Realities of Managing Change

I am sure that many of you are aware that GMail has undergone a major change and it will be pushed to all users in the next few months (details of when seems to vary – August or October). I have been using Google Inbox for a while now and love it because of some of the features such as easy access to add reminders, snoozing emails, the nudges and auto response (handy when I am driving – I respond this way only when I am stopped at a light otherwise it is by voice!). The new Gmail incorporates all of these and a few more. I am beginning to use the new GMail now because Inbox has lacked some of the features of GMail.

This change is going to be pretty disruptive to a lot of our users and we are preparing to handle it as best as we can. Frankly, those of us who use smartphones see changes to apps on a regular basis and one would think that everyone is used to it now. Absolutely not! Change is complicated – all of us like some changes, but not all; the same change is liked by some but not others. Those of us who are in the business of providing services need to handle this on a regular basis and it is extremely hard.

The best we can do is to minimize the stress that is caused by change. First and foremost we need to anticipate as much as possible what a change, either to a technology or process, means to our users. This empathy is critical to be able to manage change, but is extremely hard. No change affects all users the same way, some will be impacted more than the others. Understanding this requires a strong connection to how a process or technology is used by everyone at the institution. Even though we are a small institution, this is a nearly impossible task and only when you go through a change you discover all different ways in which a particular system is used!

Which leads to being prepared to handle these situations on the fly. In a few cases you need to make the case as to why the change to the new system is better by providing reasons. For example, in case of finance, the new process may be more compliant with regulations. One would think it is a convincing argument, but, the user may differ. In other cases, we may have to find alternatives to assist the users because we ourselves see that what the user is doing is better than what the system is able to do. Using appropriate judgement to decide where to do what in these cases is important.

Communicating with the users well in advance and all through the change and even after, is extremely important. Doing this effectively is a huge challenge. If you bombard them with too many emails, no one will care. If you don’t do enough, you will hear complaints. Effectively communicating requires a good understanding of which method works for who the best and what is the optimal frequency. We also need to guard against competing with other campus communications that may be equally important.

Training is another one that we should never minimize. We should plan to offer as many sessions as we feel will be needed and have an agile plan to shape it based on what is working and what is not working. We continue to try different methods here and whereas group training works for some audience, one on one is the best for many others and you can imagine the resource drain that this causes. But it is important to plan and execute this correctly.

Now, the realities. Despite the fact that we plan for all of these, we will fall short in the end because, as I said before, with such diverse user population, it is impossible to anticipate all different variations on the theme. So, setting realistic expectations is critically important, especially for the morale of the staff who manage these changes. When we implement changes we tend to plan well and we mean well, but it may appear unplanned and chaotic to our users. Accepting that such reactions are reality and learning to take those comments in stride and being focussed on accomplishing the goals is hard, but needs to be done.

Finally, every change provides a tremendous learning opportunity – what is it that we did well that we can build on, but more importantly, what was overlooked and how can we handle those better the next time around. Accepting publicly that we could have done certain things better is not a sign of failure by any means, but at the same time, it is also OK to celebrate what we did better!

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