Do's and Don'ts of Change Management in Financial Systems Initiatives

Do's and Don'ts of Change Management in Financial Systems Initiatives

Tim Hird, Executive Director, Robert Half Management Resources

Tim Hird, Executive Director, Robert Half Management Resources

This is a dynamic time in the world of financial software, with technological advances creating breakthroughs in how business problems are solved. Cloud platforms and data analytics, for example, provide new tools to work faster, more efficiently and in real time alongside financial professionals both near and far away.

Making changes to an existing financial system, however, is a challenge that goes far beyond updating software. The information technology side of things is but one part of any upgrade; addressing changes affecting your personnel is another. If employees aren’t onboard, you risk failure.

How do you foster engagement and avoid a fiasco? In a Robert Half Management Resources survey, senior managers reported communicating clearly and frequently are the most important factor when leading their company through a major change.

" Don’t skimp on resources "

To minimize the chances of squandering time and resources, follow these tips and best practices:

Do communicate earlier than later. Give all affected employees plenty of lead time to prepare for the future. Don’t leave staff guessing about a coming change that is likely to upend their job. Secretive change-management projects make people nervous about what’s about to happen, whereas open communication can build excitement at the same time it tamps down rumors.

Don’t overwhelm staff with minutiae. While you want to be transparent and keep workers apprised, effective communication is about relaying the most pertinent points for those affected. There’s no need to cover every little detail. Instead, group meetings and emails should focus on what the element of the project you’re describing will mean for the audience. If a user has questions about technical aspects, you can address those topics one-on-one.

Do offer reassurances. We’re creatures of habit and don’t like changes that could mean more work and stress. In addition to announcing what will be different, discuss what will be the same, why you’re making the move and how it can benefit staff members.

Soothe potentially ruffled feathers by answering these key questions:

• Why is the new software needed?
• When was the need first recognized, i.e., how long ago did the very first planning steps get underway for this initiative?
• Will people have additional responsibilities?
• What training will the company or vendor provide?
• How will the change help employees perform better in their roles? How will it help the company?
• How will employees’ jobs be affected?
• Will there be new opportunities for staff? The company?

Don’t skimp on resources. Finance managers have an obligation to watch the bottom line. However, a major system upgrade is not the time to be miserly.

Bring in consultants or interim professionals with subject matter expertise on the new system. In addition to supporting the initiative, they can train full-time employees on the platform and share best practices learned at other client companies. If you are pulling members of your team off of their current roles to help with the initiative, interim professionals also can be brought in to staff those positions until the project is complete.

Do encourage feedback. User input is essential at every stage of the change process, from planning to post-implementation. Hold an open forum shortly after employees have had time to digest the changeover news, where they can voice their concerns and have questions answered.

It’s also a good idea to have an anonymous method of receiving feedback, such as an online survey or physical suggestions box. As appropriate, share the feedback received with the team as soon as you can, and talk about how you plan to address the issues raised.

Don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. There will always be some employees more resistant to change than others. They may be overwhelmed by the prospect of a revised workflow or worried about job security.

Sit down with them individually and go over what the new software will mean for their daily tasks. Help them map out their revised processes and, if necessary, offer additional training.

Do partner with experts. With technology driving so many changes in the financial sphere, it’s not surprising cross-departmental collaboration is on the rise. In a separate survey from Robert Half Management Resources and Robert Half Technology, 51 percent of CFOs said they work more frequently with their company’s CIO today than in past years; only 7 percent of respondents are partnering with their technology counterpart less often. The same type of enhanced collaboration should hold for your broader finance and technology teams.

In addition, organization scan work with outside financial consultants to resolve thorny issues. Here are examples of how these professionals have helped firms with systems initiatives:

• A healthcare company worked with a change-management consultant to train the firm’s research and development staff on a new enterprise resource planning system.
• A team of consultants developed best practices and strategic plans during a software implementation for a higher-education institution.
• A consultant helped a computer manufacturer provide end-user training following a system implementation.

Don’t let down your guard after implementation. No matter how much testing and QA you do, only when the new system goes live can you can see how it handles actual data. After rollout, your change-management team will need to do health checks at regular intervals to ensure everything is configured properly to meet real-world business needs.

The other potential hurdle is staff members’ transition, especially if you didn’t communicate well in the beginning. If they grumble about the new system once it launches, it’s because they haven’t received adequate training or the software makes it harder for them to do their job. The two complaints are often related. Address these issues right away with additional hands-on tutorials.

Modern financial professionals have incredible tools to help them in their roles, and such tools require proper implementation. These innovations can only do what they’re designed to do–help the team manage the financial health of the organization even better than was previously possible–if the transition and resulting changes are managed effectively by those at the top.

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