Change Management Advice for Microsoft Partners

Changes are coming at end users faster than ever. Microsoft channel veteran Bob Marsh makes the case that now is a good time for channel partners to consider creating an adoption and change management practice.

One way a new IT solution deployment project can fail is when end users don't use the new technology.

Sometimes whole divisions or departments can resist the change and make your wonderful technical expertise and well-planned deployment go down the toilet. Sometimes when you're deploying a new solution for a client, individual users resist changing the way they get their work done and their performance suffers, making them a drag on workgroup productivity and profitability.

Customer-business transitions to cloud-based and hybrid cloud and on-premises solutions are making the "people" side of adoption and change very important. At the same time, increased use of cloud and mobile applications means upgrade-time cycles are becoming extremely quick. Microsoft is even adjusting the previously stately pace of Windows upgrades to accommodate the accelerated expectations of the market.

Managing change and driving adoption of new solutions is important to your customers and so it must be important to you, as well. If not to you, then to your competitors.

Microsoft started getting into change management in the Windows 2000 era. We discovered back then that customer companies were buying software licenses and subscriptions that enabled all their employees to use the latest versions as they rolled out, but many of them weren't using the latest versions. Many were back-level more than one version. We tried to drive adoption with several "Realize Value" marketing campaigns, trying to coach partners and customers to realize the value of the software licenses they already had purchased. We knew that the new software had huge improvements over older code and that customers were missing out on opportunities to make their operations more efficient, more productive. I wrote some of those campaigns in cahoots with the Office team.

The science behind change management has roots in the 1960s, where behavioral scientists were trying to figure out how to handle the impact of technological change in society. My college fraternity president and mentor, Jim Champy, wrote a popular book on business process reengineering (BPR) in the 1990s. BPR has since rolled up into adoption and change management, or ACM.

ACM is a growth-consulting business in the big leagues, and it's available for all of us to learn and to incorporate into our IT services businesses. You have many choices, including:

  • You can get some of your consultants trained and certified in change management. Some technical consultants are socially savvy enough to pick it up and be successful with it.

  • You can start a new practice and hire relatively low-cost anthropology or psychology majors to staff it. Change management is easily handled by people knowledgeable in the behavioral sciences, and most young behaviorists are tech-savvy enough today to play well in the space where technology meets the end users.

  • You can hook up with a peer partner company that has an ACM practice by networking through the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) or searching your local area for change-management practitioners.

  • You can connect with a major consulting company (like Microsoft Consulting) that has a sophisticated ACM practice and see if some of your consultants can work on some of their projects, starting at the bottom and working up, and learn by doing.

  • You can search "Adoption and Change Management," read up on it and figure it out for yourself.

  • Or you can ignore it and miss out on an opportunity to grow your business and make your customer projects more and more successful.

What is change management all about? It's not that difficult. It's way easier than designing a SQL Server database or setting up SharePoint for collaboration in a big company. It isn't rocket science. It's a little bit of behavioral science.

The best of all possible ACM destinations or end results of a change management project is when the client organization becomes a business that loves change, celebrates change, feeds on change, looks forward to change, and makes full use of new technologies and new solutions coming at them month after month, year after year. Adoption and change management isn't about an event; it's about the way people think about change and how they make change a way of life.

If you think about it, we've all embraced continual technological change in recent years with our smartphones and PCs. We no longer fear those application software updates, anti-virus updates and new OS versions we keep getting from software product developer companies. I think the younger crowd might even feel uncomfortable if they go many days without an update -- thinking they might be missing out on some new functionality their peers have. One way of helping a client organization be more successful is developing that kind of attitude toward change across their entire organization.

Within the halls of Microsoft, everyone runs the latest software. Many, if not most, dogfood the latest available alpha or beta releases from the product groups. When I was there, I always felt like I had the advantage of being a step ahead of the outside world when I was running versions of Office and Windows that wouldn't be in customers' hands for six to nine months. It can put a spring in your step to know you're using the newest tools -- like driving the latest car.

Some of the basic keys to starting a good ACM project are:

  • Situation Awareness: Having a clear, broad, and deep awareness of the way the people in your client company do business today, how they'll be doing business in the future, and what the gaps are between those two scenarios.

  • Sponsorship: Understanding the power structure in your customer organization, and determining who is for and against the changes being planned.

  • Resistance: Finding if there are individuals or groups that will be resisting the planned changes and what the root causes are for their feelings.

  • Incentives: Determining what employee incentives are in use in the client company.

  • Training: Understanding how new and existing employees are trained on new business tools and processes.

  • Communications: Surveying how client management communicates with employees across the company and within workgroups.

  • Expertise: Having a change management team leader who's trained, knowledgeable and, if possible, certified in change management.

Some key service offerings in a change management project are:

  • Workforce and Sponsorship Analysis: Working with the client to resolve most of the basic keys, previously listed.

  • Training: Leveraging the client's internal training models to train employees at all levels, including:

    • Briefing executives on both the upcoming change and the change management process.

    • Training employees in all affected workgroups on both the change and on how change management will help them be successful, all the way down to answering, "What's in it for me?"

    • Training line management to be coaches so they can coach and reinforce their employees on a continuing basis after the general employee training has happened.

    • Training HR so they can continually train incoming new employees on the new change-oriented culture.

  • Communications: Planning and developing waves of communication to all affected employees and workgroups so they're informed about the upcoming changes, the schedule for deployment, the reasons for the changes, and the benefits they'll receive from the changes.

  • Resistance Management and Incentives: Locating resistance and turning it around using proven resistance management techniques and incentives.

  • Adoption and Change Management Metrics: Measuring and reporting results of the project.

  • Long-Term Support: Providing sustaining efforts to keep the change motion going, at least until the internal change management expertise can sustain the effort itself. Some companies have augmented their Project Management Office (PMO) with a Change Management Office (CMO).

At a time when many partners are looking to move up from technology-focused project work to business-level consulting, ACM offers another avenue. There are potentially several hundreds of billable hours per client organization in a change management project, but the return on investment can be huge to a client company -- both short term and long term.

If you want to get in on this opportunity, what are your next steps? Here are a few you can tackle right away:

  • Search "Adoption and Change Management" online and drill into what's happening in the field. You might even read some of the books that started it all as the BPR concept. For example, try "Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution," by Jim Champy and Michael Hammer, originally published in 1993 and reissued in 2006 (HarperBusiness).

  • Check in with your local Microsoft Consulting team and find out what they're doing with ACM -- perhaps a local ACM expert would be willing to come speak at your company or at a local IAMCP meeting.

  • Discuss ACM with your customers and see if they feel there's a need for it in their organizations.

Change can be scary, or it can be a path to success for you and your customers if it's well managed.