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Successfully implementing a large system change in an organization can be very challenging. It also requires a unique set of leadership qualities to do it well. Richard Kelley, the newly hired Director of Information Systems for Ultimate Office Products, was called to this challenge. Richard needed to replace the obsolete order processing system company-wide to improve their customer service and deliver products more quickly. This would allow them to be more competitive and move forward with their technology.
The project kicked off and Richard immediately ordered the new system that would meet Ultimate Office Products goal. He then attempted to engage with his business partners to start using the new software when he immediately ran into resistance. In Richard’s hurried desire to accomplish this goal, he alienated his peers by not included them. He, nor the CEO, met with them to explain what they were trying to accomplish and discuss the vision of the project effort. Richard also neglected to gather any requirements from his peers to see what may have been working well and what needed to be improved. This would have informed Richard to the type of system purchase he should make.
He certainly ran the risk of the new system not meeting some critical requirements which would have caused more issues and delays. As Kotters explained in his 8 Stage Change Management Process, one of the first steps in implementing a major change is to create a sense of urgency about the need for change. This was entirely missed by both Richard and his CEO. Employees need to understand the change in order to support it. “Even people who initially endorse a change will need support and assistance to sustain their enthusiasm and optimism as the inevitable difficulties and setbacks occur.” (Yukl)
When Richard’s initial attempt failed and the CEO began questioning his effectiveness, he decided to take a different approach. Richard started gathering more data from his peers and formed some key task force teams to help with the implementation and adoption of the new system. These task force teams helped identify problems and allowed Richard to focus on creating a collaborative plan to move forward. The CEO also got behind this plan and fully supported Richard and the inclusion of the task force and peer teams. She also began attending the meetings to emphasis their importance. This had a real impact on building the right coalition to support the change. They soon began working as a team which is another important step that Kotter’s suggests.
The visible change in the CEO’s leadership helped Ultimate Office Products deliver against their goal. It’s not uncommon for CEO’s to mandate a change and then expect results without providing the necessary vision or support. The CEO was now showing her support by actively being involved. Simply going to the meetings and being available to answer questions and clarify the project goals made a big difference in the response the rest of the teams were providing. You need to get by in up front and now the team was working in a more collaborative way. This allowed her to be available to remove any barriers anyone had in order to get tasks completed. I think another attribute the CEO changed was to provide the necessary communication to the rest of her organization. Communication was far better the second time around and it empowered the team to act appropriately.
In the end, both Richard and his CEO learned some powerful lessons about organizational change management. It requires a lot of relationship building, planning, communication, and active involvement to be successful. Once they created the sense of urgency around the change and explained the vision, they were able to rally their team to implement the system changes that would make Ultimate Office Products a better, more productive company.
Yukl, Gary A. Leadership in organizations (8th ed.). Boston: Pearson, 2013.