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Management Consulting

What’s Your (Sustainment) Plan?

One of the most important, yet often overlooked, components in any Change Management endeavor is what we at Perficient call the “Sustainment Phase.” It’s the fourth phase (of four) of our Change Management methodology, and it’s all about ensuring that whatever change we’re implementing is just that – sustained – over the long haul.

Few people like change. It’s a fact. I joke with my colleagues at Perficient that not even Change Managers like change! Yet, change is necessary if we’re going to grow and advance, and for us in the It sector, change in behavior and work activity is required when we implement new systems.

If we’ve done our homework and performed the Change Management aspects of a project well up to launch, we are usually able to get people to change the way they work for Day 1, or even for a few days afterwards. However, human nature’s natural tendency is to revert to old ways of working. You know the old say, “old habits die hard.” Well, it’s true in business as much as anywhere else.

OK, so we get that. People don’t like to change, and even if they do, there’s a strong likelihood that they’ll regress over time. So what do we do about it? There are a number of things – a few of which I’ll outline here.

First, when people do revert back to old ways of working, it’s important to understand why. Though surveys, formal (e.g., survey monkey) or informal (the infamous water cooler conversation)), we can learn how our new initiative is being adopted. We can learn of the “wins,” and in the event that we have a problem, we can inquire about what’s preventing the change from sticking. With that knowledge, we can course correct, either by fixing the system should there be a problem, or by figuring out how to address and change the behavior that is required.

A second approach for driving adoption beyond go-live is to have leadership model the behavior. Employees will naturally follow their leader, and if they see their leader using the new tools to their limits, they’re likely to do the same.

Thirdly, host special work “events” that will drive the behavior – and yes, these can be fun!  For example, let’s say you’ve migrated to Microsoft’s Yammer networking platform. Have a day where email and phone conversations amongst team members is prohibited, and all communication must be on the Yammer platform. You don’t have to implement these “rules” long term, but get people used to the new opportunities ahead of them.

A final method (for this post, anyway) is to reward the new behaviors. Hold a context where entries occur by way of using the new system. Imagine you’ve implemented a new Salesforce CRM system for your sales team. The person with the most new contacts logged in the system after the first week is eligible for a prize. The prize itself doesn’t have to be big (it’s amazing how much mileage you can get for a $50 Amazon gift card), but people, and in this example sales people, are competitive and love to win.

You’re probably thinking, “this all seems pretty logical,” and I’d agree with you. The fact is, though, we often discontinue the change management process off before these things happen. In my experience, we cut it off at implementation. While none of the items above seems overly complex, it takes some effort (and more importantly somebody) to make them happen. We often stop the work because we don’t want to pay for it or other priorities arise. Ultimately, we shoot ourselves in the foot so close to the end line and we don’t realize the benefits we intended to drive by implementing the new system to start with.

On your next project, I’d encourage you to see the Change Management effort all the way through – not through implementation but through adoption. Understand, model, drive, and reward behavior changes. It might require a little more investment, but the results will pay for themselves.

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David Chapman

David is the General Manager for Perficient's Organizational Change Management practice, part of the Strategic Advisors Team. He has over twenty years of consulting experience and resides in Charlotte, North Carolina. Be sure to also check out David’s personal blog. It focuses on collaboratively building the breadth and depth of our collective change management knowledge based on insights and experiences shared to help one another grow.

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