Managing change projects with knowledge

Interview with Eleanor Windsor, KM expert

Managing change projects with knowledge

Successful change management involves many principles and criteria, among them:

  • Start at the top with leadership but involve every level.
  • Communicate regularly and engage everyone across all levels and channels.
  • Marry the rational and the emotional arguments, and don’t neglect company culture.

Perhaps the best way to address these critical factors, along with any others, is to involve your knowledge teams. We spoke to Eleanor Windsor, VP of Client Engagement for the UK and EMEA about the vital role that knowledge management teams play in creating successful change projects.

The dictionary definition of change management refers to change or development within an organization.  That sounds rather dry; what does change management mean in real life?

I believe that it’s much more about challenging the current and existing approaches.  It’s not about change for change’s sake, but something new and different, and that can be exciting! There might be technological advances or a market change that prompts it, but a change project needs to be managed in an organised way, across the whole business.

There are various approaches but the best change projects I’ve seen have been clearly planned and rolled out in a balanced way.  Some changes might only be implemented in pockets, and never extended any further; while they may have a significant impact, it will be limited.  At the other extreme, some changes are rolled out using a blanket, ‘one size fits all’ solution, which is also not always a successful approach, especially in large, multinational companies.  Finding a balance between these two sides and clearly communicating the benefits and successes with ongoing training and awareness will lead to a much more effective and sustainable result.

Who should be leading change projects?

As the trigger might be technology, change projects have often been led by IT, and often without enough business input to make them workable.  However, we’ve seen that swinging the other way, with the technology teams stepping back and saying to the business “just tell us what you want” which doesn’t work either. IT won’t know all the possibilities out there and there will be stagnation. It has to be a two-way feedback process.  IT teams are best involved as enablers, to share their knowledge of ideas and new technology and discuss the benefits.

What can knowledge managers add to the change process?

Knowledge managers can bridge the gap to be a link between IT and other departments, including HR, finance and marketing or business development, as they touch all of those areas. For example, a new CRM system might be considered in silos and not suit everyone if approached in this way.  Businesses used to have big project teams, but as those have been hit by budget squeezes or other extenuating circumstances, knowledge teams can potentially step in and have a lead role.

After all, knowledge teams are all about what works and what doesn’t!  They are ideally placed to plan for proof of concept, share feedback, get people together, identify best practices. Finally, they can capture and share that knowledge to make the project a success.

It doesn’t just stop there, though. The communication and training must continue as the project evolves and new people join the business, too. The worst thing would be to roll out an entire change project and then find that old behaviors have stayed exactly the same in 12 months’ time.

Project change

Can you give me an example of a change project and how you approached it?

Several of our recent change projects in law firms have focused on the introduction of news aggregation tools. These tools can deliver a single tailored news alert pulling from several sources, replacing multiple alerts and updates to help the user focus on the areas they’re most interested in. They’ve become more important as the legal industry has become more competitive and law firms are looking for every possible way to better understand their clients and provide more relevant insights. And they involve not only practice teams but often marketing and business development teams.

These tools may not be understood fully to begin with, and if they are rolled out in a way that fails to exploit the key features and benefits, users won’t see or appreciate the value. The new aggregated updates and reports become just another email to delete, and the investment and implementation will not be a success.

For this type of project to work, what we do is focus on having a knowledge-led team who can develop the solution with the end-users, build the new services into their core processes and ensure that it is fully integrated. We flag the time-saving benefits, as well as the delivery of relevant information ‘just in time’ to help our users stay in touch with their clients and markets, ultimately making the firm more competitive.

For these, or any change projects, it comes back to communication and a step-by-step approach with consistent training to make sure that behavioral change sticks.

What are the most common stumbling blocks that might stop successful changes?

Familiarity is the biggest problem—people don’t always like change!  It can start with a lack of clear leadership, so senior management teams need to allow time for the project and training. Senior sponsors need to set objectives and regularly measure progress, so they can ensure the end users are able to get past the “I don’t have time to do this” objections.

For staff who are reluctant, it can help to start with a small team to get them engaged, identify what works or doesn’t and build champions who will reach out to their peers to help get the laggards on-board.

What would be top of your list on a blank sheet of paper for a KM-led change project?

A good team! It would cut across different disciplines and groups—knowledge experts, an IT lead, a learning and development lead, a business sponsor and a trial group that cuts across all departments that will be affected, such as HR or finance.  This sounds like a lot, but a willing group with time and passion to commit to proof of concept, the end result will be much more effective.  The knowledge managers will be ideally place to share learnings and best practice. In fact, at LAC, we already have a network for that, through the variety of firms that we work with.  We can share what has worked for others and draw on that wider experience.

When I wrote about the recent ARK conference, I mentioned that we heard if you’re making a change, don’t just change one thing. To be innovative, technology on its own is not the answer. You must change at least two of the following:

  • People
  • Process
  • Price
  • Technology

But whatever you change, it must consider all end-users and be well-communicated, trained and supported in the long term.

Going back to the top, successful change management relies on several principles, like leading at the top and addressing both the rational and emotional sides, along with cultural aspects. And it’s critical to communicate and engage at all levels and with everyone involved.

Change management principles are most effectively implemented with the help of knowledge teams supported by knowledge management principles.