Change management

Middle East organisations may have the best solutions, technology teams and plans in place before they begin an implementation, but no project will be a success unless the entire workforce has bought into it. Unfortunately, most humans dislike change and will do their utmost to avoid it. If local IT managers want to succeed and prove their worth to senior decision makers, they have to learn the tricks of the trade and manage change more effectively.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  August 1, 2004

|~|Change-Lead200.jpg|~|Fahad Al Mutiri, IT director at Al Khorayef Group|~|Saudi Aramco will upgrade 48,000 workstations from Office XP to Office 2003 during August. The massive migration project will be completed over a number of days as the oil & gas giant’s IT services team moves one business line at a time to the new system. The upgrade will not come as a surprise to the thousands of users that make up Aramco’s workforce, as the IT customer care team has been preparing for the migration since January. The reason for this extensive preparation period is not a technical one, but a change management issue. “Our users are precious customers and we have to take care of them and not take them by surprise. We don’t do things all of a sudden and surprise our customers and we cannot do it [migrate to Office 2003] by force because if we did people would be dissatisfied. People resist change so you have to prepare them by giving them first hand information and inspiring them to learn,” says Omar Ghazi, director of Saudi Aramco’s IT customer care centre. Fear of change has blighted many projects. Research carried out in the US by the Change Management Learning Centre supports this. In a recent study, it found that of 320 implementations classified as a failure by their project managers, the primary reason in each case was a lack of best change management practices. In short, the best IT systems can be deployed and the finest business processes implemented, but if users are unwilling to alter their working practices and embrace change then the technology will be redundant. Instead, the old, inefficient habits that forced the systems overhaul in the first place will remain and any return on investment (ROI) lost. “Companies can install and configure solutions to the best of their abilities but getting the end users to start using it in the way they should and for the investment to yield benefits is the biggest difficulty,” says Vineet Chhatwal, director at Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC). “Customers can often point the finger at the systems integrator because they haven’t experienced the change they expect from a solution but this is often due to the usage rather than the solution. A simple example is users who are used to getting reports from IT who then have to do it themselves,” he adds. A fear of change, and therefore the risk of project failure due to an unwilling workforce, exists in the Middle East. In fact, Louisa Coates, of local human resources consultancy, Arabian Assessment & Development Centre, says the fear factor can be even higher locally due to the cultural make up of many teams. “By and large, there is more fear here [in the Middle East] because there is such a multinational workforce. The biggest fear is looking silly and losing face. If you are a local manager there is a need to look as if you know everything. They [local managers] are less inclined to discuss things because if they don’t know the answer they will lose face. At the same time, there are those lower down the ranks that are afraid to speak out and raise their concerns,” she says. “Also, given that job security is primarily based on what a person knows, when you erode that you create a fear of change. This is more so here [in the Middle East] than elsewhere, as knowledge is power,” Coates adds. Just how Middle East IT managers manage change varies between sectors, companies and individuals. While there are best practices available, such as Six Sigma, Total Quality Management (TQM), BPR, ISO 9000 and the ADKAR model, the reality is that most will find their own method, especially as few companies in the region to date have pursued certifications such as ISO. At Aramco, for example, Ghazi and his team have added to their best practices by including a softer, more inclusive approach to change management ahead of the oil & gas giant’s migration to Office 2003. This has seen the team reach out beyond just the employee. “We have sent people a link so they can go and do some self-development on the new features and we have sent a CD to people who wish to take it home so they can teach their children as well,” he says. “This is in addition to sending flyers out in employee’s salary slips to prepare them mentally. It tells them about the new features. People are now accepting this and we are set to go ahead with the new release in August,” Ghazi adds. At Al Khorayef Group, the incentives for not only accepting change but embracing it are financial. Fahad Al Mutiri, the group’s IT director, is currently overseeing the implementation of Oracle’s E-Business Suite and users that take the necessary steps to use the application effectively are rewarded with bonuses. “I have put in place incentives and compensation as a driver for change. It is divided into elements — quality, deliverables, teamwork and learning — and the more someone learns the more money they get. It is a one time compensation and the better [an employee performs] the higher their bonus,” explains Al Mutiri. While the thought of paying staff to use an application that is prerequisite to their jobs is alien to some firms, especially as investing in enterprise applications can be a costly exercise in the first place, Al Mutiri believes the ROI is worth it. “If a process that was going to take a month takes ten days then the company is going to save money. If it means giving the employee just a small piece of it [the saving] then so be it. In terms of an implementation, if it is going to take 15 months but it can be done in 13 by offering a bonus then it saves the company money because it allows it to use the system quicker. When you take this into account, the bonus is nothing,” he says. ||**|||~|Omar-Ghazi11200.jpg|~|Omar Ghazi, director of Saudi Aramco’s IT customer care centre.|~|Unlike Al Khorayef Group, Al-Suwaidi Group did not offer its personnel money to change when it implemented PeopleSoft’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) application. Nor did it encourage the family to partake in new systems. Instead, the Saudi firm’s IT arm, Information Management Technologies (IMT), invested in internal marketing gimmicks to create an atmosphere in which change would be accepted. “We made mugs, T-shirts, mouse mats and so on to make them [the users] feel as if they are part of the team. It is about internal marketing,” says IMT’s managing director, Khalid Al-Suwaidi. While Ghazi, Al Mutiri and Al-Suwaidi each have their own specific change management tricks, they also agree on some core points that form the cornerstone of any project. These include the formation of a steering committee, winning over key company influencers and creating lines of communication with the wider employee base. Each of these areas is given full consideration by the trio ahead of a project and a plan of action created. Such an approach also fits with checklists contained within global change management best practices, as they ensure everyone within a company is covered. Despite all three areas — top management, influencers and employees — having to be walked through changes at some point, most agree that it is the buy-in of senior decision makers that makes or breaks a project. Without this input, projects will not receive the support or resources they need to succeed and the wrong message will be sent to the rest of the workforce. To ensure this top level support is secured, the formation of a steering committee that features senior personnel is key. Not only will this committee be able to make decisions surrounding an implementation quickly, but it can also set an example for the user community. “Change management needs commitment from the top,” says Al-Suwaidi. “When we do the structure of a project we make sure we have an executive committee, which will sit regularly to ensure that the project is being delivered on and that people are performing,” he explains. Just how these high-ranking individuals are persuaded to join a steering committee depends on how tech-savvy they are. A growing number of local decision makers are increasingly IT literate and understand the benefits automation brings to their organisations. As a result, they are keener to get involved with projects and the associated change management from day one. However, for those that are not IT savvy, Claude Tonna-Barthet, business system manager at Almarai Company, says they have to be talked through the process so they understand how important they are to its long-term success. “The first phase is convincing the key people in the organisation that it is worth taking the leap to implement a new system. This is easier than it sounds, but you need to get people to see the end game, which means you have to map processes, do a benefit realisation and walk them through how you are going to work,” he explains. Al Khorayef Group’s Al Mutiri, for example, picked a simple exercise to get his senior decision makers onboard. This involved showing them how difficult it was to consolidate financials with the existing system and then demonstrating how much easier it would be if they ordered and then supported a change. “The owners wanted to see their financials, but the problem was that they could not get their balance sheet on time, that they never had accurate auditing of their company and they had stores that were full when they weren’t selling anything. They wanted to consolidate their financials into one balance sheet,” says Al Mutiri. “However, by showing them that we would save money, showing them the value add of the new app and showing the impact of moving to the new system, they bought into it,” he explains. While Al Mutiri and other local CIOs get access to inner decision making circles and can ensure change management buy in, expatriate IT managers may not be so fortunate. For instance, Meta Group believes few are given the access to top-level employees they require. “If you are an ex-pat CIO that will leave in two or three years time then you will not be invited into the core decision making group. Instead, CIOs can be seen as officials carrying out tasks rather than as a strategic decision maker,” says Luis Leamus, international senior vice president at Meta Group. Al-Suwaidi agrees that it can be difficult for non-local staff and the biggest task facing IT managers wishing to implement change is establishing their reputations so the are taken seriously by the inner circle. “It is difficult, but IT managers have to be sure that the senior decision makers see them as more than just a guy who fixes PCs,” he says. Others disagree with Meta Group. In particular, Amarai’s Tonna-Barthet believes a convincing business case is more important than country of origin and that local IT mangers do not have to sit with senior decision makers to ensure they play their part in ushering in change. “At Almarai, I don’t necessarily sit at the high table, but I have an open door to all the general managers where we can talk on a one-to-one basis. I can get groups of them together to agree on initiatives,” he says. “CIOs have to stand up and add value so they are recognised by the higher echelons of management. Sitting back and saying you are not at the high table is a cop out. There are ways of convincing management. For example, putting together a decent business plan with figures and then delivering on it is an obvious way. Delivery is the only way to gain credibility,” Tonna-Barthet adds. Another option, according to PwC’s Chhatwal, is for IT managers to seek out a champion that can take their cause to the top level. “One way to bypass this [the lack of access] is to get a project sponsor other than the CIO. It needs to be someone from that inner circle and the sponsor can be someone from the chairman’s office. That really helps, as it makes sure it is not just seen as an IT issue,” he says. Once top management has bought into the need for change, IT managers must move onto the other key influencers within a company. While these individuals are traditionally department heads, they can come from other areas of the company too. Middle management should also be consulted to ensure those with influence are identified and won over. “Within an organisation there will always be influencers. It is important to identify these people and work with them so they are involved in implementing the change,” advises Coates. Al-Suwaidi agrees that it is not just managers that make key influencers, as does Chhatwal. In fact, the PwC director believes a serious amount of time has to be spent identifying these people as they can, potentially, do the most damage as a company tries to implement change. “What may happen is that some people get unhappy and push their people not to cooperate. This can be a problem for the implementation team. You have to ensure that the heads of departments are fully trained, as this makes it easier for them to pass down the message,” says Chhatwal. “They influence both operational employees and the senior management. If you don’t tackle their needs they may spoil the project,” agrees Al Mutiri. Just how many influencers exist within a company obviously depends on its size. However, Tonna-Barthet believes there are often fewer than IT managers think. For example, out of Almarai’s 4000-plus staff, the business system manager says there were roughly 60 people that had to be convinced to implement the changes the Saudi dairy faced when it deployed SAP R/3 in 2002. “There are not that many people that need to be converted to manage change. It is about identifying the key people who need to be influenced. Once they are sold the rest follow,” says Tonna-Barthet. “These people exist throughout the organisation and it could be someone who has influence with a manager or the manager themselves. However, once you have managed to convince the key groups and these people are comfortable that it will work they will carry the message to the rest of the company,” he adds. While a company’s key influencers are doing their bit to implement change among the general workforce, IT mangers and their project teams also have to develop initiatives to communicate effectively with an organisation en masse. According to Coates, this is essential as senior managers that focus exclusively on their peers at the expense of those staff lower down the food chain can create unrest and panic. “Professional level people with a different educational background will understand change. For example, if a company is changing a platform then many technical people will embrace the change and see it as a challenge. However, as you go down the organisation there will be a greater fear. Managers have to ensure that those further down the chain understand what is going on,” she says. “People in any organisation are cleverer than many managers give them credit for, but if they are not given the information then they will make it up. So unless you communicate there can be problems,” Coates adds. While programmes can be effectively created to communicate change to small groups of users, such as senior decision makers and key influencers, spending quality time with hordes of users is unrealistic, especially if a project will impact everyone within an organisation. However, it is a challenge that has to be solved if change is to be implemented successfully. As a result, IT managers need to work with groups of lower level end users to convince and reassure them. Tonna-Barthet, for instance, runs workshops for Almarai’s end users to ensure they understand the specific benefits any new system will provide then. For example, when the Saudi dairy was implementing SAP R/3 he organised workgroups for certain employee. “At Almarai we have a methodology for processes that need to be changed. We look at the current process and map it out to demonstrate to people the extra work involved in working outside of SAP. We show them where they can save themselves time through workshops and then once we have convinced them we run pilots,” Tonna-Barthet explains. At Al Khorayef Group, Al Mutiri also runs group session under the title of ‘what’s in it for me?’ At these gatherings, the IT director explains how any new solution works in terms that more junior staff will understand. At the same time, he describes how it will improve not only an employee’s current working day but also their career path. “You have to sell people the concept and translate it into their language, which is how you manage change. You have to understand their [junior employees’] needs and make them understand that they have to take ownership of the project as well,” says Al Mutiri. “At the same time, you have to identify what is in it for the operational staff and push that to them. A good example is looking at their future. If they leave the company having just worked on AS400 then they will not be able to get a job elsewhere, whereas working on an ERP package will open up new opportunities for them,” he continues. While investing time and resources in enabling change management at lower levels is unavoidable, IT managers must also avoid ticking junior staff off their list once they have completed a workshop. If they do, then employees will feel as if they are being kept out of the loop and the fear and gossip Coates refers to will begin in earnest once again. To solve this problem, Al-Suwaidi recommends brief but constant communication, much like Aramco’s idea of putting flyers in pay slips or sending out e-mails. “You have to share milestones with users to make them aware of what is going on and get their continued support. We use posters announcing what we are doing and what we achieving for the company,” he says. “Only by getting buy-in for change from the top to the bottom of an organisation can it be managed effectively and projects succeed, Al-Suwaidi adds.” ||**||

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