Why do innovative technology solutions often failto realize their expected return on investment (ROI)? Sometimes, failure to realize the expected ROI is due to simply selecting the wrong solution for a given problem. We’ve all heard stories of how an organization bought a cannon when it needed a pea shooter.

Often, technology and process innovations that fail to achieve desired results do so because of poor implementation. In his March 2010 article in The National Provisioner, Steve Valesko touts the many benefits of a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), but cautions that a significant challenge to implementing a CMMS is “… the complete buy-in of the maintenance department and manufacturing group…” He accurately points out that during the first two to three months there is considerable paperwork and a steep learning curve.

In short, once the “halo effect” of having the new technology fades, employees in these two functions must deal with the arduous task of learning how to operate the system and have it deliver expected results. During this “uphill” learning period, productivity typically declines, which often leads to customer frustration if not managed appropriately. Negative perceptions about the new technology” and the people responsible for making it work” can easily flush through the organization. This will not only dilute the benefits of the new technology, but may significantly impair how employees feel about each other and about their company.

Why is solution implementation so difficult?

We need to consider the technology application in terms of its impact on the organization and employees as a whole, and more specifically, on how those individuals directly responsible for installing, operating, maintaining and utilizing it will be impacted.

There is much truth to the saying “We are creatures of habit.” Once we learn something and it becomes familiar and part of our daily routine, we are able to perform those tasks and activities without giving them much thought.

A few new activities or some relatively minor changes can create some stress and tension. Most of us are able to move out of our “comfort zone” and manage these variations without much trouble. However, implementing a new technology or process without proper preparation will likely result in disrupted expectations and a sense of loss of balance. This level of change is extremely debilitating because it disrupts our feelings of competence, comfort, confidence and control.

What can be done to create the best chance for a successful technology implementation?

First and foremost, there must be a planned approach to the management of the change. This plan starts with defining the compelling reasons to change, examining the organization’s history in dealing with change and assessing the employees’ readiness for change. It also involves establishing the structures and mechanisms that will ensure that necessary conditions for successful change are in place, and impediments can be identified early and appropriately addressed.

“Change management” is about increasing the likelihood of success by (1) minimizing the disruptive effects of the change, and (2) increasing the resilience of those involved so they can better deal with the challenges and “hazards” along the way.

Within an organization, implementing innovative technology or process changes may not be on many peoples’ “radar.” To build commitment to the change, there must be a clear and compelling need to change that is well-articulated to employees. This is not a “one and done” event. It requires an iterative communications and training approach. This process (see Figure 1) starts with an initial contact and the creation of the awareness of the change. Tailored messages, targeted training and constituency issue-management are used to nurture realistic and positive perceptions of the change.

Next, the technology solution is rolled out through phased deployment to build a base for organization-wide installation. Then, the expected benefits of the new system are considered when developing the organization’s goals, objectives and planning process. This is followed by creating formalized policies and procedures to further legitimize the technology’s integral place in the organization. Finally, the technology is embedded into the culture of the organization.

When a significant change event is to occur within an organization, it is vitally important to understand the organization’s history in dealing with previous change. It is also important to assess its “readiness” for effectively managing the current/proposed change.

A lot of this has to do with how much psychic energy is being expended and how much capacity is left within those folks most directly impacted. The irony is that the impact of change on employees and ultimately the organization has far less to do with the scale or pervasiveness of the change and much more to do with the disruptive nature of the change.

If, for example, the change effects the entire organization but requires employees to make only minor modifications to comply, people will adapt almost automatically, and the change will be “absorbed” without much concern. Implementing a new card swiping process that everyone must use for entry into a secure facility would be an example.

However, if the change represents a radical departure from the familiar way of doing things, and requires significant adaptive effort — even if it only involves one or two departments" it is considered major change for those who must adapt. Implementing CMMS would be a major change for the maintenance and manufacturing groups. And, if these employees are overloaded with work demands or with juggling numerous other special projects, it is likely they do not have much absorption capacity left.

When we exceed our ability to absorb disequilibrium, we are at high risk of being pushed into the “panic zone,” which can result in a host of dysfunctional behavior including low morale, defensiveness and blaming, chronic absenteeism, and even sabotage.

How can you cultivate sponsorship effectiveness?

In his article, Valesko correctly recommends having a CMMS champion to motivate the team through the changes involved in the implementation. Much has been written about how essential acquiring and sustaining sponsorship is for a successful change initiative. And yet, many projects fail to achieve desired results because sponsor support falls short, and the project loses momentum and languishes. This is not only the case for executive sponsors but for key managers within the organization who must serve as supporting sponsors to the initiative. This phenomenon is also true for sponsorship or “steering” groups.

Sponsors, at whatever level in the organization, are usually chosen on the basis of their perceived (1) legitimate power or authority, (2) ability to mobilize resources, (3) astuteness to identify and remove obstacles, and (4) the expectation that they demonstrate leadership.

But sponsors, by default, are busy people with many demands on their plate. If you are truly lucky, you will find one or more great sponsors who are genuinely invested in the change and through their actions, fulfill each of the four key roles.

More likely, however, even sponsors with good intentions are sometimes inconsistent in terms of their support or execution. And, of course, there are those sponsors who, from the beginning, fail to get engaged at all.

What can you do? Fortunately, sponsorship, as with leadership, can be cultivated! This is where the Change Agents, those responsible for the day-to-day change management activities, can play a critical role.

Change Agents (Weidner, 1999) should consider the following ideas related to acquiring sponsorship of the change: (a) presenting and selling problems and solutions; (b) identifying the key elements sponsors are concerned with; (c) knowing what to ask for and when; (d) crafting a charter for the change; and (e) creating a sponsorship succession plan (SSP). This last item refers to clarifying the rationale and expected outcomes of the change that all members of the SSP sign. This document spells out who will succeed the lead sponsor after she/he moves on.

Weidner also stresses that “Change agents need to effectively get” and stay" inside the sponsor’s ‘head’ ” (Weidner, pg.90). The Change Agent must, therefore, have frequent communication with the sponsor to sustain the change project.