From our experience, the key to a successful transition to electronic records is not the technology but the people. Successful agencies do things inside of their organization to get everyone prepared and excited to start working electronically instead of on paper. If you don't prepare, you could have a mutiny on your hands. We follow a change management process that has proven to be really successful. The steps are outline below, but to learn more, download our e-report at the bottom of this post. The steps are as follows:
STEP 1: CREATE URGENCY
For this change to actually happen and be embraced, it helps if your whole agency really wants it. But, if they are used to doing things the old way and don’t see a reason to change, why would they? Leadership understands the overall net positive benefits to the agency, but is takes some work to get everyone else on board. You need to develop a sense of urgency around the need for change. Commonly, this can be done by identifying potential threats or scenarios that show what could happen in the future. In a less negative light, urgency can also be developed around opportunities that could be exploited. In either approach, you must be aware that this change affects everyone, all departments from entry level to executive. The scenarios you use to create urgency have to tie back directly to their jobs. This is a critical aspect of a company’s ability to win buy-in. We will caution that if you skip this step, your employees may not understand why this change is happening and whenever an organization imposes new things on people without sufficient explanation, there will be difficulties.
STEP 2: FORM A POWERFUL COALITION
As echoed from the first step, when change is really necessary, then you need to convince people that change is necessary. This takes strong leadership and visible support from key people within your organization. You have to LEAD change, not just manage it. Responsibility for leading change is with the management and executives of the agency. This means doing it in a way that employees can cope with; again not forcing the change. The management team has the responsibility to facilitate and enable change, not the employees. Staff takes their cues from the executive level, including forming their opinion on a new technology. If the executive team is excited and involved in the process, staff underneath will be as well.
The next component is building your team or coalition of change champions and influencers. Effective change leaders don’t have to follow the traditional agency hierarchy, they can be anywhere in your agency. To lead change you need to bring a team of influential people together early and give them responsibility in the project that will empower them and also give the technology and change credibility to others.
STEP 3: CREATE A VISION FOR CHANGE
When you first think of change there will probably be many great ideas and solutions floating around. Link these concepts to an overall vision that people can grasp easily and remember. This does three things:
1. Determines the values that are central to the change
2. Develops a short summary that captures what you see as the future (going back to urgency)
3. Helps create a strategy to execute that vision
STEP 4: COMMUNICATE THE VISION
Once you have a concrete vision set, you need to communicate it frequently and powerfully and embed it with everything you do. Change doesn’t occur overnight; there are major and minor milestones. Use the vision daily to make decisions and solve problems. Your communication of the vision should reinforce the reasons for the change, the benefits of a successful implementation as well as new details of the change as it is happening. How do you constantly communicate your vision? Walk around the office with a bullhorn screaming it down the halls? That could get old real quick. Creating forums for discussion are a good place to start. You can do this virtually or hold regularly scheduled ‘Update Meetings’ with your staff.
STEP 5: REMOVE OBSTACLES
So you’ve created a sense of urgency, garnered the support of your cross-functional team, set a vision and communicate it frequently. Now the transition to paperless with software is happening and it should be smooth sailing the rest of the way, right? Very doubtful. As the change actually begins to happen you will find some people resisting it. Expect to hear feedback like “it was easier before” or “this is cumbersome,” but realize that this feedback is often a mechanism to resist change. You will probably find that there are processes or structures in place that are getting in the way of the necessary change. It’s your job to put in place the structure for change and continually check for barriers to it. Removing obstacles can empower the people you need to execute your vision and it can help the change move forward.
STEP 6: CREATE SHORT TERM WINS
Nothing motivates more than success. Give your company a taste of victory early in the change process. Within a short time frame you’ll want to have results that your staff can see. Without this, critics might hurt your progress. So it’s important to create attainable, short term targets and not just one long term goal. To be paperless is a goal that could take years. Once you select your software vendor and you begin to implement, you should be planning short term goals and wins along the way to the final implementation. These checkpoints will let everyone see that you are, in fact, changing and doing it in a very planned and communicated way.
STEP 7: BUILD ON CHANGE
Most often, technology projects fail because victory was declared too early. It’s recommended that you develop an education, training or skills upgrading program to get all of your employees on board and comfortable using the new technology. A lot of times your software vendor will have training programs or schemes in place based on best practices and its usually a good idea to incorporate those into your overall education and training plan.
Once everyone is trained and you’ve built in the technology training as part of your onboarding process for new hires, it’s important to keep looking for improvements. You have changed your culture into one that is sensitive to being empowered and proactive and you should look to continue that approach. Each success provides an opportunity to build on what went right and identify what you can improve.
STEP 8: ANCHOR THE CHANGES IN YOUR CORPORATE CULTURE
To make change stick, it should become part of the core of your organization. Your culture often determines what gets done, so the values behind your vision must show in day to day work. This is something that takes continuous effort, so talk about progress every chance you get, tell the success stories and include the change ideals and value when hiring and training. If you don’t have a system for staff feedback to the executive team, try putting one in place. Allowing staff to anonymously take surveys to provide feedback shows them that top leadership is committed to this change for the long run and not just in the short period of time when the change was taking place. In the end, you will come to realize that the actual change from paper to software was only a small piece of the change that takes place.