Understanding that Change Management is critical to Federal Healthcare IT initiatives across agencies with large initiatives such as MHS GENESIS, the VA’s Electronic Health Records Modernization and various IT Modernization efforts, and in preparation for FedHealthIT’s Women creating IMPACT event, FedHealthIT’s Executive Vice President, Susan Sharer reached out to Innovator and Leadership Development System Master Practitioner Katie Bergmann to gather her insights on Change Management and how leadership strategies need to evolve to allow these large initiatives to move forward.

By Katie Bergmann

As IT modernization steams ahead, conversation should center around the operational, big-picture goals:

  • Consolidating enterprise networks, network operations, and data centers
  • Strengthening cybersecurity
  • Enhancing agility with standardized platforms and streamlined processes
  • Leveraging cloud opportunities
  • Benefitting from the ability to review detailed performance reports on the IT investment

I have yet to see a technology proposal that includes a ‘fine print’ warning for staff… (Note: this next section is to be read extremely quickly, in a monotone voice, and taking as few breaths as possible):

While this new technology platform may be delivered on-time and on-budget, common side-effects may include challenges with staff who become disengaged, endure feelings of job insecurity, and suffer from stress, greatly reducing their productive hours. Additional side-effects include the inability of your company culture to support a new IT environment. Change management may appear as change mayhem, and efforts to undermine project advancement may become commonplace via unconscious actions. Be prepared for frequent office communications mirroring the latest rumors that the new system is difficult to learn and even harder to maintain. Training will be provided later and is yet to be determined. Staff may need to speak a new language to use the modernized IT system.

Chances are that you can identify with the behaviors in this satirical ‘fine print.’ With technology disruptions happening at lightning speed, leaders may be resigned to ‘change mayhem’ as an inherent part of the process. It does not have to be that way. Let’s explore how to cultivate an environment that optimizes IT modernization efforts.

Prepare for Change

Planning and preparation are key to almost everything we do in life and work. We plan and prepare for vacations, meetings, conferences, and so on. Rarely would we leave the details of all these events to chance. After all, we are spending our valuable resources of money and time on them. Leaders should consider viewing change and change management in their organizations in the same way. The organization is often spending considerable sums of money and countless staff hours implementing new technology that inevitably involves people performing their jobs and interacting with customers in a new and different manner.

Preparing an organization for change should not be done using a one-size-fits-all approach. Each organization needs to define its own version of success and then work towards that. Your organization may benefit from a change readiness assessment. This should be a customized experience, taking into consideration residual effects of past changes, the scope of the anticipated change, leadership style, and power distribution. The assessment is a planning tool, not an end-product. A meaningful assessment will help your team create a change management strategy that is appropriate for your organization, including customized communications efforts, coaching plans, and training plans.

Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk

Leadership needs to encourage and champion a ‘change-ready’ environment. Regardless of who owns the initiative of change management, including assessments and other tools, the CEO and senior team need to be comfortable with and confident in a positive culture shift.

Active change management leadership revolves around transparency and inclusion. Transparency is bolstered by assurance that the right problem is being solved. So often, companies are keen to tout new technology to address perceived issues but fall short of engaging the staff and miss the mark of successful problem solving. If improving patient survey ratings is the problem, and the proposed solution is all about streamlining processes resulting in less attention for each patient, the patients may feel less satisfied and respond with even lower ratings. Examining and defining problems from many different perspectives can provide the breadth and depth of information needed for effective problem solving. This inclusive approach can ignite engagement in the problem-solving arena, minimizing employee drag on projects, and it abates the odds of unanticipated new problems – often referred to as the evil twin of solving the wrong problem!

Define and Articulate the Desired Outcome

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” (Lewis Carroll). Being able to share a vision of success with staff is fundamental to effective and sustainable change.

At the macro level, a shared vision is about the mission and how it will be better served. While IT modernization moves forward to create agile systems, secure platforms, and heightened accountability for technology investments, the real questions are: Why is this a desirable goal and who will benefit? What will success look like once the project is complete?

The ideal scenario is for all team members to participate in creating the vision versus a top down ‘sell.’ When staff can see both the big picture and the motivation for action, they will be encouraged to help shape the vision. Since technology projects are long-term commitments, revisit the vision regularly, as it may evolve as the results come more into focus.

At the micro level, the message is that we are going to streamline our processes. But, what staff wants to know is, “What exactly does that look like, and how will my job be different?” The reality is that it’s often not possible to answer these questions in detail, especially at project outset. So, how does leadership navigate this uncertainty without risking reduced employee engagement and the likelihood for achieving success? This is where the organization reaps the benefits of preparing for change and endorsing leadership who talk the talk and walk the walk. A strong change management strategy with ongoing communication and coaching plans instills trust and credibility in management and the overall process, even when it is not possible to provide the desired level of detail about the future.

The ‘fine print’ and change mayhem do not have to be part of your IT modernization efforts. When change management is a focused and purposeful effort, your organization will enjoy the benefits of engaged staff contributing to the greatest possible return on your IT investment.

Katie Bergmann is Founder and President of Piko Resources, LLC, an organization dedicated to igniting positive and productive work environments through culture innovation, integrated change management and leadership development.  

She has over 20 years’ experience as an executive serving both the for profit and not-for-profit sectors, working across multiple business disciplines from business development and sales/marketing to information technology, finance, human resources, and operations. She has extensive experience with Executive Boards, Boards of Directors, strategic partnerships, and merger and acquisition integrations. She has earned the designation of Energy Leadership Index and Leadership Development System Master Practitioner. Katie was named one of the 2017 Trending 40 – Top Association Innovators.

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