corners at this stage.

  1. Implement, “quick wins” and monitor.

Once the technology has been tested and evaluated, it’s time to implement it on a large scale. This includes providing training and support to users and monitoring the technology’s performance to identify any issues that may develop. Ideally, training is provided and conducted before the new solution goes live. Furthermore, identify an area or a function that will go ahead of others. Then, provide the support necessary to establish a win and demonstrate value. Iterate toward improvements.  

  1. Exhale, smile and celebrate success!

Finally, it’s essential to celebrate the success and efforts invested by everyone. Recognize and reward individuals and teams who contributed to the successful implementation and share their contributions broadly. Remember, there will be other projects, and goodwill is always needed.

To summarize, managing change is hard, and for so many, it goes against what we prefer, what we know and what is comfortable. Don’t underestimate the importance of listening, learning and good storytelling on this journey toward a better future for everyone.