Monday, 22 December 2014

Moving to Cloud? Change to never stop changing…

Our understanding of change management is rooted in theory almost seventy years old. Is it time for a fresh look at things?

Look up from your phone or tablet on your morning commute, and you will see that some 90% of your fellow travellers are also working, using social media, playing games and communicating on their devices. Most of these services are delivered through the Cloud on your device of choice, and this is the model that successful forward-thinking businesses are adopting today. Office 365 is increasingly becoming a means to transform businesses into a model that is in tune with the way users prefer to consume services, based around collaboration and communication.  

Even today, our understanding of change management is mostly derived from Kurt Lewin’s three-stage theory of unfreezing, changing and refreezing. So is our traditional view of change management still appropriate, given the way things are evolving around us? I believe not. One of the concerns I have come across when talking to change managers or IT teams in organizations who are thinking of moving to Office 365 is how to manage the changes implemented by Microsoft in Office 365, since they come in faster than they can handle them using traditional methods. The concern is that this rapid rate of change will negatively impact the business and its end users, and if not managed and controlled, it may cause disruption. The truth is that end users are used to fast-changing environments, and the increasing pace of change in the consumer market has established a user habit that is tolerant and appreciative of change. Indeed, this may be the main reason you should move to Office 365.

Let’s find out why; I will start with a quick overview of how change is traditionally managed in businesses. According to Lewin’s theory, change should happen in three stages:

·         Unfreeze – the unfreezing stage is about understanding the need for change and preparing the environment and people for it. To understand this need, and to assess whether the change would be worthwhile, Lewin’s force field analysis suggests that we assess all the relevant pros and cons – if the more the pros outweigh the cons, the more attractive the change is and the more reason to initiate it sooner rather than later. The forces in Lewin’s theory are, essentially, the various factors we need to think of in order to make an informed decision.
·         Change – change is not a switch that you turn on or off, but a journey which takes you from your current state to your desired state. As with every journey, you should ask yourself – before you begin – whether you have made the right decision, whether you are ready to deal with surprises, whether you have your seatbelt on and are ready for what may be a bumpy ride. Communication strategy and planning, training, asking champions to create excitement and lead user engagement, providing support and assistance when needed, and senior management engagement are some of the areas typically used to smoothen the journey and ensure minimal negative impact.
·         Refreeze – now that the change has happened, it’s time to go back to business as usual. The changed environment and perhaps end-user working habits will become the new norm, and will stay frozen till the next change.

Before I return to the unfreezing stage and put it into context, I want to tell you about John Smith, who might be working for your organisation today. John is just finishing work – he closes his Outlook 2003 and shuts down his desktop, the Windows XP logo being the last thing he sees before calling it a day. He puts his work BlackBerry aside and grabs his personal iPhone, which he queued up for over the weekend to make sure he got his hands on it before anyone else. Just before going to bed that night, he remembers that he had copied a document from his work PC to a flash drive so he could work on it at home – his desktop was running slow, and anyway, he much prefers his home laptop loaded with Windows 8 and Office 2013. He gets the work done and wants to email the document to a colleague, but remembers that he left his BlackBerry in the office, and can’t access his work mail from home. Now he gets creative! He copies the document into his Dropbox and shares it, and makes sure that he names the document “Version 4” so his colleague knows that this is a new version – she’ll work on it tomorrow and email it back to John as “Version 5”.

Now to the unfreezing stage, where we evaluate the pros and cons and make a case for change. Over the past few years I have assisted many organisations with various projects, and have encountered different views on whether a certain change will be of value to the organisation, or when a need for change is felt by the client but they are not sure how to approach it. I have also observed organisations making decisions while factoring in completely different forces as compared to some other clients. The reason for this is that the drive for change usually comes from two groups of people within an organisation; IT teams and business decision makers, who sometimes hold completely different views.

When change is initiated by IT, it’s usually to address an immediate need with a tactical view – this may fix the issue in the short term, but will not have any ties into the business’s strategic plan. When changes are initiated by different IT teams and all the changes are tactical, with no regard for other projects initiated by other teams, it may take an outside observer to realise the inefficiencies that have built up as a result. A strategic plan with a longer-term view of where organisation wants to be may appear daunting and expensive; however, often when we review the tactical initiatives of some of the organizations taken in a period of time, we find the latter has cost significantly more, and delivered far less. In addition, sometimes the initiatives are the IT teams’ interpretation of what the business needs are, which may differ from reality. A tactical approach to immediate needs and demands in IT is sometimes necessary, but must be in line with a business strategy defined by business decision makers.

Business decision makers tend to think about John. They ask questions such as “How can I make John’s life easier so that he can be more productive? How can I make John more efficient and successful in the business by improving the way he works with others?” They believe that when they have done this for every John in the company, their business will be more efficient and successful, will have happier staff who love going to work on a Monday morning, and will be able to keep its competitive edge in the market. They know they may have to spend money on this journey, but, as the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. Even in tough economic conditions and with shrinking budgets, there is still room for creative spending where it is most needed. This is what a strategic plan should be built upon to make a transformation successful.

Now, if you have made a decision to embark on your journey of change, you had better communicate to John why you are aiming for a certain destination and not another, and why you decided to take action in the first place. You need to explain what your staff should expect during the journey, the benefits they’ll get once they reach the destination, and read them the safety card so they know what to do in the event of an emergency! Communicating your vision to your staff and helping them understand how this change will improve their work life is the key to success.

Change is no longer an option – it is a must, and it no longer comes every few years, but every day

But what then – implement change and refreeze? I believe this can no longer be the case in modern business: change is no longer an option, but a must, and it no longer comes every few years, but every day. In our personal lives as consumers, we change our mobile devices, TVs, tablet devices, mobile contracts, energy suppliers, etc. frequently, or as soon as we can afford to. Constant upgrading is something we all demand in our personal lives when it comes to the products and services we consume – why should it be any different at work?

There are always concerns when moving away from what we know to a new, unfamiliar way of doing things. But isn’t that the case with any change? The main thing is to understand the change, and plan the journey. In addition, any change needs to be supported and reinforced (reinforcement is a post-change phase included in more modern change management methods). This is to ensure that the change is actually adopted and that the business has achieved all the goals behind the change. This can be very simple – if, when balancing pros and cons, you were thinking about making John’s life easier, he will happily adopt the solution because it makes his life easier.

When you decide to adopt a cloud solution like Office 365 in order to increase productivity, facilitate communication and collaboration and take advantage of the best that the latest technology has to offer, this will not be a process of unfreezing, changing and refreezing. Instead, we see unfreezing, changing and keep changing. This is a change to make sure you never stop changing.

Adopting a cloud solution like Office 365 is a change to make sure you never stop changing

Now John is back in the office, and this time he has a Windows 8 laptop running Office 2013. He has all his documents in SharePoint Online so that he knows they’re all backed up. All his documents are synced to his OneDrive for Business on his laptop, so that he can access them quickly even when he is not connected to internet. He opens a document that he has been working on this week and can start from where he left off. He notices that Sarah is also working on the document and sees that she is available on Skype for Business (previously known as Lync Online). John initiates a chat on Skype for Business directly from the document and asks Sarah to look at some of the changes he has made on the document.

He leaves the office slightly early, but opens up the document on his personal phone using the OneDrive for Business mobile application and responds to Sarah’s comments. The document is finalised but there is no version number in the name of the document – everything is version controlled on SharePoint. He is happy with the document, so he shares it with his manager directly via OneDrive. The manager receives an email with a link to the document and opens it on their Windows phone. They decide to call John using Skype for Business to give him their final comments and ask him to share the document on Yammer (Microsoft’s social platform for business) so that everyone in the business can have a conversation about John and Sarah’s project. This is the cloud-enabled workplace – the workplace that takes change in its stride.