≡ Menu

Organizational Change

It is generally a mistake to treat the development and implementation of a Decision Management System as a purely technical project. Decision Management Systems can cause significant organizational dislocation in a number of different areas:

  • Knowledge workers may move from transactional work (reviewing individual policies, for instance) to a role in which they manage policy and exceptions.
  • Supervisors may feel they are losing power because their approval is no longer required (because the system manages approvals).
  • Front line staff may feel more responsible without the comfort of referring things “up the line.”
  • Call center and branch staff may feel their options are being constrained by the system, and this may be true.
  • Customers too may notice changes due to a Decision Management System—, such as personalized pricing.
  • Staff and customers may not initially trust the system’s decisions.
  • IT may not believe that the Decision Management System will remain stable and functional while its behavior is being modified by business users.

Any change from the implementation of Decision Management System must be managed to ensure that the adoption of the system proceeds smoothly. This requires an understanding of what makes change difficult, time to manage the change, a clear case for the change, and strong sponsorship.

What makes change difficult

Any change, such as the change introduced by a Decision Management System, can be difficult for people to accept. A change is hard to cope with if it seems to involve an increase in danger or risk (“I have to take more responsibility now because I can’t refer things to someone else.”), a decrease in opportunity (“These retention offers aren’t going to work as well as the ones I used to use. There goes my bonus.”) or just more ambiguity (“What is the system going to do anyway?”). Change represents a loss of control for those involved. Whether they liked the old approach or not, they felt in control because they understood what was happening. People don’t handle a loss of control without an emotional shock, and that makes change difficult.

One common mistake made is to assume that only a negatively perceived change will be resisted. In fact, people resist positively perceived changes too. Even if a new Decision Management System is widely regarded as a good idea, you will get resistance. Resistance is normal for both positively and negatively perceived change, and both kinds of change must be managed.

When a change is positively perceived, there is a common set of responses from those affected. Those involved will begin in a honeymoon period of uninformed optimism.— They are not sure what the change is going to involve, but it sounds great! As more details become clear, most will drop into what is known as “informed pessimism.” Now they can see all the problems and difficulties— – the extra training, the changes in procedures, the risk to their performance bonus, and more. Over time, they will put these issues in perspective and their generally positive point of view will re-emerge as informed optimism— – the platform for successful change.

A negatively perceived change has a lot more ups and downs. Many organizational change experts use the “Kubler-Ross grief cycle” as a metaphor. This cycle was an early attempt to categorize how people respond to traumatic events in their lives. It may not seem reasonable to you to consider changing the behavior of the call center application a traumatic event, but it may seem that way to those who spend all day and every day using the system. This cycle begins with immobilization and then denial: — “Surely they won’t make us use this stupid system?” Anger at the change and an attempt to bargain with it commonly follows: —”We don’t have to use the offers it recommends do we?” Depression sets in when bargaining fails to change anything, and then, gradually, people dig themselves out of this second trough and move towards acceptance.

You need to manage change even when it is perceived positively. It’s definitely worth identifying which groups will have a positive view of the change and which will have a negative view, as they will take a different path to acceptance.

Take time to manage change

One of the things that is common to both positive and negative cycles is that they take time. Allowing time for organizational change— and recognizing that it will take time to adopt a new Decision Management System— is sometimes hard to accept. There will be those who think it can just be mandated and then everyone will be using it and we can move on. Having a coherent plan for managing the change over time will increase the odds that the benefits of the system will be achieved.

Some changes take longer to manage than others. Those changes that are against the current culture will take longer and be harder to make successful. An organization that stresses empowering its people will get less pushback from supervisors when automated approvals are built in to the call center environment. An organization that has always valued customer retention no matter what will struggle with a system that tries to manage the cost of a retention offer against the long term value of that customer. This alignment of change must be understood at both the individual and corporate level. A change may be well aligned with the overall organization’s perspective but very counter to how specific groups or individuals may have worked in the past.

Making a case for change

As well as allowing time for the change to take root, it is essential that you create a driver for change. If the pain of change is exceeded by the pain of not changing, then people will move more rapidly and more enthusiastically to the new state. All too often, the pain of the current state is felt by the organization, while the pain of the change is felt by individuals. To help individuals make the change, you need to inform them about the downsides of of not changing. This means bringing to their attention the unresolved issues, missed opportunities, or risks involved in the current approach. It means aligning goals and bonuses so that using the new system will be more profitable and less painful than sticking with the old approach. No change happens without a strong case being made at the organization level and at the individual level.

The need for sponsorship

Like any project, change management requires sponsorship. This is sometimes problematic for change management, as the very people who would make good executive sponsors fall into the “If I tell them to change, that should be enough” school of thought. Most change projects need sponsors to initiate the change and sustain it. The initiating sponsor helps the organization see the value of the change and the Decision Management System that is going to cause the change. As the system is developed and the problem becomes one of getting individuals to use it, this sponsorship needs to be sustainable. This means developing a network of additional sponsors who can help make the change happen throughout the impacted organizations.

Managing External Change

Some Decision Management Systems impact customers or external partners extensively, and this can cause them to have to go through a change cycle. This is harder to manage for organizations, as customers and partners are not employees. For partners, much of the above advice does apply,  though it may be harder to implement as other organizations will need to be convinced. For customers, there are often limited ways to help them, but making sure the positive features of the change are promoted and that time is allowed for the customer base to change will both help.