3 Key Lessons in Change Management


When planning a technology initiative, scheduling active change management isn’t always the first priority on the to-do list. This is unfortunate because incorporating change management strategies is one of the most effective ways to ensure a successful project. I had this clearly illustrated for me during a technology transition project and I’ve benefited from that valuable lesson throughout my career. Specifically, I learned the difference between designing a great solution and successfully implementing a great solution is effective change management.

Before joining Heller, I was the Vice President of Operations and Executive Project Manager of an international child development organization. Our current systems were nearing end-of-life and we had very limited resources. My challenge was to lead our team through a massive system transition to take advantage of the advanced technology now available to nonprofit organizations. Like many non-profit organizations, budget and timing were our top priorities. We understood the challenges we needed to address and our organizational constraints. We also knew that extensive changes were required, and expected the team to understand and support our efforts. We didn’t consider that we would need to actively manage our team through the changes.

Of course hindsight is 20/20, and we were wrong. I learned a lot from that experience and regularly incorporate those lessons into how I guide our clients’ projects. One of my personal goals is to help other organizations utilize good change management strategies to successfully implement great solutions. I make sure to share these three key lessons learned early in every project, and refer back to them often.

Lesson 1: Communication

Every good project manager knows the key to a successful project is good communication. When I was the project manager, I felt I knew our staff quiet well and had a good reputation of communicating early and often. My thought at the time was, we were short on time, resources and the change was inevitable–why did it matter?

A true change management plan will vastly improve team communication. One of the first steps in a good change management plan is to survey your key stakeholders and staff to gather their perception of the project. Through this effort you can learn how to communicate more effectively, identify your key advocates and even learn how they want you to communicate with them.

Don’t assume your standard communication plans are sufficient, you don’t have time or “I know my staff well enough”. There is no substitute for a strong change management communication strategy.

Lesson 2: Know your non-technical objectives

It’s evitable when you change technology tools that procedures and process will change, hopefully to become more efficient. But have you identified your actual business objective, or are you replicating your existing system with minor improvements? Be prepared to help your team identify your objective independent of technology. Part of good change management is helping stakeholders see their unique processes as part of the bigger initiative.

For example, at my previous organization we had a requirement that each team member should be able to print their own acknowledgement letters by batch and postal code. In our old gift entry system this was a major pain point and the process took a very long time. Our finance team was convinced if our new solution could print acknowledgements in this fashion, it would be a significant improvement.

Clearly this would benefit the process, but it wasn’t looking at the challenge as part of the system. The real objective was to mail each acknowledgement letter within 24-hours of processing a gift. During implementation, our partner proposed an acknowledgment system that could centralize the process and provide greater operational efficiency.  Unfortunately our stakeholders failed to see this benefit because we had not clarified our real objective.

Take all your key processes back to a simple non-technical objective. This will open up the opportunity for everyone to see the real goals and increase buy-in to suggested solutions. Sometimes the best way to see this reality is to sit down with a seasoned change management expert who can help you drill down to that true business objective.

Lesson 3: People matter

I’ll confess there are times where I have wanted someone’s buy-in just because I wanted their support. I’ve gone the extra mile with a stakeholder simply to eliminate the anarchy that is likely to erupt later. This often makes sense. Many of us have seen how one disgruntled person can have a significant impact on ten other people. But we often forget ten advocates can often drown out–or even convert–the one ­­

I’ve learned change management shouldn’t be approached as a necessary evil to prevent munity. Change management is about unifying people, not pacifying them. Start communication early and encourage everyone to be part of the process, not a spectator of it.

The key is don’t approach change management as a “have-to,” consider it a success tool. Don’t leave the whole change management plan to one person. This has to be a team effort from the top-down. You don’t have to be an executive cheerleader if that’s not your personality, but you do have to be a proponent of healthy change.

For More Information

For more information on change management please download these resources or contact us to talk. We’re happy to discuss how incorporating a change management program can help ensure the success of your next project.

Managing Technology Change at Enterprise Nonprofits

Taking Engagement Seriously White paper

The fact is while change is often necessary and healthy, it can a disruptive force, and is rarely easy. Interestingly, it’s our response to change that determines whether we feel positive or negative about what’s happening. Download this paper to learn factors that influence an organization’s response to change, a process for managing change, and how managing change effectively can impact the success of a nonprofit organization’s CRM and technology initiatives.

Engagement journey case study: Canadian Cancer Society of Saskatchewan

Canadian Cancer Society of Saskatchewan Case StudyThe Canadian Cancer Society in Saskatchewan (CCSSK) needed to understand how its participants, donors, volunteers and cancer survivors were going to interact with their system. Heller and CCSSK worked together to define how each constituent would be introduced to the organization, how they would first get started, and how their participation would continue over time.


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