[Editor’s note: The following is from the December 2012 issue of NTEN:Change, NTEN’s quarterly journal for nonprofit leaders. Read the complete issue on “Collaboration” when you subscribe to the journal for free!]
By Michelle Hines, UCP/CLASS
Since the economic downturn, an increasing number of organizations have explored and implemented mergers or collaborative agreements. Many factors should be considered when organizations begin to work on mergers, including technology. Beyond financial and equipment matters, one of the most important concerns that can dictate the technological success or failure of a merger is change management. To ensure a smooth transition during a merger, you can prepare your staff for merging technology in five steps:
- Develop a communication plan. Do not start with the technology. Start with communication. Employees may have increased anxieties about their job security, so lessen their worries about what you are going to do with the computers. Create a communication plan that outlines the exact aspects of technology that will be impacted by the merger. This official document should address high-level technology strategy surrounding the merger and then focus on departments and individuals most impacted by it. Use multiple modes of communication, including paper, email, and even texting if that suits the organizations. It is better to over-communicate than not provide enough information.
- Address change and set expectations. Provide an opportunity for face-to-face meetings with staff to discuss merging of technology. Discuss the pros and cons of change, in general, without going into the specifics. Listen to feedback on how they perceive change. This conversation educates staff on the process of change. Then outline the overall goals of the consolidation technology. Use other resources, such as a strategic plan or a technology plan, to pinpoint how these goals align with the organizations’ missions. Then ask employees to express how much “pain” they feel the merger will create on a scale of one to ten. Using the same scale, set a reasonable expectation of how much pain they should anticipate. By allowing staff to express their concerns and by you establishing the expectations, you can lower doubt, anger, fear and possible resentment when things seem more difficult than they had anticipated.
- Find the commonalities. Commonalities between the organizations have already been identified in a merger. Continue to explore for similarities in how technology is used between the two parts and involve staff in this process. For example, if one organization heavily utilizes Outlook Calendars, they could be fearful of having to change their method of calendaring to something different. If both organizations use Outlook Calendars, that is a commonality and unlikely to need changing. Finding numerous small similarities can help connect staff based upon a shared culture and further help forge relationships.
- Identify the differences. The majority of time will be spent with the differences in technology usage between the two organizations. You must find where things are incongruent between the organizations and where you will need to implement changes. If you have completed the other steps, employees are prepared to expect adjustments. Sometimes the changes will be readily accepted, especially if one organization is dramatically ahead of the technology curve than the other. Sometimes, staff will still resist, even if the changes involve improvements for the better. For example, one organization may have a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) phone system while the other is still sharing a single voicemail box. Those with just one voicemail box should be excited for the change to the VoIP phone system, but some staff may still resist the change out of fear and lack of information. The key is to do your best to encourage everyone to move forward with the best technology solutions and present the changes as beneficial for both sides.
- Implement. A merger will take time, but do not allow the process to be dragged out indefinitely. Staff will begin to fear that the changes will not stop. Be thoughtful of what needs to be done, but you must take action. Publish an implementation schedule and make it readily available to staff. If the schedule changes, be prompt in communicating those changes to staff with an explanation of why the schedule alteration is necessary. No one wants to spend six months bogged down with a phone system change. Effective and timely implementation of changes will show that IT respects the staff members’ time and will hopefully make them more tolerant of scheduling changes when you do need to make them.
Technological change in a nonprofit organization is never easy, and in a merger can be downright tricky. You can, however, increase the likeliness of success through thoughtful planning, good communication and timely implementation.
Michelle Hines is the Technology Director for UCP/CLASS. You can find her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @geeka507.