Image by: Constantinis, ©2016 Getty Images

We have all heard some of these information technology (IT) project failure statistics:
  • One in six IT projects have an average cost overrun of 200% and a schedule overrun of 70%.
  • 33% of projects fail because of a lack of involvement from senior management.
  • The United States economy loses $50 to $150 billion per year due to failed IT projects.
When we think of rolling out information management solutions, what is the single biggest risk factor for success of the project? The answer is the adoption of the new solution by the people. Why is this? In most cases, we are asking people to change their behavior. We are asking them to use a new application or change the way they create, save and find information because of this new solution. We are asking them to change their relationship with information. For some, this is a big change.

John C. Maxwell, an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, coach and author, believes culture is the most powerful factor in any organization—more powerful than vision. He often says, “Culture eats vision for lunch.” John’s definition of culture is behavior, symbols and systems. Behavior is the personality of an organization’s culture, and systems are the practices of the culture. For instance, the way each employee manages their information and how everyone supports each other as they embrace a new information management solution are both behaviors and systems. How do we expect to successfully implement an information management solution and not address behaviors and systems intentionally? No wonder so many projects fail.

There is hope. I recommend that organizations embarking on deploying or updating/upgrading an information management solution use a formal and tested change management methodology as well as investing in a change management professional as a part of the project team.

One of my favorite resources for managing the people side of change, which I recommend, is the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. In their book, they present a three-part framework that can guide you in any situation where you need to change behavior:
  • First, direct the rider. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. Provide them with crystal-dear direction.
  • Second, motivate the elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. It's critical to engage people's emotional side—get their “elephants” on the path and cooperative.
  • Third, shape the path. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. The situation is the "path." When you shape the path, you make change more likely, no matter what's happening with the rider and elephant.
There is also a widely accepted methodology for managing change, and specifically the people side of change, created by Prosci called ADKAR. ADKAR is a research-based change model that represents the five milestones an individual must achieve in order to change successfully.

ADKAR stands for:
A = Awareness of the need for change (e.g., communication from senior leaders and the project sponsor)
D = Desire to participate and support the change (this maps to “Motivate the Elephant”)
K = Knowledge on how to change (e.g., training and effective communication)
A = Ability to implement required skills and behaviors (e.g., training and the use of a change agent network)
R = Reinforcement to sustain the change (More communication, recognition, rewards, incentives and highlighting successes)

I effectively used this model and the help of an excellent change management professional, Karen Ball (who is now a solution portfolio manager at Prosci), while leading the strategy to manage the information and data from the BP Gulf oil spill. The team we assembled came from many different contracting companies with varying levels of experience in managing information. We had to quickly enroll them in the processes and behaviors needed to effectively manage this vast amount of information. Additionally, they were creating more and more information every day, and I needed to make sure that we were in full compliance with the legal hold and preservation order that was in place at the onset of the Deepwater Horizon incident.

One of the main reasons our change management program succeeded was that we had a strong sponsorship coalition. The head of the Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, along with the organization’s chief counsel, participated in a video about the changes needed and why they were so important. Also, each member of the leadership team reinforced the need for the change within his or her departments. Support for the change was regular and very visible.

Another book I would recommend, especially for the senior leadership team and project sponsor, is Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud. What are boundaries? They are made up of two essential things: what you create and what you allow. In the end, as a leader, you are always going to get a combination of these two things. This is especially true when you talk about making changes to the culture (remember, culture is behavior, symbols and systems) of the organization to accommodate a new or revised information management solution, along with the associated policies and processes. The leadership of the organization needs to set the tone for the change and for the necessary culture needed.

Finally, there are three key activities needed from the top-level leadership of the organization to support the people side of change:

1. Communicate directly with employees; share why the change is happening, the risks of not changing and align the change with the overall direction of the business.

2. Build a sponsorship coalition that reinforces the awareness message at all levels. Enable peers, direct reports and managers to communicate the reasons for change to their employees so that a consistent message is finding its way throughout the organization.

3. Those senior leaders need to participate actively and visibly throughout the entire change process and to stay engaged with the project team.

Information management initiatives can be successful when organizations fully address the culture change needed to make sure their employees embrace and adopt the new behaviors and begin using the practices necessary to effectively manage information.

Don’t miss Russell Stalters’ panel on “Big Data: Real-World Challenges, Insight and Business Value” at the DOCUMENT Strategy Forum on May 10, 2016 at 11:00am - 11:50am on how three organizations are leveraging Big Data for real-world applications and are realizing real-world gains.

Russell Stalters is the founder of Clear Path Solutions Inc., author of and is a recognized information and data management expert. Previously, he was the director of information and data management and chief architect for BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization. Follow him on Twitter @russellstalters.

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