Pre-empting Resistance and Paving the Way

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A guide to effective change management communications for SMEs in technology-driven change


Organizations confronting change in technology face not only the financial and technical challenges associated with the initiative, but the change management challenges that come with enterprisewide technology-driven change as employees are asked to adopt and adapt to new ways of working. We use the phrase "technology-driven change" throughout this paper to refer to transformation fuelled by changes in technology within an organization, including those driven by the selection and implementation of packaged software and solutions as well as organizational change driven by the commercialization of technological offerings or by a new or enhanced research and development (R&D) orientation.

M. Lynne Markus (2004), who coined the term "technochange" (for technology-driven organizational change), wrote that when firms adopt new information technologies, "the potential for significant transformations in people's work, in organizational business processes, and in organizational performance outcomes is sometimes—but not always—there. Using IT in ways that can trigger major organizational changes creates high-risk, potentially high reward situations" (p. 4).

"We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn."

— Peter Drucker

One of the major risks of technology-driven change is that if it is not managed effectively, employees will not use the new information technology (IT) as intended or adapt successfully to the new work practices associated with it. Change management is not a new concept in the management world, but management of technology-driven change in particular requires specific skills and approaches, since such change can go beyond the simple introduction of software, requiring sometimes significant "adjustments of culture, employee behaviour, work design and organizational structures and processes" (Weick 2001, as cited in Harison & Boonstra, 2009, p. 283-4).

Good communication can be difficult to define, assess or measure, but it is fundamental to successful technology-driven change management. As Harison and Boonstra (2009) point out, "managing a technochange trajectory is not a matter of managing a technical project but an organizational one. Promoters need to be capable of changing both the technology and the organization, which requires different skills in addition to developing and constructing technology, such as reconstructing other aspects of the organizational context in which people are working" (p. 284).

The Conference Board of Canada: Best Practices in Change Management for SMEs

In a briefing released in February 2014 entitled, "Adopting Digital Technologies: The Path for SMEs," the Conference Board of Canada identified some of the top barriers faced by SMEs in adopting digital technology as time, money, fear and resistance, opportunity cost, and difficulty understanding the end result and benefit. It also identified six best practices for digital technology adoption. The three that are most pertinent to coping with change management communication challenges are:

  • Total Organizational Buy-In. Firms need to secure widespread commitment to the adoption of a new technology. "Although total commitment throughout the organization may be initially unattainable, the clear and visible commitment of key players from the outset is essential" because this demonstrates clear organizational commitment. (See PF Collins case study.)
  • Enlist Champions. Choose the right project manager to steer the adoption process. This person should be able to move the project through a series of stages while championing and fuelling the adoption process, helping to secure buy-in. (See Prophet Business Group case study.)
  • Enlist the Right Expertise. Outside help can be indispensable. Firms can benefit from working with "someone who has the experience and knowledge required to assess the needs and potential fit for new technologies." (See Prophet Business Group case study.)

Source: Conference Board of Canada (2014).

Changing the culture in an organization requires people skills. Technology-driven change, conclude Harison and Boonstra (2009), "should be managed with a deliberate focus on a broad variety of dimensions related to inter-personal and organizational communication skills, project management and change management, inter alia. Technochange managers who possess these essential competencies significantly influence the success of their projects" (p. 291).

Finding the right person to oversee the change is therefore a key step in the process. To that end, change management researchers Jiang et al. (1998, as cited in Harison & Boonstra, 2009) identified a list of 18 types of knowledge or skill required from IT project managers in order to manage change effectively, from interviewing to directing to managing, patience, leadership, training, politics, sales and assertiveness. It becomes apparent after a brief study of the list that the majority of the traits on it are associated with effective communication, one way or another, even when they are not specifically about communicating. For example, "cooperation" is defined by Jiang as "working with others productively" (p. 287), an ability that clearly hinges on communication. (See Table 1: Selecting the Team)

Given that communication is such a central ability in successful change management, this white paper outlines a strategy with five essential communications processes that SMEs can harness to most effectively manage technology-driven change and derive the maximum possible value from innovation. This information should help organizations to formulate change management communications strategies. As no two organizations (or their innovations) are the same, it is not possible to suggest a single template that will work for all. Rather, the point is to explain effective communication as it pertains to technology-driven change so that organizations can use what applies to their own situations. To illustrate these arguments, we show how some of the processes described here led to smoother technologydriven change at two SMEs (Prophet Business Group and PF Collins) that participated in digital technology adoption projects with the National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP). See shaded case study boxes for details of the firms' projects.

Defining communication

We often think of communication in terms of expressing thoughts or ideas, so it is easy to lose sight of the fact that successful communication also requires those ideas to be received and understood, and to generate a response. defines communication as a "twoway process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange (encode-decode) information, news, ideas and feelings but also create and share meaning." Meanwhile, change management experts cite interviewing, report writing, listening, motivating and convincing as examples of needed communication skills.

The five processes that comprise the strategy we outline are not necessarily intended to be used in a linear or chronological order (although it may often make sense to begin with Planning). Rather, they may be used simultaneously as needed and in any order, such that any given process may be in use at any time depending on circumstances. The processes are:

  1. Plan—secure leadership and board support; create a team and schedule
  2. Listen—engage stakeholders; create a place and process to receive employee input
  3. Share—emphasize transparency and communicate major changes
  4. Celebrate—encourage risk-taking; reward key milestones and employee input
  5. Learn—share final learnings widely; showcase value of employee input; communicate best practices learned and create a Change Legacy

Case Study: Prophet Business Group, Winnipeg, MB

Prophet Business Group, an IT solutions provider in Winnipeg, Manitoba, embraced significant change in 2013 when it automated its paper flow—introducing a CRM package and Sharepoint— to decrease time to invoice and increase cash flow.

Prior to adopting these digital technologies, the firm had been hand-writing work orders, which would eventually come back to the office and be keyed in manually before moving along to invoicing, where they were scanned and processed. What changed: Staff now have touch-screen Lenovo Thinkpads, which they bring to client sites. They key in data on the spot and work orders go directly to invoicing—a huge time saver.

It took nearly half a year to implement the changes fully, and the process was not without setbacks and obstacles. To help navigate the change, Prophet hired an external consultant.

"We needed a champion of change," explains Prophet partner Diane Lee Sousa. "We didn't have the internal resources to do it properly ourselves, so I got someone externally, and that person kept us all on track."

Sousa says she chose someone with strong leadership skills who would be "unflappable, agile, organized, able to disseminate large amounts of data in a short time, and capable of talking to everyone, from those who might be completely resistant right up to those who would be enthusiastic from the start."

Keys to Success:

  • Holding frequent, highly organized status meetings
  • Keeping everyone on task
  • Building excitement through those tasks
  • Using people management skills to remove roadblocks
  • Emphasizing two-way communication
  • Celebrating every win, however minor

Lessons Learned

  1. Hire a project manager. "You can't manage your own change," says Sousa. Think about this ahead of time and conduct interviews to find the right person before you launch the change process.
  2. Focus on the rules, not the exceptions; don't let the exceptions become a distraction.
  3. Plan the work and work the plan.

Case Study: PF Collins, St. John's, NL

PF Collins is an international trade services provider specializing in customs brokerage, freight, warehousing, logistics, marine agency and immigration. It services clients from every economic sector and offers a specialized focus in confronting the challenges of offshore energy projects.

In February 2013, the firm initiated a digital technology adoption project that saw it transition from paper-based to digital management of workflow processes through the use of Laserfiche, a standalone enterprise content management and automated form processing software product.

Sharlene Goobie, PF Collins' controller, says while the company has not yet fully quantified the financial benefits of the move to Laserfiche, she would estimate that the software is saving the firm at least an hour a day just on invoicing. It has also minimized the space required for file storage, as files that were previously paper-based (including, in some cases, invoices that were 40 or 50 pages long) are now digitized.

The project was completed by June 2013, but PF Collins then ran the paper-based system and new Laserfiche systems concurrently for a few months to ensure any bumps were smoothed out before going "totally paperless" in July.

Goobie says the company didn't encounter significant resistance from employees opposed to the change, but it did face a certain amount, which is typical of any change implemented within an organization. PF Collins responded by ensuring that "resisters" were included in all meetings and kept well-informed about all proposed changes.

Keys to Success:

Crucial to the success of the change management process, says Goobie, was dedicating a project manager to it. Rather than hiring an external consultant, the firm chose an in-house employee to oversee the project for its duration. "That person was really familiar with our processes already, and it is a fairly complex business," explains Goobie.

She emphasizes that it was important to choose a project manager with particular qualities—namely, an open-minded leader with strong people skills who could handle conflict and would be willing to take risks and offer ideas.

Lessons Learned

Looking back, Goobie believes having a solid initial plan, listening to and involving employees and celebrating milestones were all critical to the project's success. The celebration component was particularly important, she says. "We provided little rewards here and there throughout the transition, and I think that really helped," says Goobie. "For example, once we brought in fish and chips for everyone. This is Newfoundland, after all!"

Five Essential Processes for Change Management Communications

Most organizations rely on some form of technology to facilitate the work of the firm: it may be as simple as Microsoft Excel-based accounting or as complex as a fully integrated technical environment.

"Without credible communication, and a lot of it, employees' hearts and minds are never captured."

— John P. Kotter

Change impacts all organizations, and in our experience, SMEs have a somewhat more difficult task in the planning and implementation of technology-driven change, given their scarcer resources and (often) lesser access to internal or external experts as compared to larger organizations.

The goal of technology-driven change is to drive organizational performance improvement. Technology-driven change is unique versus other forms of organizational change management by way of heavily involving information technology systems, information technology professionals and technical methodologies (Markus, 2004, p. 5) that often affect the entire organization.

Kotter (2012, p. 9) cites one of the most common change errors as under-communicating the vision of the change initiative by a factor of 10 (or 100 or even 1,000). The following processes are designed to support the communications strategy of a technology-driven change initiative and can be completed in the order they are presented, but are best applied as an iterative process throughout the duration of the technology-driven change initiative.

5 Processes – Change Management Communication

5 Processes – Change Management Communication

1. Plan

  • Engage senior management
  • Secure leadership and board support
  • Select a change project manager
  • Create a Change Management Office (CMOf) function
  • Assess the current readiness state
  • Select the team
  • Create the plan
  • Create a communications schedule

Communications is the mechanism by which change is conveyed and culture is shifted. It is important to realize that humans, not technology or process, are at the centre of these communication activities.

The beginning (and middle and end) of a change initiative involves planning, starting with a compelling case for change or sense of urgency. Many of the core organizational change approaches—including those discussed by Kotter (1996/2012), Senge (1999) and Hutton (1994) — recommend that the project initiator or team must secure leadership and board support and provide a clear and compelling vision for change. From a communications perspective, engaging some of the key senior management personnel prior to moving to obtain leadership and board support can prevent siloed thinking, enable broader input, and generally increase the potential for buy-in among the management team.

The leadership team should select and empower a Project Manager and a Change Project Manager (CPM) for the initiative. For SMEs, this is often the same resource, which makes selection of this resource a critical success factor.

What makes an effective CPM? As shown in Table 1 below, in addition to technical competencies, the CPM should possess a number of additional skills. Interviewing, directing, managing, speaking, listening, writing, cooperation, patience, leadership and sensitivity are the top 10 elements.

Table 1: Selecting the Team
Knowledge and skills required from IT project managers ranked by importance (Jiang et al., 1998):

Rank Skills and knowledge Description
1 Interviewing Asking the right questions
2 Directing Giving instructions and communicating requirements
3 Managing Planning, organizing and controlling projects
4 Speaking Presenting ideas verbally
5 Listening Reflecting on what is said
6 Writing Preparing textual documents
7 Cooperation Working with others productively
8 Patience Continuously refining requirements through feedback from workers and users
9 Leadership Developing, supervising and leading teams
10 Sensitivity Being aware of implications to the community
11 Diplomacy Being tactful in contacts with other stakeholders
12 Training Educating users
13 Empathy Understanding how others feel
14 Organizational communications Viewing and acting by organizational goals and senior management orientation
15 Politics Individual motivation, power and influence
16 Sales Promoting and persuading
17 Assertiveness Insisting on completion of tasks
18 Nonverbal communications Body language
Source: Jiang et al. 1998, as cited in Harison & Boonstra, 2009, p. 287.

As for executive support for the change initiative, Rosing et al. and Nadler and Tushman (as cited in Plante, 2012, p. 30) note that: "The behavioural traits of leaders that are associated with planning and managing the change process are instrumentality and perseverance. Effective entrepreneurs provide more than charisma and vision; they focus on structure, implementation, execution, efficiency and goal-setting." Miller (also cited by Plante, 2012, p. 30) expresses it similarly: "An entrepreneur must be persistent and relentless in maintaining commitment and sustaining the change effort long enough to realize the vision and the benefits sought."

With the support of the executive, the Change Management Office (CMOf) will be selected and begin to assess readiness for change. This assessment should include the overall organization and leadership, and include divisions, functions and often specific processes and individuals as required. Hutton (1994) refers to a role he terms the Change Agent, whose core function is "to support the president and the top management team in bringing about a purposeful transformation of the organization" (p. 6).

Next, the CMOf will guide the selection of the larger Change Management team, which can include additional core project team members and key stakeholders, and may include key influencers. As Hutton (1994) writes, "You and your colleagues have little chance of success in improving the organization unless you earn the trust of employees and persuade them to apply their talents and energies to shared goals" (p. 76). Critically, the CMOf should ensure business line and divisional support in addition to IT support. Finally, at this stage, the CMOf should create a preliminary communications schedule that includes all key stakeholder groups—for example, senior management, middle management and all employees.

2. Listen

  • Engage department leads, key influencers and key objectors
  • Create a place and process for employees and stakeholders to provide input
  • Ensure senior leadership is engaged in the discussion

Employee resistance to change is a common concern and one that often elicits two types of approaches: a direct, command-and-control response where employees are dictated change, or a response that includes employees and empowers them to contribute to the change. While both approaches may be utilized in certain circumstances, the second (empowering employees) tends to be associated with better long-term results.

"Deep changes— in how people think, what they believe, how they see the world—are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve through compliance."

— Peter Senge et al

In a McKinsey Quarterly article entitled "Tapping the power of hidden influencers" (2014), Duan, Sheeren and Weiss state that companies should "develop strong change leaders employees know and respect—in other words, people with informal influence." Duan et al. (2014) also state that informal influencers are everywhere, in every organization, and are the "people other employees look to for input, advice or ideas about what is really happening in a company. As a result, they have an outsized influence on how what employees believe about the future, as well as on morale, how hard people work, and their willingness to support—or resist— change."

Key to the process of "Listen" is that employees want to be valued, and hearing and respecting their opinions is a show of that value, even if there is not always agreement that their opinions are the direction the company will take. The core value of listening is respect. Providing a conduit for that communication is critical, and Duan et al. (2014) state that leadership can "encourage influencers to help communicate necessary changes, convince skeptical employees of the need for change, or best of all, do these things as active architects of the program. Indeed, the most powerful way to use hidden influencers is to bring them into such efforts in the earliest stages and to get their input and guidance on direction—as well as help with execution."

"Instead of starting out with what we, that is, the executive, want to get across, the executive should begin by finding out what subordinates want to know, are interested in, are, in other words, receptive to. To this day, the human relations prescription, though rarely practiced, remains the classic formula."

— Peter Drucker

It is also important to provide a mechanism for all employees to provide input on change. Creating an open and non-threatening environment to receive such input gives employees a place to provide feedback and recommendations for improvement, and enables the CMOf to aggregate responses and show what elements the project team is considering implementing. Such a mechanism could take the form of a file on a shared network drive folder or an internal-to-firm social media platform, or could be as straightforward as Microsoft Excel. Whatever its format, this input process should provide transparency and encourage two-way dialogue with employees, the project team, the CMOf and leadership.

The CMOf should:

  • Engage formally and informally with influencers, capture lunchroom chatter—the good, the bad and the ugly— and enter it into the feedback mechanism.
  • Capture the "white elephants" as well as the most optimistic ideas and benefits.
  • Be as honest and realistic as possible regarding the project's challenges and winning points.

It is essential that senior leadership reviews, responds and contributes to the feedback, welcoming suggestions for improvement as well as criticism, and regularly contributes to the tracking mechanism. This will reinforce its relevance and value, as well as the value of employees' opinions and suggestions.

3. Share

  • Communicate goals and expected outcomes
  • Communicate employee input and leadership responses; manage responses with transparency
  • Communicate major changes through management (cascade) and direct from senior leadership
  • Communicate day-to-day progress in a regular rhythm

The process of sharing information moves closer to the centre of the model (as shown in Figure 1) and into the inner ring processes that cycle with Celebrate and Learn. In some ways, sharing is the ongoing output of listening.

In the article, "Internal communication as power management in change processes: Study on the possibilities and the reality of change communications," author Jan Leis (2012) states that "change communication is a form of (internal) strategic stakeholder management," and asserts that "any form of management is a management of change" (p. 255).

"Organizations, like all human groups, operate through conversation."

— Peter Senge et al

Sharing requires communicating with all principal roles and audiences. Clearly articulating and communicating strategies and objectives (Done et al., 2011) as well as goals and outcomes prior to and throughout the change initiative will have a beneficial impact on short- and longer-term change. As discussed earlier, transparency and senior leadership involvement are critical to the success of the change management initiative, both directly and through the CMOf. The CMOf will have determined a communications plan and rhythm in the earlier "Plan" stage, which should include weekly, semi-monthly and monthly update communications to specific groups, including all employees.

More and better information does not solve the communications problem, does not bridge the communications gap. On the contrary, the more information, the greater is the need for functioning and effective communication.

— Peter Drucker

Two-way communication is always more powerful than one-way communication.

—John P. Kotter

In his book, Leading Change, Kotter writes that one of the keys to success is the repetition and frequency of communications. He points to examples of communicating the change vision through multiple levels of the organization by multiple levels of management— on a daily, hour-by-hour basis. An example would be a group meeting that shows how the vision and strategy is relevant to current activities and how they may change. Or, a water cooler discussion that involves a comment or two about the vision as it relates to individuals across teams. As Kotter (2012) phrases it: "A sentence here, a paragraph there, two minutes in the middle of a meeting, five minutes at the end of a conversation, three quick references in a speech—collectively these brief mentions can add up to a massive amount of useful communication, which is generally what is needed to win over both hearts and minds" (p. 97).

Major changes, decisions and direction should be communicated by senior management in person (Turner, 2014) or via videoconference and by email. Cascade or waterfall communications should be used to follow up, where managers "cascade" the message to their direct reports, adding a sentence or two about the impact to the group. For example:

Email from: Operations Manager
To: Operations direct reports
RE: <FWD> Decision on ABC Initiative

Li, Mike, Sara and Amir,

I wanted to send this email on to you with a few thoughts. As a result of the change to workstream three, we have the opportunity to contribute to stream two and address some of our key points there. Let's focus on this opportunity and discuss for a few minutes tomorrow at our huddle. Please bring your thoughts on how we might integrate into stream two.

Operations Manager

>Email from: CEO
>To: All Employees
>RE: Decision on ABC Initiative

>Team –

>It has been six weeks since we embarked on our ABC project; thank-you for your insightful feedback and participation in the round table events. We have included many of the suggestions brought forward, including:

  • Operations team: add time tracking to the initiative
  • Marketing team: ensure that Search Engine Optimization is considered
  • Finance team: add costing element for the secondary initiative stream
  • Warehouse team: ensure bar coding is considered as an alternative mechanism

>As you know, based on input and discussions, we have decided not to pursue a third workstream to the ABC initiative at this time. We reviewed the pros and cons carefully and we will be better served to continue to focus on streams one and two to ensure the success of the project. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me directly, to contact your manager, the ABC initiative manager Andy Wheaton, or comment via the feedback tracking portal at http://ABC-feedback. Andy will provide the next ABC initiative update bulletin as usual next Friday.

>The CEO

4. Celebrate

  • Reward key milestones (both successes and "failures")
  • Encourage risk-taking behavior in trying out new functions and processes
  • Determine celebration culture fit: create internal, informal support for those enabling change, and larger group celebrations for milestones
  • Celebrate employee input and any additional changes that are created as a result of it

Celebrate is the most overlooked element of a communications change project. In the ongoing effort to meet timelines and deliverables and manage expectations and experiences, celebrating success is one of the more difficult practices to adopt and for which to make time. However, the yield to the organization is material and worth the effort.

Celebrations mark the past and give hope for the future: firms are more successful in their change efforts when milestones are marked by celebratory activities. In their paper, "Best practice interventions: Short-term impact and long-term outcomes," Done et al. (2011) follow eight small and medium-sized firms to determine if short-term best practice interventions (BPIs) can offer longer-term productivity enhancements. All eight firms held an end-of-project celebration. The results of the study show that the four firms that implemented additional specific and diverse reward and recognition programs were more successful than those that added no other celebration events (pp. 506-507). This supports the notion that more sustainable improvement is connected with material reward and recognition programs throughout the project in addition to a final celebration.

Supporting a celebratory culture encourages risk-taking behaviour and the trying out of ideas, including new functions and processes. Risk-taking is central to a culture of innovation, and celebrations that acknowledge risk are the central point: you want to reward those who risk stepping forward to offer an out-of-the-box solution or well-thought-out dissenting opinion, or who are willing to risk failing. Success is as much about encouraging a cultural shift in risk-taking and supporting or creating a culture of innovation as it is about more discrete project outcomes and achievements.

Celebration can take many forms; determining a celebratory cultural fit or style is important. It is important to understand that organizations, departments and individuals may have different levels of comfort with certain styles. There are different levels of comfort associated with public messages of praise from senior leadership versus a more personal approach, or the use of internal social media platforms. In addition, some organizations find small and in-the-moment reward mechanisms, such as $10 coffee cards, to be both possible (within organization spending rules) and impactful. Keep the celebration as close in time as possible to the activity or milestone. Many types of events—including verbal recognition of milestones or individuals at a huddle or staff meeting, lunchtime pizza parties for major milestones, a personal email from the CEO—can have a material impact on culture and behaviour.

In recognition programs, it is useful to be as clear as possible about the cause-and-effect the organization is celebrating. Is the rewarded behaviour meeting the milestone, or meeting the milestone with the best possible outcome? Is the rewarded behaviour implementing the new solution, or implementing the new solution that can be attributed in part to the new ideas brought forward by key employees? Does the organization reward individuals for individual ideas or teams for collaborative ideas? Does the organization reward bringing new ideas directly to the CEO, or to peers, or via the use of internal communications feedback mechanisms? These are nuanced messages and critically important to the culture of the organization: what is the behaviour that is worthy of reward? The CMOf, in consultation with senior leadership, should be clear on the reward structures, guidelines and plans as part of the change communications work and ongoing planning.

5. Learn

  • Share final learnings with leadership and employees
  • Summarize employee input process and show its value
  • Communicate best practices and what will be "done better next time"
  • Create a Change Legacy

Create a Change Legacy. For change management to support changes in the organization and become part of the culture, learning and the communication of learning is the ongoing and final process of the Plan – Listen – Share – Celebrate – Learn strategy. A retrospective exercise (or post-mortem) is a good practice to perform at milestones or other nodal points in the initiative, as well as at the conclusion of the project. However, the Learn process extends past the change initiative and through and beyond organizational acceptance.

The CMOf should lead the discussion and capture of these learnings to share with senior leadership and employees, highlighting what worked, what didn't and what could be better next time. This part of the process supports the respect afforded to employees and teams through the recognition of efforts as well as the effort of sharing outcomes. "Learn" communications should be some of the final project communications on a technology-driven change initiative.

"Learning takes time."

— Peter Senge et al.

In terms of long-term success, Done et al. (2011) write: "Effective implementation, organization and resourcing of the [best practice] intervention, and good stakeholder management in the short term were necessary precursors of long term success" (p. 508). They go on to state that in the course of the initiative period and follow-up, a pattern of stakeholder involvement was observed where senior managers led at the beginning, middle managers through the implementation, and supervisors and employees in the long term— and specifically that "continuous involvement of middle managers (often company facilitators) was critical for successful short-and longterm outcomes" (Upton 1996, as cited in Done et al. 2001, p. 509). Finally, it is critical for the organization to have established change agents and champions who will support the learning process and change in an ongoing manner.

While senior leadership leads and supports the change efforts, the ongoing communication and implementation is core to middle management and employees themselves, so part of the learning stage is identifying and solidifying the communications mechanisms that support more organic day-today communications. The CPM should assist in selecting and formalizing these ongoing activities to support the middle management and employee teams, preferably selecting vehicles that are already in place, such as daily huddles and team meetings. Learnings continue to happen well after the initial initiative, and in the case of technology-driven change projects, the full yield of outcomes might be months or years after the "close" of the initiative. To create a Change Legacy, the work of the CPM will last much longer than the core of the initiative: the CPM should stay involved and assigned to the project, and ensure periodic follow-up reviews and events to update key performance indicators and elicit ongoing feedback for refinement and improvement.


"Any form of management is a management of change.

— Jan Leis

Effective change communications takes time, planning and patience, and can yield a profound return. Technology-driven change management and its communications are worth the effort; through Planning, Listening, Sharing, Celebrating and Learning, communications is the mechanism by which change is conveyed and culture is shifted.


Sincere thanks to the following colleagues for their help with reviews, comments, suggestions and other support in the creation of this paper:

George Baciou, Industrial Technology Advisor, NRC-IRAP
Lesley Cushing, Sr. Marketing and Communications Officer, NRC-IRAP
Dennis Deley, Industrial Technology Advisor, NRC-IRAP
Cathy Favre, Industrial Technology Advisor, NRC-IRAP
Patti Ryan, Southside Communications Inc.
Shaileen Stanley, Marketing and Communications Officer, NRC-IRAP
Vivian Sullivan, Director, NRC-IRAP


Laural Porth-Jones
Industrial Technology Advisor
National Research Council, Industrial Research Assistance Program

Appendix: Why Change Management Communications?

Why did we write this paper? What do SMEs stand to gain by reading it?

We wrote this paper because it is clear that communicating about technology-driven change is a central challenge and source of difficulty for many SMEs—yet it is one they will increasingly confront as the pace of innovation continues to accelerate:

  • Canadian SMEs struggle with change management and change management communications. Some are failing to make the most of the technology-driven changes they are implementing; others may even postpone innovations out of hesitations related to the certain challenges surrounding the change management processes associated with them.
  • Effective communication involves a flow of information that is at least two-way. That is, it is not simply a matter of understanding the best way to present information; it is also a matter of ensuring that the intended audience is actively listening and engaging in the dialogue. Ensuring that listeners hear a message, ask questions, engage in the conversation, contribute to the ensuing discussion, and trust the message sender are challenges that confound many organizations and prevent them from maximizing productivity.
  • "Change preparation practices (i.e. organizational diagnosis) emphasize the use of analytical skills, for which managers are usually highly trained, while implementation practices, such as communicating the change plan or understanding and managing a variety of social and interest groups, require an emphasis on the use of interpersonal and political skills. Managers show a more irregular distribution of these latter skills" (Higgins et al, 2002; Groves, 2005 as cited in Raineri, 2011). In other words, too few IT managers charged with overseeing change management possess the communication skills (or awareness of communication strategies) that would ensure success.
  • An article in the MIT Sloan Management Review (Jeffery & Leliveld, 2004) explains that a key reason for project failure is a disconnect between the people creating business objectives and those responsible for IT delivery. "The key to bridging the business-technology divide and improving results is early communication. Not only must senior business managers understand more about how IT affects both strategy and the bottom line, but CIOs also need to learn to communicate the vision, strategies and goals of the IT organization in terms that non-IT executives can understand."

What is change management? Why is it necessary to manage change?

What change management is: Broadly, it "refers to a set of basic tools or structures intended to keep any change effort under control," with the goal being to minimize the distractions and impacts of the change (Kotter, 2011).

What it is not: Change management is not simply the creation or implementation of new work, methods, software or tasks, or the addition of new personnel. Rather, it is a process wherein tasks or ideas may be associated to existing people for the duration of a project; often (when completed successfully), it can result in opportunities for knowledge and career growth.

What SMEs are referenced in this paper?

To illustrate some of the arguments made in this paper, we refer to Prophet Business Group and PF Collins, two firms that recently implemented significant technology-driven changes and had to develop and apply change management practices, including communication strategies, in order to ensure buy-in by all employees and maximize the value and potential of the changes. Their stories appear on pages 5 and 6 in shaded boxes.


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About the Digital Technology Adoption Pilot Program (DTAPP)

As part of the Government of Canada's Digital Economy Strategy, NRC-IRAP is delivering the Digital Technology Adoption Pilot Program (DTAPP). DTAPP was created as a pilot program to deliver support from November 2011 to March 31, 2014.

DTAPP represents a significant investment in the Canadian economy to increase the productivity growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Canada across all sectors through the adoption of digital technologies.

An important component of DTAPP is to assess and measure the outcomes of digital technology adoption on the productivity of SMEs. DTAPP will utilize this aggregate knowledge and transfer successful practices and lessons learned to the broader SME community in order to:

  • improve the rate of digital technology adoption by SMEs
  • improve understanding of the link between digital technologies and productivity
  • raise awareness of the benefits and importance of adopting these technologies

This information will be a critical tool to encourage prospective adopters of digital technologies and will continue to impact the potential productivity growth of the Canadian economy well into the future.

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