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How to design systems to drive behaviour change and change management: Part 2

Lindi Cawdry
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I was recently working at a client when a large multinational IT consultancy was working with the IT department on developing a new management information system. However, the IT department and the external consultants were continuously lambasted for mismanaging a project that was very much behind schedule. I completed an assessment to measure the organisational pressure points (points of high stress across leadership, systems, structure, skills, process and problem-solving capabilities). This assessment provided concrete evidence that employees and end users were deliberately withholding accurate information required for process-mapping and software requirements identification. There were also other fundamental miscommunications.

It turned out that end users were concerned that they would not have the skills to operate what they perceived as a 'sophisticated' system. Furthermore, key managers didn't want their department to change in any way as they perceived would happen with the new system, so they didn't provide the necessary management support.

If a proper risk assessment using recognised tools had been completed before the project began then these risks would've been identified. This example also provides a critical lesson for IT consultants and teams on the need to spend significant time upfront with end users and key managers building trust relationships, and carefully communicating how the benefits to users and managers will help drive their success at a personal level, not just organisationally.

Great IT solutions often fail because they don't understand the organisational culture

The individuals spearheading these solutions also don't understand the historical experiences with previous IT projects or organisational change initiatives – especially failed initiatives. Shadow systems and cross-purpose business processes occur when end users or key managers are not fully engaged or committed to an IT project or initiative.

In one organisation, I was told by untrusting end users that they were expecting that the 'fancy new system' wouldn't work properly or would have so many glitches early on that they wouldn't be able to complete their work. In response to this, individuals made a conscious effort to keep a 'shadow system' going (an abridged version of the old system). Of course, this actually increased workload and key decision maker's perceptions were that the IT department/consultants had failed to deliver promised performance benefits.

IT projects and consultants don't accurately plot out business operating scenarios

This includes broader policies and procedures to highlight 'cross purpose' policies, which will directly undermine the efficiencies of IT system. I had an experience where a large organisation decided to implement a new end-to-end ERP system for managing vendors. However, many departments developed their own procedures and operating policies independently of the new system:

  • The finance department, for instance, implemented new procedures forcing managers to keep track of their spending against budget. This procedure required that all department managers to complete a motivation request for every service they required (even though admin had no idea what many of those services meant and did nothing but file the information).
  • Following this, they were then required to provide line-by-line detailed breakdowns of every component of the service being delivered.
  • Once a service had been delivered, they were required to write a report on whether the service provided was adequate. This had to be done before payment was effected. Once again this information was filed away).
  • On a monthly basis, each line item had to be cross matched to the proposed delivery schedule and if there was a delay in delivery, the budget that was allocated for it was removed (regardless of who caused the delay) on a 'use it or lose it basis'. This resulted in a complete log jam in procuring services and the payment of service providers, and managers simply found creative ways to manipulate the procedure AND the ERP diminishing its effectiveness.

How do we fix these problems?

There are many technical measurement tools and an implementation process that will help provide a structured and more scientific approach to creating behaviour change driven by IT initiatives. Broadly, these should involve:

1. UNDERSTAND the basic patterns of employee and end user behaviour as well as decision-making in the organisation.

2. CLEARLY ASSESS the right behaviours to change, given your goals and your user's goals.

3. SELECTION AND CONSTRUCTION OF PROJECT TEAMS is a critical process and should not be randomly done. You need to answer the following question: do members of the design and implementation team have the ability to connect and build trust-based relationships with end users and also be seen as credible?

4. CLEARLY DECONSTRUCT THE ENVIRONMENT to understand the organisation's culture. Support for new IT projects will be influenced by the organisation's corporate and leadership culture as well as the context organisations find themselves in, i.e. merger, restructure, rapid growth, etc.

5. CONCEPTUAL DESIGN AND INTERFACE DESIGN must utilise all the information coming out of points 1 - 4 to design and implement the system, which incorporates solutions to mitigate risks and drive desired behaviour.

6. CROSS-FUNCTIONAL SUPPORT is going to be essential for success. Departments such as communications, HR and organisational development need to support the IT initiative.

7. REVIEW AND ADJUST the product or system's impact based on careful measurement and analysis.

4. CLEARLY DE-CONSTRUCT THE ENVIRONMENT to understand the organisation's culture. Support for new IT projects will be influenced by the organisations corporate and leadership culture as well as the context organisations find themselves in i.e. merger, restructure, rapid growth.

5. CONCEPTUAL DESIGN AND INTERFACE DESIGN must utilise all the information coming out of points 1-4 to design and implement the system, which incorporates solutions to mitigate risks and drive desired behaviour.

6. CROSS-FUNCTIONAL SUPPORT is going to be essential for success; departments such as communications, Human Resources and Organisational Development need to support the IT initiative.

7. REVIEW AND ADJUST the product or system's impact based on careful measurement and analysis.


Lindi Cawdry has a broad range of experience  working in large organisations and consultancies. Lindi is the strategic solutions executive for Cetana Africa, which has a strategic partnership with NeraSA.

Lindi has skills in research, leadership development, strategic consulting, business transformation, organisational development and development programs.



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