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How to guide change management at your city or utility in 5 steps

Change management is a difficult often thankless task, but it’s a necessary one. It requires everyone on your team—but especially your team’s leadership—to balance your technology and scheduling goals with personal empathy and understanding.

And that’s truly not an easy balance. When real, effective results are within your grasp, it can be very difficult to slow down and look inward and plan for the human side of the equation. But it must be done. If you don’t fold change management into your project, your project is bound to fail, those effective results are bound to be ignored, dismissed, and forgotten.

As you move forward with change management goals tied to your technology and go live goals, you can find excellent techniques from many expert sources, including Harvard professor and consultant John Kotter. His eight-step process for leading change has been detailed in countless books and is brought up in a number of articles, including this Forbes piece from last year.

But Kotter and others in the field often assume a familiarity with change management and leadership techniques and concepts that don’t as easily apply to technology, especially in our areas of utility work and public works. So, while he is certainly an excellent place to start the conversation, you will also want to get insights from those of us inside the business—those of us who know change management as it directly applies to your technology, your project, and your community.

Here are our five steps to tackle change management with your project today.

  1. Assemble a team that knows both the internal tech (and pitfalls) and knows the internal politics (and pitfalls). Utilities and city public works tend to have grown organically over the years, reaching into and filling gaps with a non-linear mindset. That creates unique issues in tech areas and in interpersonal ones, too. You need a team that knows how this system works and is honest about it. You also need a team that knows how your politics works and is honest about it. If you put on a veneer on either front, your project is doomed from the start.
  2. Never assume acceptance or you will have blind spots at the end of every project. People rarely feel empowered to speak up independently unless a precedent is set at the beginning of the project. If you go in believing that your team will flag issues for you—personal or technical—you will get to the end of this project and have lots and lots of holes to plug. For efficiency in time and effort, you will want to assume everyone and everything is OK unless someone says something. Don’t do that. Check in constantly and personally.
  3. Tie project goals to customer results and employee ones, too. It’s basic psychology. People want to help people, and they also want to help themselves. So, stack that positive momentum by making it clear to everyone involved just how this project will help every utility customer or every city citizen in the end. And it cannot hurt to have an additional plan revealing how this extra work or additional project time can advance every team member’s career. Now they’re doubly invested.
  4. Ask for direct feedback from everyone and listen to it. This, again, may seem like overkill, but have regular check-ins with each team member—not group discussions but personal 1:1 chats so they feel completely free to bring up any problem big or small. And once you have that unstructured but very valuable data, actually think about what it means and how it applies/hinders/helps this project. Always remember that some people will be afraid to bring up problems directly. Have an easy-to-use anonymous feedback system in place as well, even if it’s an old school box that people can drop notes into. Like online feedback forms, 99% of it may be junk. But you should be willing to wade through that for the 1%.
  5. Be willing to start over. This one seems like the most obvious, but it’s absolutely the hardest. I have worked at a number of jobs that pull all the data and have all the information but got themselves in a quandary because they just didn’t want to back up or look inefficient. To be a truly data-driven organization, you have to actually listen to and execute on the data, even if it tells you that things need to be unraveled, rerouted, or scraped.

Struggling with change management on your city’s or utility’s current SaaS project? Reach out anytime. Send me an email at info@esc-partners.com. Put “a change management question for Luke” in the subject line.

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