Changing Systems

By Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP

When a company is changing to a new data processing system, there are steps management can take to assure a smooth transition with few disruptions.

Purchasing, installing, and using a new data processing or communication system is a major transitional period for any size company. Managers and employees alike need to learn much new information, adapt to new hardware and adjust to higher productivity expectations.

Top management’s task during this period is to manage the change so that the work force has the time and opportunity to keep pace with the change and not become overwhelmed by the new system. To meet this challenge, top management needs to be aware of the complexities of transitions and of those particular management strategies that are useful during these periods.

There are six stages in the transition from using your present system to fully using a new system.  For each stage, there is a set of complementary managerial skills that ease the disruption of the transition.

Stage one, data gathering and system selection requires management to do a thorough planning process and to include input from all levels of the organization. Once a need is identified, upper management should develop a plan to gather data about needs and options. Middle management and supervisors will have useful information to contribute on problems of your current system and on methods that would minimize the disruption of installation. From the input, upper management can develop a criterion list that will help in selection the best new system for the company.

As stage one ends and stage two, system installation, begins, upper management often feels trapped between tendencies to protect and to retain control. If followed, these tendencies create problems. By giving middle management all of the responsibility of managing the transition without necessary authority diminishes middle management’s investment in the success of the new system. A detailed time line and installation schedule needs to be developed and distributed to all who will be affected. Good communication is essential because middle management will have the responsibility to minimize the disruption of the workflow.  Additionally, they too need to delegate many scheduling and installation related tasks to their supervisors and employees. Without proper delegation in stage two, the disruption of installation becomes much greater than it needs to be.

Stage three, learning the system, is one which employees find both exciting and threatening. To some, learning the new system is exciting because it is new and different. To others, learning the new system is exciting because it is new and different. To others, learning the new system is a task that they presume to be beyond them and they will fail, losing their job.

We find that most employees and managers feel both the excitement of learning and the fear of failure. Each person copes with these feelings in a different way complication management’s job of managing the learning stage.

Flexibility allows for differences in individual learning style, pace, and ability. Managers need to be available to answer a wide variety of questions, arrange for the system experts to provide as much information as possible, and to assist employees in finding the best way to learn. Clear time lines and expectations are a must in this stage. Both the fearful and the excited employee need to know exactly when they are to be held responsible for having learned their aspect of the system. Flexibility is needed to provide a variety of ways for employees to learn and still retain clarity of expectations.

Stage four, integration, is a practice stage. This is the time when the system’s intricacies, idiosyncrasies, and problems come to the forefront. It also is a time when everyone is adjusting to new demands, new time constraints and the monotony of practice. During this stage, management needs to be consistent in their demands, which aids in learning, and needs to demand consistency from the employees, which aids retention.

Stage five, regression begins just when employees become comfortable and consistent with the system. Regression is a necessary stage, which many management teams overlook. Employees test how much they have learned and how consistent management is by making seemingly avoidable errors.

All adults, once they have learned a new task, exhibit some regression. A punishing or recriminating response is unproductive during this stage. Management needs to have anticipated this stage and to have determined several motivation strategies to assist employees in moving to the next stage.

Routine use and evaluation is the final stage of the transition. Management has a great opportunity in this stage to be innovative. Once the system is an accepted part of the company, management can begin strategies that encourage the employees to expand the limits of the system and find innovative ways to use the system.

Innovation is fostered by work environments which encourage idea sharing, free communication, and spontaneous discussion. Management has the opportunity to create this climate at the end of a major transition period.

The climate for innovation, in essence, becomes a routine part of the new system. This climate of innovation prolongs the life of the system and increases the productivity, thus maximizing the gains of the system and transition period.

Stage:  Skills
I.  Data-gathering and system selection:  planning – inclusion
II.  System installation:  delegation, communication
III.  Learning:  flexibility
IV.  Integration:  consistence
V.  Regression:  motivation
VI.  Routine use and evaluation:  innovation

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