How Can Data Accelerate Change Management?

How Can Data Accelerate Change Management? Expert Discussion

Change is inevitable, especially in today’s evolving digital economy. The majority, if not all, organizations will undergo a transformation in the coming years. This could be the result of a merger or acquisition, a product expansion, a strategic pivot, or a digital transformation. 

Regardless of the motivation driving the change, all business leaders will be faced with a similar and vital challenge: managing organizational transformation. 

What is often referred to as the “soft-side” of change deals with an organization's most critical component, its people. According to an industry report from McKenzie, nearly “70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support.” 

Why Traditional Change Management Approaches Are Falling Short

If 70% of change initiatives fail in large part due to resistance, then our current approach to change management must be flawed. Why are employees so resistant to change? Why can’t business leaders lead employees through the change to reach a successful outcome? What are we missing? 

The numbers speak for themselves. While employee resistance is one of the biggest barriers to change, McKenzie also found that 30% of programs are more likely to stick if people are truly invested in the change. 

People are the answer. The question is how can we incorporate people into our transformation strategies in an actionable way that drives real results? 

Let’s talk data. 

Taking a Data-Driven Approach To Change 

2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day. Business leaders are scrambling to leverage big data in their operations, marketing, IT, and even financial systems. Last year, 83% of executives reported pursuing big data projects to seize a competitive edge. There’s no doubt that data is at the forefront of modern business strategy and innovation.  

But, if data is the future, why aren’t more business leaders taking a data-driven approach to change management? 

We wanted to explore how leveraging data in your change management approach can help combat several challenges business leaders face that contribute to the 70% failure rate. 

To investigate how data can elevate your approach to change management, we sat down with two experts: Cynthia Siewert and Tammy Marino MBA, Ed.D

Cynthia Siewert is the Head of Product Management and Customer Success at Visual Workforce. She has spent more than 10 years focused on driving change in large organizations in various industries such as Financial Services, Healthcare, and Transportation. Driven by a passion for building relationships at all levels of the organization, she has a track record of blending the strategic and the tactical to make change stick. 

Tammy Marino is a Principal Consultant and founder of APS Team Solutions. Her passion for developing leaders has been evident in her work with over 5000 individuals and organizations. Through relationship-based coaching and consulting, she utilizes research and best practices to ensure client success. With many years of experience delivering performance management coaching and consulting, she brings a high level of professionalism to the services of APS Team Solutions.

Table of Contents

Below are the full details from the interview. Here’s a quick look at what we’ll cover:

  1. Use Data to Baseline and Define The Change Roadmap 

  2. Use Data To Create A Culture of Trust and Learning

  3. Use Data to Measure Progress and Build Support

  4. Use Data to Identify and Develop Key Skills Essential for Change

  5. Use Data To Build Resilience Instead of Just Reducing Resistance

1 | Use Data to Baseline and Define The Change Roadmap 

The first step of any change management strategy should be to define your organization’s current state. Our experts recommend taking a “baseline” of your employees’ current capabilities to quantify key information that will build the foundation for your transformation plan. 

Cynthia: “There are several ways that I incorporated data into my organizational change management consulting practices. And the first was always to baseline because... you’re able to get a clearer picture of where you’re going and how much effort it's going to take to get there if you know where you are now.” 

Tammy: “Yes, I think a baseline is critically important. One of the things we find when we gather data for a baseline is that the data is often different than what the principal person or change champion thinks [the current state] is or should be. So, not only is the baseline important for what Cynthia stated, but it also helps quantify what the organization thinks is happening.”

Tammy: “For us, that’s the first step for change. Managers will say ‘we thought that turnover was really not that bad’ but the baseline shows it’s like three times more than they thought it was.” 

Taking the time to conduct a baseline can also help you define the problem and develop a measurable roadmap for change. 

Cynthia: “We want to see where we’re starting and then see the growth and milestones from there. [A baseline] helps define the problem, too. If you can’t quantify [the problem], then it becomes this nebulous thing that’s really hard to get to… you never know when you’re done.” 

Tammy: “And that’s very subjective, right? I mean, when I’m done might be different than when you’re done. So [data] also makes it much easier to say we’ve reached [the goal] or this is what needs to be changed.” 

Oftentimes, organizations want to dive into every change initiative at once to hurry up and avoid resistance. However, this tends to lead to greater pushback. Instead of choosing every initiative to pursue, baseline data can help you prioritize and select the change programs that are most likely to succeed with your teams’ current skills and capabilities. 

Tammy: “I had some organizations that we’ve worked with in the past, that say ‘we don’t want to roll out Change X, until we have A, B, C, and D all done. We want to roll out all the change at once because our people tell us that they’re really resistant to change and don’t like it.’” 

Cynthia: “I have seen it done, for example, where an organization wants to replace a huge ERP or do some system migration, where executives have three technology options in front of them. If you can look at your organization and say ‘I know I have the skills in-house that best match the solution’ then you’re able to choose a change. 

You should decide which of those changes you are going to implement based on what you have the best chance for success [with] and you won’t have a big gap to overcome. So again, that’s the baseline -- knowing where you are today allows you to choose the right changes to make.” 

2 | Use Data To Create A Culture of Trust and Learning

While managing people can involve factors that are hard to measure, like trust, data can help you build credibility and internal support for your change initiatives. 

Cynthia: “Data provides these objective measures if you will. It lends credibility to what it is you’re doing and a key component to managing change in an organization is the trust of the people in those leading the change. Objectivity tends to increase this level of trust that people have rather than the change being an opinion or a new flavor of the month.

Cynthia:The other place that data could be useful is in convincing executive leadership or a board to take the leap to make the change. When you show them the data on skills in the organization that are not being utilized to their best ability or could make this transition easier, that eliminates some of the resistance at the executive level.”   

Another factor that’s hard to quantify is fear. However, this factor can be paralyzing. Tammy explains how data can be used to eliminate fear and drive a learning culture that supports change. 

Tammy: “We can learn in the discomfort zone, but we shut down and stop learning in the fear zone. I feel like Visual Workforce does a really great job of illustrating, for managers in particular but also employees, like wow okay, that’s an eight-point jump for this person. That’s going to propel them straight into the fear zone and they’re going to shut down and not want to learn or be able to learn. But for these other two people on my team, it's just a small stretch. We’ll start there and get them up and running then move on to the other person with the bigger leap.” 

3 | Use Data to Measure Progress and Build Support

The advantage of data doesn’t start and stop at the baseline. As your transformation roadmap progresses, data enables managers to quantify progress and quickly make credible changes to their plan. 

Tammy: “As you move through the change initiative, it’s really powerful and empowering to be able to measure what that looks like. Are we achieving our goals? Let’s hit pause and identify where the challenges are and reroute some of our strategies to address those challenges.” 

Cynthia: “It’s amazing to me how many organizations don’t even measure what they think they measure.

Tammy: “Yes, they’ll move along thinking that they’re making progress because people they interact with on a regular basis are indicating that progress is being made. But, across a wide change management initiative, we may not have those interactions with everybody in a timely manner. 

So I think employing a tool like Visual Workforce enables managers to say ‘Hold up, we thought everyone would be at this level by now and they’re not. Let’s take a look and see where we can adapt and adjust.’ This makes organizations much more agile in that change management process.”

4 | Use Data To Identify and Develop Key Skills Essential for Change

The popular change management model, ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement. The second “A” or “Ability” represents the need for people to demonstrate the skills and behaviors necessary to implement the change. This stage often becomes an unanticipated challenge for many leaders.  

Collecting real-time skills data can help you identify skill gaps and proactively develop new strategies, training programs, and resources to combat this potential roadblock. 

Cynthia: “[People] can know how to change but if they don’t have the skills necessary to do it, they will be unsuccessful. That’s where data around the staff you have can really come in handy and provide people with the ability to develop the skills that they need to implement the change.”

Cynthia: “That’s one of the key reasons that organizational changes don’t actually manifest. People in the organization don’t have the ability to move.”

Tammy:  “Then all sorts of roadblocks, speedbumps, and brick walls are built up. It’s a defense mechanism. When you don’t know how to do something then it must be stupid or doesn’t have value and people will resist.” 

Cynthia: “Exactly. I think of the power in having skills data here. Let’s say you’re a line manager and you know the change is coming and you know people are really nervous about it. But, you’re able to sit down, one-to-one, and say ‘I know you have these skills today. I know these are the skills you’re going to need tomorrow and we have to plan to get you there.’ There, again, build trust and it starts to mitigate some of the resistance.” 

Capturing and measuring skills data also allows managers to compare progress across various teams. If one team is successfully implementing the change and another is struggling, a manager can use skills data to evaluate the potential cause and take action.

Cynthia: “Having a broad set of skills data allows you to figure out what it is that’s allowing one team to be more successful than the other. I think having that information at your fingertips can actually help you use the insights to then improve your weaker teams and get them to the same place as your successful team.” 

5 | Use Data To Build Resilience Instead of Just Reducing Resistance 

A fundamental pillar of change management is mitigating resistance to change. However, using data, our experts discuss a different approach that focuses on proactively building resilience amongst employees. 

Cynthia: “You’re already assuming you’re mitigating resistance. You’re already assuming resistance is going to happen. Really, what you are doing is responding to it in a lot of ways. What if we backed up a little bit and instead of focusing on managing resistance, we started building resilience to change in the organization before the change begins? 

Instead of investing all your time into resisting change, you can invest your time in supporting and creating it. Change is constant. Give people the tools upfront to be able to build resilience to changes.

I think those tools are things like trust, emotional intelligence, knowing you have managerial support. Even individually, having access to data on what skills you have and what skills you are developing. Really identify and understand where a team is as a whole before you dive into the change management stuff. You won’t have as much resistance to mitigate if people are ready for the change.” 

As companies dive into the digital age, those that can adapt and leverage new capabilities will ultimately win. This starts by employing a data-driven change management strategy that empowers managers and employees to develop new skills, create a culture of learning, and ultimately drive the transformation efforts from within. How will you leverage data to elevate your approach to change management?

About APS Team Solutions

APS Team Solutions has supported over 5000 small business leaders with performance management practices. They offer relationship-based consulting and coaching to entrepreneurs, small business owners, and new or aspiring managers to assess issues, create a plan, and implement strategies. APS Team Solutions offers research-based materials and consultation that empower leaders to confidently lead their teams.

About Visual Workforce

Visual Workforce is a revolutionary SaaS solution that allows companies to make more informed business decisions to achieve corporate initiatives faster, easier, and less expensively than they have in the past. We automate the capture of critical skills and capabilities data of individuals, groups, departments, or entire companies to provide business analytics for data driven decisions. Through powerful, easy to interpret visualization tools, Visual Workforce identifies skill gaps in both current and future states and provides a path to close those gaps.

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