Not every software implementation involves a digital transformation. The implementation of a new software solution does not necessarily change the structure, culture, or management of a company. Nonetheless, the resulting changes to processes and use of the software itself often have significant impacts on large parts of a company. Specifically, this means employees have to adapt to these changes. For this adaptation to succeed, the social ecosystem must also be utilized optimally. This is where management comes in.
The executive sponsor is a key player
If the implementation of new software or the optimization of processes is strategically relevant, company management should support it proactively. In this approach, a dedicated executive change sponsor will make the most important contribution by far to the success of such a change project. As described in the 11th Edition of the PROSCI Benchmark Best Practice Report (2020), which examines the most important practical insights of change managers and change consultants at regular intervals, the contribution of an executive sponsor is far more important to process success than the structured approach of change management.
In reality, however, change managers often find it difficult to gain a suitable executive change sponsor for IT projects. All too often, the nominated sponsors work at an insufficiently high management level, are inactive and remain invisible, show different levels of commitment, or fail to build a strong alliance with other managers to credibly convey the importance of the change to employees. Ineffective sponsorship like this during software implementations often results in much greater resistance among employees – even up to total refusal to use the implemented software.
The management coalition controls the social ecosystem
When a new change process is initiated, employees want to understand why they should adapt to new processes or use a new software solution. The executive change sponsor defines a purpose for this necessary change, assigns a priority, and acts as an ambassador within the company – which attracts the attention of its employees and makes them want the change to be made. For their immediate work environment, employees want to know that the reasons for the necessary adjustments are also relevant for their own department, and do not contradict what is being communicated in other departments. This is the only way to make sure that affected employees believe that the planned changes have been coordinated strategically, from executive management down to their own line manager, and with specific subsequent steps.
As such, the most important contribution that an executive sponsor can make is to establish a management coalition that supports and advances the change. The executive sponsor gains the involved managers as additional sponsors and active supporters. This often requires a lot of persuasive effort and coaching on the part of the executive sponsor – including the willingness to threaten individual managers with negative consequences if they are disinclined to support the necessary change. Ideally, the executive sponsor will work together closely with management, to ensure that a consistent message finds its way to the employees throughout the organization – as the central prerequisite for the success of the change project.
Management often underestimates its own importance for the success of strategically relevant software implementations. After all, employees often base their willingness to change on the behavior of their direct superiors. A strong coalition of executive sponsors, upper management, and the involved managers will enable optimally coordinated cascading of communications. In turn, this will support the willingness of employees to make the change and thus make a significant contribution to the success of the project.
Author: Iska Schönfeld