Change Management: 5 Best Practice Techniques to Drive Adoption

Technology has brought a wave of innovation to the retail world over the past 25 years. It has also given retailers greater visibility into and control over their products than they ever thought possible.

This technology wave, however, has come with its share of challenges – one of the most common being employee adoption. Managing change is hard for a variety of reasons that include but certainly are not limited to fear of new technology, bad experiences with prior implementations, difficult personalities and of course the mindset of "Why do we need to do this if it works fine the way I've always done it?"

Employee adoption is now considered one of the key measures of success to any technology implementation alongside return on investment and total cost of ownership.

How do retailers today manage change and secure employee adoption to the point where everyone is not only embracing change but working harmoniously together to benefit the needs of the business?

The 5 Best Practice Methods implemented at leading retailers of all sizes include:
  • Show the Why
  • Create a Leader
  • Keep it Simple
  • Anoint the Cool
  • Selection is Everything
It's important to remember whichever method you choose to adopt, communication, visibility and collaboration remain critical success factors.

Show the Why
One of South Africa's leading apparel, footwear and accessories fast fashion retailers was able to garner quick adoption through a very simple policy: Show the "why" before you show the "what and how". All too often the focus is on the building of the ship and not the journey and the reason for it. This retailer asked, "Am I a ship builder or an agent of change?"

Frequently retailers fail to properly communicate to employees the strategic objectives for moving forward with a new initiative. Getting everyone on the same page to understand the greater goals of why this new system is in place, why it's important to the business to move forward and why it must be done now versus a "here it is" and "here is how it works" mentality is a great way to make employees feel that they are contributing to the success of the company.

This South African retailer was implementing a new merchandise lifecycle management system to help manage its on-time in-full deliveries, purchase order visibility, and antagonistic love-hate relationship with suppliers. The retailer understood that the project would never be a success without a great deal of communication and support among users.

The company decided to start adoption with the most challenging group first – the buyers/designers, who while highly creative, tended to be less process-driven. Throughout the implementation process the retailer maintained a constant flow of dialogue and kept reiterating the benefits the new system would provide, including the ability to retain their versatility and flexibility but simply within a more structured framework. The retailer worked closely with the buyers/designers for feedback and stressed the importance of the project to the future of the business.

To help communicate the message they employed the next Best Practice step: Create a Leader.

Create a Leader
Communication is important but no project is going to move forward unless a proper leader has been appointed. This individual doesn't necessarily have to be a senior member of the team but must be understood to have the buy-in from the chief project sponsor and the executive management team. This leader will act as project cheerleader, teacher, trainer, quality assurance manager, support and yes, even sometimes as a therapist. After all change doesn't always come easily.

The leader will be the point of guidance for any questions about the project and will work with the software provider on all aspects of the implementation to support the team and any user issues that arise along the way. So how does one person juggle all these tasks, while keeping users happy and most importantly, making sure they comply and adopt this new technology? The answer isL Keep Things Simple.

Keep Things Simple
Whatever method a retailer chooses to speed along the adoption process the goal should be to keep things as simple as possible. Start at the beginning and assume that nothing is too elementary.

A Canadian apparel, footwear and accessories retailer began by creating video tutorials on how to use its new merchandise lifecycle management system. These tutorials ranged from starting at the moment the computer is turned on with a step-by-step process workflow including, click on this icon to log-in, type your name, to interactive videos where a user could go through a certain step in the system and be alerted if they are correct and moving in the right direction. These videos, in various time lengths, combined with live in-person training and webinars were found to be extremely useful by internal users as well as suppliers, and served as good reference points in addition to documentation.

Another best practice technique involved setting up contests to see who could do something correctly first. With a few simple incentives and some friendly competition, the retailer found it could get quick feedback and encourage employee adoption.

Finally, all materials were loaded onto the retailer's internal Web site so there was always a central place to go if questions arose or users needed further guidance. Having a central repository for all training information is critical to enhancing the visibility and adoption of the project.

Anoint the Cool
Sometimes employee adoption is also about a frame of mind. One discount retailer realized great results by "anointing the cool." They limited the first group to go live as a small select group of individuals and then told others they weren't "ready" to move forward with the application just yet. Users and departments at this retailer were clamoring to be next in line to use the new system.

Selection is Everything
It is important to remember that employee adoption has a very visceral element because your employees are only going to be excited about the new system if it's worth getting excited about. They want to see results that also make their day-to-day workload easier. This isn't accomplished with every solution out there so selection is critical.

The discount retailer referenced above chose between 30 solution vendors before it made a selection. Its analysis once it was over: "It took us longer to select a solution than to actually get our merchandise lifecycle management system live."

Look for a system that accommodates differences in businesses to accomplish a common goal. The system should be intuitive and require minimal training – an important point especially when dealing with suppliers around the world. The goal is to deliver results and milestones quickly. These milestones, however minor, will serve as proof points for adoption internally and externally with suppliers.

Your employees are smart. They trust you to make their work experience as pleasant as possible. If you can prove the benefits to having this new system in place – they'll happily follow you anywhere you lead them and adoption will be just one less thing you have to worry about.

As COO, Chris Morrison oversees the day-to-day operations of TradeStone and activities from the Sales, Marketing, Product and Service departments as the company expands its footprint in the retail and brand manufacturing PLM space.
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