The Sulingituk Government recently decided to introduce a new tool to manage information and to help with data collection. This will involve the transition away from paper filing towards an online, cloud-based system. Staff will soon need to begin using the new tools, which means existing information will need to be transferred to the system. Going forward, new information will need to be entered directly into this system. This change will allow Sulingituk to coordinate information about services provided to their citizens, to assess change over time, and to assess needs for programs and services.
This is a significant change for the Sulingituk Government, as the staff already feel the pressure of supporting citizens in a number of key areas such as culture and language programs, housing, education, employment, health, and management of lands, natural resources, and heritage. The Government recognizes their existing data management practices are inconsistent. For example, some departments are using primarily paper files while others are using cloud-based business systems. This means the change will look different in each department.
Before moving forward, it is important to consider who would be a good Change Leader. The Change Leader should already be a leader in the organization – they should be well-respected, good with people, and also have a direct tie to the change that is being implemented. In this scenario the IT Manager may be the best person to be the Change Leader.
The purpose of this case study is to show one approach to support various stakeholders who are impacted by change (e.g., staff, citizens, elected officials). For this particular case study, leadership and senior management have already determined that the change is going forward because it is essential. Therefore stakeholders are being engaged mainly on how the change will impact them, and not so much on determining the need for change. That being said, in many circumstances it is essential to engage with stakeholders to determine whether or not the change is needed and to get their support in designing what the change will look like.
Considering each of these questions when approaching change will make a difference in ensuring everyone involved feels supported in times of uncertainty.
How can we make sure people understand the change?
Communication is an important part of supporting change. People need up to date, honest information, and they need to understand the reasons for the change and what options were considered. They also need to have a way to ask questions and gain clarity on things that cause concern or confusion. Communication can come in many different forms, such as:
- In person one-on-one conversations
- In person group meetings
- PowerPoint slides or visual documents
- Social media posts
- Among many others
It is important to use multiple communication tools to make sure people understand change. It is also important that people can communicate back to explain things that are causing confusion.
When communicating within an organization, top-down communication works best. This means that managers and senior staff should have a good understanding of the change before frontline staff. That way, when frontline staff learn about the change, they will be able to go to their managers with questions. This also allows managers to address the specific impacts of the change to their staff, which may be different from department to department – for example, implementing a new financial management and payroll system is a significant change for Accounting and Human Resources staff, but may not have much impact on the Language and Culture workers.
How are people feeling about the change?
It is important to learn how people are feeling about upcoming changes to understand what supports might be valuable to them. Even when change is clearly beneficial, it can create uncertainty, which can lead to anxiety and concern among those affected. Most people will be willing to accept changes that are not their ideal, as long as their concerns are heard and they believe there is a sincere effort to address them. Acknowledgement from change managers that it can be frustrating to be affected by change without having full control over it is also key.
Oftentimes, there will be people who are resistant to change. It can be most impactful when leaders take the time to understand why there is resistance and work with the individual(s) to determine ways to address the concerns that are causing pushback. Getting the largest resistors to support and even advocate for the change can have significant impacts on buy-in from stakeholders as a whole.
In this scenario, imagine there is one IT staff member who is very against the change and openly speaking about why they feel it is a waste of time. Working directly with this person to understand their concerns (e.g., fear that they will not be able to use the system, concern about having too much work on their plate) and ensuring they are addressed will make them feel more comfortable with the change. Once other staff see the person who was pushing back has bought in, they will feel more comfortable with the change.
In the case of the Sulingituk Government, the Change Leader (someone who has been made directly accountable for making the change happen) has taken the time to talk to citizens, Sulingituk Government staff, and Sulingituk Elected Officials to understand how they are feeling. This happens through two-way communication, where information is shared with the impacted group and they have the opportunity to respond. Below is a summary of what the Change Leader learned.
How do we support people through the change?
There are a number of ways to support change and many tools to help. Generally, it is best to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible by focusing on clear, consistent communication.
A key part of change management is two-way communication. It should not just be informing citizens or telling the Sulingituk Government staff about the upcoming changes – it needs to be a two-way conversation that allows for concerns to be heard and addressed.
Based on what the Change Leader learned by talking to citizens, government staff and elected officials, most of the change management focus will be on staff given that they are already feeling overwhelmed by their work and will be most impacted by its implementation. They are the group who is most affected by this change.
A few priorities of the change process will include:
- Identifying one elected official from the government to act as the Executive Sponsor/Champion. They will advocate for the project at political meetings and show staff the importance of this change effort.
- Regular, clear communication keeping staff informed about the changes and what to expect. The Change Leader should tell staff that they can expect to hear an update on a regular basis (for example, an email every Friday afternoon) to make sure they are aware of upcoming changes.
- The Change Leader will have regular meetings (for example, every other Thursday morning) with management to share clear information and to answer any questions that management has.
- Management should be expected to talk to staff to understand any key concerns and to bring those forward to the Change Leader.
What tools should the Change Leader use to support the change?
Four key change management tools to support the Sulingituk government have been identified below. This particular change is a large-scale, significant change that requires all of the templates. This will not always be the case – depending on the situation, different templates can be used. The more complex the change, the more tools will be required to support the change.
- Change Impact Assessment
A Change Impact Assessment will be helpful to understand how the change is impacting everyone involved. It will also support the development of any training material that may be required.
This is done in the early stages of change. The purpose is to allow change leaders to talk directly with those impacted to understand how the change will impact them from their own perspective. This may include impacts that seem small but are large and potentially nerve-wracking for those facing the change.
A sample and template is available below.
- Communications Schedule
One of the most challenging parts of change is how unpredictable it can be. Having a predictable, consistent communication plan can be comforting for those who are impacted by change. This is another tool that should be used early in the process and can be informed by the Change Impact Assessment to help determine how often stakeholders should be engaged with and the most impactful mechanism to use.
A sample communications schedule and calendar and a template are provided below.
It is often effective to use both – the schedule can be held and managed internally, and the calendar can be shared externally to show when / how groups can expect to hear updates. Please note that this sample is not a complete Communications Schedule, but provides an example of what the first month of a schedule might look like.
SAMPLE Table View of Communications Schedule:
SAMPLE Calendar View of Communications Schedule:
- Question and Answer Document
Now that there is an understanding about how people are feeling, a Question and Answer (Q&A) Document can be made and updated as more information is needed. A strong Q&A Document requires the Change Leader to talk directly to the people being impacted to know what information would be valuable to include. The answers to questions should be concise and clear (less than a paragraph), and a contact person should be listed in case there are follow up questions.
The Q&A should be updated regularly and shared with staff as new questions are identified.
A template Q&A document is available below.
For the Sulingituk Government staff, some Question and Answers may include the following:
SAMPLE Question 1: Why do we need to do this change when we’re already so busy?
It is well understood that our staff are extremely busy supporting a number of important initiatives to better the lives of our citizens. We do not want to take away from the important work that you have on your plate, but we do want to make your lives easier. Having an updated document management system will be helpful for all of us (our staff and our citizens) in the long run, and we are confident that you will feel the benefits. We will work closely with you and your managers to make sure we are not overburdening you as we work to implement the data management system.
SAMPLE Question 2: When is this change going to happen?
Answer: We are going to introduce the new data management system over the summer, starting in June. We expect it will take four months and will be fully introduced by the end of September. We will be communicating with you regularly in advance of June to make sure you feel well prepared for the new data management system. You will be receiving your first update email on April 1st.
SAMPLE Question 3: How is this change going to impact me?
Answer: Over the summer (and even leading up to June), we recognize that this change may feel overwhelming. This is understandable and we will do everything we can to support you in making the introduction of the new data management system as easy as possible for you. We will provide the training, education, and resources you need to make it a success. We are confident that this change will have a positive impact on you, our government, and our citizens going forward.
SAMPLE Question 4: What other options were considered?
Answer: We worked with a number of staff who are most directly impacted by this change to understand what change would have the most impact. A number of scenarios and approaches were considered, and this approach was determined as most appropriate to improve our current situation.
- Training Plan and Training Session Plans
Uncertainty about change can come from individuals lacking confidence in their ability to support it. Training is a key way to address this concern. A detailed training plan that is clearly communicated to staff is an important tool in this particular situation, as it shows that staff will have the support that they need to use the new tools.
A training plan should include a list of all of the training that will be provided as part of the change process. The plan should include:
- Purpose of each training session
- Audience for each training session
- Timing for each training session
A training plan template is available below.
To ensure that training is a good use of staff time, it is critical that staff members and their managers have a clear understanding of what each training session will involve. Having a clear plan for each training session ensures that participants can make an informed choice about which training sessions they should attend.
A training session plan should include topics such as:
- Purpose of training
- Training audience
- Timing of training
- Learning objectives and goals
- Training material development plans
- Supports required for training
- How learners will be engaged (teaching methods, practical examples, questions, practice time)
A training session plan template is available below.
Every change is different. The Sulingituk Government Case Study provides a couple examples of how change management tools can be useful to provide consistency and clarity throughout a time of significant change for staff. The most important part of change is to be consistent, clear, and open in communication to make sure people feel heard and supported.
Templates for all of the samples provided can be found in the Building Capacity page of the Change Management section.