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Beach Reading for Bosses: Manage Tech Change at Work

By Adrienne Burke | Small Business

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If your workplace is like most, every new technology implementation is undertaken with the promise of saved time, greater productivity, or reduced costs. And, if those are like 70 percent of all such initiatives, yours don’t live up to the promises. The U.S. economy loses $50-150 billion a year due to failed IT projects, according to Gallup research.

Chris Laping (pictured) states the obvious: “Something isn’t working!” But the technology isn’t the problem, he says. Nor is the problem your people. “Failure rarely occurs because project teams aren’t smart enough,” he says.

The problem? Your management. “At the root of all change and innovation challenges is a leadership opportunity,” argues the former SVP, Business Transformation and CIO at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers in People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem.

Laping’s new book is a practical guide to what’s often called “change leadership” or “change management” (which are, he notes, simply leadership). He shows leaders how to prepare people to adapt to new things—i.e., technology–by “honoring the human experience, the people, and recognizing how they can dramatically change the outcomes of any implementation.”

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Laping says 25 years of IT and business transformation experience and 14 years as CIO at three different brands have led him to conclude that “many leaders don’t even realize it is often their own lack of engagement and presence during a change cycle that blocks a desired outcome.” In order to create the conditions for people to absorb change, he says leaders need to activate and enable them for it. That means leaders need to:  

  1. Know why change is coming and why it is needed.
  2. Make the change intuitive and easy to understand.
  3. Clear the decks so people can focus on the change.
  4. Create awareness through authentic messages with humanness and clarity, delivered by an important voice.
  5. Provide skill-building and develop team members.
  6. Implement two-way feedback while taking demonstrable action.
  7. Invest in high-touch support in perpetuity.

The single most important tactic used to activate people for change? Laping says it’s listening. “Tuning in our listening ears can help us win the hearts of our team members and inspire them to care.” When this happens, he says, “it invites our stakeholders to be part of the change rather than just receivers of it.”

To be sure, merely pretending to listen or listening if you don’t plan to take action on what you hear can do more harm than good. “Doing nothing after you listen could downright hurt your reputation and followership,” Laping says. Successful leadership requires managing change.

See Chris Laping talk about People Before Things

Follow Adrienne Jane Burke at @adajane
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