The Executive’s Role in Technology-Supported Change

 In Change Management

Technology projects led by executives mindful of change management are far more likely to live up to their promise.

In my career working with nonprofits, I’ve seen my fair share of ill-advised investments in technology. By “ill-advised” I mean purchasing or subscribing to software in the hope that a new tool will streamline operations or provide better information.

Occasionally, change can be that easy.

But, most often, I find that when there’s a lack of appreciation for what real change entails, a technology investment results in wasted resources.

See also: The top 5 ways nonprofit leadership should support technology change efforts

An Unfortunate Failure to Lead

At one organization with which Build engaged, the chief executive wanted an improved ability to understand the outcomes of the organization’s work. He also wanted to have a comprehensive view of the many ways in which the organization was engaging with each of its clients.

Accomplishing this goal would require teams to share information in a way they never had before. The chief executive believed that purchasing new technology, including a CRM (constituent relationship management) system, would be sufficient to accomplish this change. He approved the budget, but did not create or share a vision for how teams would need to work differently.

He didn’t plan for or prepare for the impacts of change.

The rest of the C-level leaders also ignored the cultural change aspect of this work, viewing this technology project as a task for their subordinates. But in failing to prioritize the effort sufficiently for their staff, implementing the CRM became just one more thing (among many) for them to do.

Needless to say, the effort never was successful in accomplishing its intended goals. Without executive leadership and support, the necessary changes in how the organization needed to share information never happened.

The technology changed, but behaviors and the organization stayed the same. It was a classic example of OO+NT=EOO (Old Organization+New Technology=Expensive Old Organization.

By Contrast: A Success Story

At another organization with similar goals, the chief executive in charge of operations took the lead on communications to various involved project teams. He made sure temporary supplemental staffing was in place so permanent staff could focus more of their time on the change process.

He also went through all of the training on the new CRM to both fully engage in design decisions and to set an example for the entire team by his use of the new system.

This fully engaged executive did what effective leaders do: they make choices (sometimes tough ones) about what staff are going to focus on, ensure the necessary resources are in place to support the effort, and keep it prioritized in part through regular discussion with staff.

The project was a success because the technology served to support the business changes made by the organization.

Indeed, Leaders Face Challenges

Having served in a chief executive role for some 15 years, I sympathize with the challenges that leaders face. There are countless decisions and relationships that demand attention daily. We don’t always get it right. Sometimes we do too much at the expense of doing fewer things really well.

However, one of the most important roles of a leader is defining for the team or organization which efforts are important and which are not.

If a particular change is of strategic importance, and the organization is going to invest in technology in the hopes that it can support that change, the leader must first and foremost make the change effort a priority.

The change effort can’t just be one more task or project for the team in addition to everything else. If it’s a major change, it has to be one of the top three, if not the top priority, for the team or organization. If that level of prioritization is not possible, the risk of project failure is probably great enough to forego the change effort.

Build has a handy template to help outline and document the impacts of change.  Our Change Management Impact Grid can help.

Need More Expertise?

Are you looking for an assessment and roadmap to ensure your organization is considering your business needs to software investments with long-term strategic value? Or perhaps you’re ready to have a conversation about a software selection process? Learn more about our Nonprofit Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) solutions here. Whatever your nonprofit technology consulting needs, Build is here to help.

Let’s talk.

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