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Clouds Above, Fog Below

  • Clouds Above, Fog Below

When an organizational change initiative requires new technology, it is easy to focus on the technology at the expense of supporting the employees who will actually be using it. Fairly narrow initiatives are especially vulnerable to this. For example, a small firm switched their email program. This should have been a very straightforward change. However, they ran into problems. These problems stemmed directly from their focus on installing the new software at the expense of preparing employees who where expected to use it.

First, people who were actually to make this change, and use the new email new system, didn’t have a clue why it was needed. The directive from management simply said that they were “going to the cloud.” Well, the cloud might be a glitzy word to technologists, but to people on the ground who depend on their email to get their job done, it is only so much fog. Employees who raised questions like, “What is the advantage of the email program?” or “How secure will my emails be during the transition?” were summarily ignored. Those affected most by the change were completely ignorant of its business case—hardly an incentive to get behind it. Carving out the time from their schedules to do the backup and other steps to prepare for the transition felt to them like an unnecessary overlay to their “day job.”

Second, providing all the tools and infrastructure necessary to put the change into practice is a key component of successful change. Clear and easy-to-follow instructions on how to prepare for the transition could have been a simple, cost effective piece of infrastructure. Instead, before the transition, employees were given instructions for backing up their emails and putting them in a format that could be transferred to the new software. These instructions were written in jargon and were incomplete. This caused the IT department’s help desk phone to ring off the hook. The IT department was already minimally staffed (which may explain why the instructions were incomplete). Answering these additional questions caused an increased, and avoidable drag. The net effect was actually twofold. Besides tying up the time of technologists that could have been much better spent, It stretched out the schedule and undermined employees’ belief that the changeover would actually happen smoothly—without inordinate time and effort demands.Shapiro Nov Blog

I have posted blogs in the past on the Seven Levers of Change. (See March for an overview or August for an example of using them.) Deploying a new email system is not a major change. Using  just of the two levers, leading by example (or walk the talk) and providing infrastructure, would have smoothed the implementation greatly— resulting in an on time and on budget implementation.

First, making the business case clear and addressing employees’ concerns should be a priority of any change leadership. Had the managers really walked the talk by making the reason to go to a new email system clear, they would have given employees a reason to back it. Had the leaders listened to and addressed employees concerns about the security and continuity of their email (central to their work), it would have quelled concerns and been time well spent.

Second, making decisions as if the only infrastructure needed for this change was the email software itself was a false economy. Whatever time was “saved” by not giving the IT department sufficient time to write clear instructions—or perhaps design a short web-based training—was eaten up, several times over, in time spend answering questions as well as in employee frustration. Clear, easy to follow, processes and instructions would have resulted in fewer support calls to IT and a smoother, transition that could have been within budget.

While the change leaders had their head in “the cloud,” employees felt impeded by the fog on the ground, and a straightforward, narrowly-defined  organizational change was made unnecessarily difficult, time consuming, and costly.

About the Author

Dr. Andrea Shapiro

Andrea Shapiro, PhD, is founder and principal of Strategy Perspective. She brings a unique perspective to organizational change based on experience in software development, business modeling, management, and organizational learning and development. Andrea designed and developed the Tipping Point computer simulation, which forms the heart of the Change, Dialogue, and Action Workshop. She has delivered the Workshop to major corporations, non-profits, and government agencies in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and has accredited hundreds of change leaders and consultants to deliver the workshop worldwide in their own work in organizational change. Her book Creating Contagious Commitment  gives detailed real-life examples, theory, and background, all of which will appeal to any manager faced with implementing a significant organizational change.

After earning master’s degrees in mathematics and psychology and a doctorate in behavioral decision making, Andrea went on to further studies at the Coaches Institute and the MIT Sloan Business School executive education program in system dynamics. She has also served on the Graduate Faculty at UNC Chapel Hill and taught decision making at Pfeiffer University’s graduate program in organizational management. Andrea can be reached through or you can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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