Planning for People Within Your Technology Road Map
What path are you taking?

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A road map lays out the path to get from where you are today to where you want to be in the future. In technology settings, the term is often used to conceptualize the work that needs to be completed for a technology solution to be ready for use.

However, merely being ready for use isn’t enough to make a technology successful. For a technology to be successful, people need to use it to improve their lives. Instead of a generic road map, as in Figure 1 on the next page, consider a more detailed plan like a step-by-step timeline for Thanksgiving dinner (Figure 2).

At the end of the Thanksgiving dinner road map, the meal has been served successfully at the table. However, even the detailed Thanksgiving dinner road map lacks a critical component: people. After all, what good is successfully serving the meal with no people to consume and enjoy it? In the same way that the goal of Thanksgiving dinner is more than getting a meal on the table, the goal of technology is more than putting a new tool in people’s hands by a certain date and time. The goal of technology is to improve the lives of the stakeholders.

Build a People Road Map

The following four basic steps will help you build a road map that is actionable and effective.

Step 1: Identify Your Stakeholders

The goal of identifying stakeholders is a list of the names and groups you need to plan for.

In a tax department, the people and groups to consider map onto three broad categories of a business’ stakeholders:

  • Customers and clients. The people served by the work and therefore directly or indirectly affected by any technological changes (including internal customers and clients).
  • Business and organization. At an overall level, the organization you work for. But it is still important to make a list of stakeholders within the organization, since they are affected by any technological changes. Additionally, an organization’s stakeholders typically must approve changes, so understanding who will sign off on them will help when tailoring any messages about the changes.
  • Employees. The people who do the work that is served to the client. Leaders of tax departments likely fall into this category to some degree. The employee stakeholders are often the group that benefits most directly from a new technology.

Work your way through your stakeholder groups and compile a list of relevant individuals. Although it’s not always possible to assign a name to each stakeholder, it helps greatly in the next step to do so.

If you do find yourself with a group of people representing a stakeholder group, try to break the group down to the one person who embodies the core characteristics of the group. For example, if your stakeholder group is a board of directors, consider creating a persona that embodies everything the board of directors cares about.

At the end of Step 1, to return to our metaphor, you should have a list of named guests you are inviting to your Thanksgiving dinner.

Step 2: Determine What’s in It for Your Stakeholders

After the guest list is compiled, it’s time to convince everyone to attend. Part of planning for people is answering stakeholders’ questions, particularly “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM). People will be focused on their specific roles and processes, not on the bigger picture. If you aren’t addressing WIIFM, stakeholders will not hear your message.

Figure 1. Generic technology road map.
Figure 2. Thanksgiving dinner road map.

Identifying each stakeholder’s individual WIIFM is the reason you want a list of named individuals. You’ll have a different answer for each stakeholder’s WIIFM, and the more you know about each individual, the easier it will be to reach them.

Step 3: Send a Message That Resonates and Is Appreciative

The average person is bombarded with information daily. It’s challenging to break through the noise about coming changes with a message that resonates. Additionally, people generally can recall only one number and one phrase off the top of their head from a given message. It is therefore important to compose a message that can be summarized as one number and one phrase when stakeholders recount that message to others—and to themselves. So think about what you want stakeholders to remember about the upcoming changes before sending any message.

After determining the core message to relay, setting the right tone is the next important endeavor. In general, there are two ways to approach looking at a change.

  1. An appreciative approach focuses on what people like, what works, and what people want more of.
  2. A fault-finding approach focuses on eliminating what is broken, what people don’t like, and what people want less of.

Both approaches have their merits and can resonate with different stakeholder groups. Most stakeholders, however, respond better to the appreciative approach, because people tend to like things that make their lives better. After determining what you want each stakeholder to remember, think about how to relay that message using an appreciative phrase about the benefit that stakeholder will gain from the proposed changes.

Step 4: Rinse and Repeat

After determining the appreciative phrase for your first stakeholder, repeat the process for every stakeholder on your list. Remember, all your stakeholders will have different motivations, so each will need a tailored, memorable message.

In a tax department setting, the appreciative phrase will differ for each category of stakeholder. For example:

Internal Customers and Clients

  • Person signing your company’s tax return, typically the CFO.
    • WIIFM: loves getting things done.
    • Appreciative phrase: This technology change will let you sign the tax return two weeks earlier.

Business and Organization

  • Person approving the budget.
    • WIIFM: loves higher revenue and lower costs.
    • Appreciative phrase: This technology change will allow the company to grow another twenty-five percent before it needs to bring on additional costs.

Employees

  • Person doing the work.
    • WIIFM: loves to research potential tax-planning opportunities.
    • Appreciative phrase: This technology change will free up ten hours a month for research.

It’s important to note that as you tailor different messages to different stakeholders, the message should always be true. Different people have different motivations and care about different things, but the benefits you describe always need to be real.

This process will take time and effort, but the alternative is worse in terms of people resources and productivity.

Effect Change Management

The next step in the process is to deliver. To deliver you will need to change how people currently operate, which means thinking about change management.

What Is Change Management?

Change management generally is the process of helping people move from the way they are right now (their current state) into a period of changing (their transition state). Eventually the new way of operating stops being viewed as a change, and the transition state becomes the new current state. This process then repeats itself until there no longer are any additional processes to change.

Change is a process with multiple interim steps; it is not an event. Figure 3 looks at change management through the lens of a single stakeholder. The time and energy stakeholders invest in change will take time and energy away from something else. The “something else” tends to be productivity.

Figure 3. Change process.

As a stakeholder works through the change process, his or her productivity will dip over time, as Figure 4 shows. This dip is normal and should be expected as people learn a new way to operate.

Change Management for All Stakeholders

Each stakeholder will have his or her individual change process and change curve.

Figure 5 illustrates what the change curves might look like for each stakeholder category. When putting together a people plan, it is important to plan for the dip in productivity. When a productivity dip begins, negativity can take root. Leaders should work to help people get through these productivity dips as quickly as possible.

This dip in productivity is an important reason for leaders to want people to remember the one appreciative phrase that expresses what they get out of the change. When the going gets tough, thinking about the benefits waiting at the end can help people push through tough times.

Figure 4. Productivity during change.
Figure 5. Change curves by stakeholder category.

Use Transition State to Plan

The transition state can be broken down into five main stages:

  1. Appreciation for change. The stakeholder has internalized the benefits of changing. The appreciative phrase helps the stakeholder get to this stage.
  2. Inclination to change. The stakeholder actually wants to proceed with the change. This stage often immediately follows the first stage, but some stakeholders might need extra help getting from appreciating that a change will be helpful to committing to making the change.
  3. Understanding how to change. The stakeholder is gaining detailed knowledge about how to operate with the change in place. This stage often is the most difficult of the entire process. Unintended consequences of change are often discovered at this stage, which tends to correspond with the lowest point on the productivity curve.
  4. Capacity for change. The stakeholder has detailed knowledge of how to operate with the change in place. The stakeholder is now steadily getting better, and the new current state is beginning to form.
  5. Support for change. The stakeholder has completed the change process and now is in a better spot than before the change.

Figure 6 shows how these stages map onto the productivity curve.

Put Your People Road Map on Paper

Much like the way the productivity curve in Figure 6 occurs on a time axis, a technology road map also has a time axis. Bringing together the stakeholder and technology road maps is a two-step process.

Step 1: Put Your Stakeholder Change Phases on a Timeline

Begin by layering stakeholders into a road map format, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 6. Transition stages and productivity.
Figure 7. Stakeholder road map.

Step 2: Layer Your Stakeholder Road Map Onto Your Technology Road Map

Once you’ve laid out a road map for your stakeholders to use to work through their individual change processes, layer your stakeholder road map onto your technology road map. Bring these two road maps together by understanding how the technology process fits in with the change process in two ways:

  • Start testing your technology when your stakeholders have all completed the “inclination to change” phase.
  • Take your technology live when your stakeholders have all completed the “understanding how to change” phase.

When the technology road map and the people road map are layered together, you can identify the approximate times to begin testing and launching your technology solution.

As illustrated in Figure 8, testing begins when the technology is far enough along to allow for testing and when all stakeholders are inclined to change. Starting any sooner will lead to disengaged stakeholder testing, technology that isn’t ready, or both. The technology solution launches when the technology is ready to be used in production and when stakeholders understand how to change.

In the combined technology and people road map, the productivity curve still comes into play, as shown in Figure 9. Stakeholders likely still will be working through their respective capacity-for-change stages for some time after the technology solution launches, which means a productivity dip might occur immediately after launch.

Figure 8. Layered road map.
Figure 9. Layered road map and productivity.

Succeed by Planning for People

When change happens, the productivity dip outlined in Figure 9 happens whether change is managed or not. Managed change is always better than unmanaged change. It’s a lot of work to put together a people plan, but it’s even more work not to.

Figure 10 shows the difference between unmanaged and managed change. As illustrated, putting effort into planning for people shifts the trough of the curve up and to the left relative to not planning for people. A dip in productivity due to a change in technology is difficult to eliminate fully, but any effort put into planning for people will yield better results than not doing anything.

Figure 10. Productivity during unmanaged change and managed change.

The best day to start planning for people within your technology road map was yesterday. The second-best day is today.


Nate Jones is managing director, tax technology, at Crowe LLP.

 

 

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