Six Ways to Sunday

Here’s a story of an organization that jumped into a digital transformation without a people plan, and paid for it.

Once upon a time, there was a nonprofit. They used some online software for their action alerts. None of the staff really liked it, but they knew how to use it. They wished it were easier to set up, and there were some features they wished it had, but on the whole, they were comfortable. They were efficient enough that some news could break in the morning and they could have an action alert ready to go by lunchtime.

Then the boss decided that they’d switch to a new tool. This new tool came with great recommendations, an easier user interface, and with most of the new features they had been wanting. One day the boss walked into the staff meeting and told them he’d bought a new tool and when the training would be.

After the training, it took the staff days instead of hours to create a new action alert. When they finally created one, it had typos, mangled HTML, or didn’t go to the correct targets. The boss was not pleased.

Here’s a transcript from one of their team meetings:

Boss: Why is it taking so long to get an action alert created?

Staff 1: It’s harder than the old tool.

Staff 2: It’s really different from what I’m used to.

Staff 3: I’m busy doing the other parts of my actual job.

Staff 1: It’s really complicated.

Boss: Guys, I have tried six ways to Sunday to get you to do this correctly. Figure this out.

Implied was “or else.”

The staff spent some time complaining to each other about what a jerk the boss was.

Then they got to work figuring it out.

See, the staff had been resistant to this change. They hadn’t loved the old tool. But they knew how to use it. They rarely made mistakes. And the boss hadn’t involved them in any of the selection or decision-making process. Instead, one day he just told them that there was a new tool, and to learn it. So they had gone to the training, but weren’t enthusiastic about it.

The staff realized that of the team of four, only one of them really liked using online software. Everyone else used it because it was a required part of the job. They decided to propose that one of them take over all of the online work, freeing up the other three to focus on the parts of their job they did really well. The boss, desperate for a solution, agreed.

The staff member who liked online software went back to the trainings and documentation with a new sense of ownership. This time it was easy and fun - because that person was enthusiastically invested in a positive outcome. Within a week, they were the go-to online advocacy person at their organization.

The rest of the team was happy too, because they never had liked fiddling around with the internet, and now they didn’t have to.

The Moral of the Story

What’s the moral? It’s that a people-focused approach to change management is paramount. In this story, the boss made a decision, signed a contract, and told the staff to learn the new tool. The staff didn’t get to go along on the journey with the boss to get excited about the new features and visualize how they would integrate it into their process for even better results.

The irony is, they eventually grew to love the new software and became some of the biggest boosters of it in the nonprofit community. The early mistakes didn’t persist, but they were also avoidable. The staff didn’t need to spend weeks making errors and being frustrated. The boss didn’t need to get mad. With some advance planning, the team could have moved through the process together with greater harmony and better outcomes.

Planning for “people first” takes more time, more patience, and more communication than just saying “This is how it’s going to be.” But the results are so much better. Raise HECK can help you plan for the change your organization is undertaking in a way that helps all of your stakeholders to share in the vision and excitement - so you retain your staff and can get back to raising heck for your cause.