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“…So he sent us a document and told us to fill it out with each phone call. That was it, no reason, no training, no help. Just an email telling us to double our workload with these reports. Can you believe that?!”

I could. I had met with a friend for lunch and we were sharing workplace tales of woe.

“Are the reports that bad?” I asked.

After a thoughtful pause, my friend finally answered. “No one fills them out, not during the calls at least. There’s no time and I don’t think anyone even reads them. Most people sort of fill them all out at the end of the day.”

The value of the report was never communicated.

We’ve all experienced it; a company tries to make a change without investing in the process. Old habits die hard and changes are not easily adopted. Even Machiavelli recognized that nothing is more difficult to plan than the changing of a system. Company buy-in doesn’t come about by accident, so why do so many organizations fail to account for it? This employee apathy is not limited to changing systems, a 2017 State of the Global Workplace report indicated that 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. So how do we combat workplace apathy?

Getting buy-in when changing content management systems

In this post, we will examine the often overlooked matter of employee buy-in. More specifically, buy-in when adopting a new Component Content Management System (CCMS). The implementation of a new CCMS can be a unique process depending on variables of the company. However, the importance of department or company-wide adoption is universal. The implementation will live or die based on your ability to win allies and create advocates.

This post is structured in three sections with distinct purposes:

  • Help you analyze the real purpose behind the adoption of a new CCMS
  • Provide insight into why your employees might resist the change (and why that’s not necessarily a bad thing)
  • Advise how to best announce the change to your team

But before you can interact with your team, uncover their opinions, and announce the changes, you need to understand the real purpose behind the decision.

Why Change?  

Before presenting the CCMS to your team, you should understand the reason for the shift. There are many excellent reasons for implementing a CCMS (You can read about some of those reasons here) but it’s critical that you understand your company’s “why.” We’ve worked with many companies with many different reasons for the change. It’s one of the central discussions in our initial consultations.

A red neon change sign indicating the importance of change in a workplace and its inevitability

Many want to preserve a unified voice or tone with their growing document library. Others see a CCMS as the way to prepare their company for future industry innovations. Still, others focus on the importance of topic reuse. Whatever your reason, it’s crucial that you can articulate your company’s “why.”

Questions to Ask

When consulting with companies interested in easyDITA, we ask questions to better understand their decision to change. By this time, you should have an understanding of your motivation or your company’s motivation. If not, ask yourself this question:  

What would success look like?

Based on your definition of success through the adoption of a CCMS, you will be able to trace back to the shortcomings that are currently impeding your progress. These shortcomings likely indicate the motivation for your change.

Below are two examples:

  1. Success looks like a system with the ability to reuse content and improve consistency.”
    1. Current Shortcoming: We spend too much time and energy rewriting or copying and pasting existing content and it’s often inconsistent and needs editing.
    2. Motivation: We are adopting this CCMS in order to reduce time spent writing existing content and to prevent inconsistencies by taking formatting issues away from the writers; leaving it to automatic output.
  2. Success looks like being able to find our documents quickly.”
    1. Current Shortcoming: My team wastes hours every week trying to find specific documents they know already exist
    2. Motivation: We are adopting this CCMS to save time, and reduce frustration through improved searchability of our existing and future documents.

Often there are multiple motivations, so your success will have multiple metrics. We have found that in some cases our consultations reveal that the company isn’t actually prepared or the right fit for the jump to a CCMS. After asking yourself this question, if you have a distilled understanding of the need for change, write down the motives in simple, concrete language.

Throughout this process of winning employee buy-in, you will need to reference this reasoning.

Why the Pushback?

Once you have your reason, you should seek to anticipate and understand the sources of future pushback. Before diving in, it’s good to become acquainted with the most frequent sources of resistance.

Linda Hill is a professor and Chair of the Leadership Initiative at Harvard Business School, the best-selling author of Becoming a Manager, and has over 20 years of field experience. With her considerable background, she has noticed the patterns that plague change-resistant-companies. Dr. Hill lists eight common reasons why people tend to resist change.

  1. They believe that change is unnecessary or will make the situation worse.
  2. They don’t trust the people mandating or leading the change effort.
  3. They don’t like the way the change has been introduced.
  4. They are not confident the change will succeed.
  5. They have had no input in planning and implementing the change program.
  6. They feel that change will mean personal loss—of security, money, status, or friends.
  7. They believe in the status quo.
  8. They have already experienced a lot of change and can’t handle any more disruption.

You have likely already considered some or most of these pain points. We all encounter them in the workplace. What’s important is that you understand that these push backs are not set in stone. The way you interact with your team can have great influence on the degree to which these points arise.

Maximizing Employee Interaction

The rest of this post will focus on maximizing those interactions in a way that mitigates reasons for pushback. This list speaks to averages and likelihoods, but every organization is different. You must spend time speaking with your team. When you ask for feedback, your responses will likely fall into three primary camps.

Two workers talking about adopting a CCMS, a business professional woman and man talking about whether or not the company should start using a component content management systemThe first group will be those who are already in favor of the move. Some of these individuals are “Yes people,” and some realize the same need that you do. It’s important that you don’t take their agreement for granted. Keep channels of communication open and reiterate a desire to hear future ideas or concerns.

The second group will be those who oppose the change to varying degrees. When talking with these individuals, it is critical that you don’t view them as your opponents. In most cases, they will have legitimate reasons for this disagreement. Sometimes these individuals have reasons that management overlooked. These insights might prove crucial for a successful implementation.

The third and largest group will be those who are willing to change but have some concerns. You will hear responses like “That COULD be a good move…” or “I THINK that might work…”. If left alone, those tentative affirmations sometimes lead to trepidation. However, here lies opportunity. The best prevention for looming trepidation is a connection. Engage regularly, demonstrate respect, hear them out, and ask questions. At this stage, you are not trying to debate so much as understand. Your constructive interaction might set the foundation for their eventual support.

Conversation Workflow

How to talk with your team about adopting a CCMS. A conversation map for expected interaction with employees regarding the adoption of your Component Content Management System

Most conversations of this nature follow a traditional flow. Click this conversation map to view best responses for different types of feedback.

Most conversations of this nature follow a traditional flow. Click this conversation map to view best responses for different types of feedback.

With all these groups you must hear and acknowledge their concerns. When possible, do your best to summarize and repeat their argument back to them. Use language such as:

“I want to make sure I understand. You believe that…”

This method of accurately reflecting their concern demonstrates respect. Never misrepresent their argument and do not become defensive during these conversations. Especially in the case of the second and third group.

With the right approach, you can turn these bystanders into advocates. By making them a part of the process, you allow them to feel valued and respected. Never view your team as opponents. Rather see their insight as a resource for knowledge outside your limited perspective.

Telling the Team

When you address the whole team, you should already have an idea about how receptive the group will be to the change. Use this understanding to maintain a posture of empathy as well as authority. Don’t let people perceive this as an optional transition. You should already have a distilled, concrete understanding of the change’s implications. Reiterate this during the meeting whenever relevant.

The meeting should include five primary topics:

  1. The Story – like every good story, give context for organizational operation, present the obstacle or difficulty, and the solution. When presenting the solution, do so in a way that emphasizes the software’s enablement of the team doing their work at a higher level.
  2. The Concerns. Discuss the primary concerns you heard from your team.
  3. The Timeline. It is important to give enough time for proper implementation. Changing workflow can be a long adjustment period and many managers fall into the trap of underestimating. Your team will also be more receptive to the change if they believe they are allowed a reasonable window in which to learn.
  4. The Vision. Reiterate what a successful implementation looks like and how it will benefit the team as well as the company. The goal is a win-win.  
  5. The Next Step. Indicate the next step in the implementation. Make sure it is straightforward and actionable for the individuals on your team. A training portal with which to familiarize themselves, a video series they can start watching, etc.

An empty office on a upper floor with lots of natural light. The office would be the perfect venue for the introduction of a component content management system (ccms) to employeesOutline clear guidelines and expectations. Acknowledge the growing pains associated with moving to a new system and highlight opportunities that the change presents. Address the pains upfront and be transparent about how the company will accommodate. For example, adjustment and training will take time. By extension, the company will experience lower than typical levels of documentation output. If left unaddressed, employees will amalgamate existing workplace stress with the task of learning a whole new system.

Many writers will see this change as a limitation on their writing. In some ways, this might be true. The change will naturally eliminate certain activities. However, where there is change, there is also possibility. Reinforce to your team that there will be the opportunity for new roles that have not previously existed. The driven employee will look to take advantage of this new perspective. For example, one company which implemented easyDITA as their CCMS found that through the efficiencies offered with the software, rather than a fleet of writers, they were able to create more specialized roles with unique tasks tailored to the writer’s interests and strengths.

Your meeting will vary depending on your situation. However, we’ve found that similar themes persist across all these meetings when addressed. We’ve created a sort of script outline designed to aid managers who want to conduct a similar meeting. You can download that template here.

Follow-Up Actions

After the meeting, send a follow-up email ensuring your employees remember the highlights. This email does not need to repeat the meeting so much as focus the main takeaways. These takeaways should include:

  • The reason for the change
  • The benefits of the change
  • The timeline for getting up to speed
  • The actionable next step
  • The reiterated commitment to the process

a laptop computer, some balled up notes, two pencils, a cup of coffee, and en email from a boss providing followup about the recent meeting outlining the company's intent to adopt a CCMS.We’ve created an email template that you can use after such a meeting. Download here.

Sometimes sustaining the commitment is as hard as winning it in the first place. Frequent interactions with your team about the transition are important to the buy-in. Follow up with the team often and ask for community support. If one person finds a shortcut or an efficiency, encourage sharing with the team improve everyone’s productivity. Ask where people are still encountering hang-ups and actively work to find solutions. Be your team’s advocate and they’ll follow.  

Pick your Path

In summary, adopting a new CCMS without an employee buy-in strategy can be a long, arduous process wrought with traps and unwilling followers; Or it can be a period of adjustment, ramp up, and strong growth on the other side. Much of this comes down to the planning, the implementation, and the buy-in. Don’t let any of these elements become an afterthought. Invest in the process and enjoy the fruits of a successful buy-in.

If you have recently undergone a similar change or you are looking to do so, share your thoughts or ask some questions. We would love to hear your story or offer any help possible in your process.

A major highway coming from over the ocean, splitting upon landfall. This road way is metaphorical of our decisions relating to how we will introduce change into our workplaces. We should pick our path wisely

John Baker
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