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Communication and Setting Expectations Are Key to Successfully Managing Change

Diane Gallo, VP-Human Resources, McKesson Specialty Health

Diane Gallo, VP-Human Resources, McKesson Specialty Health

Let’s face it―change is just a part of doing business today. In the ever-evolving business landscape, successful companies know they must embrace change and empower their stakeholders to successfully confront the many challenges that come with adapting to a new normal.  

“By keeping all of the stakeholders in the loop, we created a positive environment for change” 

Sometimes companies voluntarily change, and sometimes the environment forces change upon the organization. Recently my company faced that situation.  McKesson Specialty Health manages the human resources systems and payroll for 10,000 employees, physicians and clinicians working in The US Oncology Network of community-based cancer practices, and we were operating on an outdated, unsupported system. Had something gone wrong, it would have been catastrophic for our customers who are responsible for delivering care to cancer patients across the United States. We knew we had to move to a more reliable platform.  

Whatever the reason for change, it can be a bumpy ride if stakeholders do not buy into the new reality. In my experience, there are always problems, minor mistakes, and things that do not go as planned, but if the organization has built a strong cadre of supporters by communicating regularly with stakeholders about what to expect and by involving them in problem solving, the organization can get past the inevitable bumps.    

Looking at how our organization transitioned from our old Human Resource Information System (HRIS) to our new state-of-the-art Workday® Human Capital Management system may provide some insight in how large system changes can be successfully managed. In this case, we were moving 31 disparate cancer practices and more than 400 unique locations to this new workforce system. Consequently, we had to educate and work with all of the different stakeholders in the various practices across the country, from leadership to payroll people to HR. This was a very rigorous implementation, as the system contained critical employment data that had to be maintained and seamlessly transitioned to the new system.  

Looking back, the implementation itself was not much different than any other finance or inventory system. There were most certainly some big bumps along the way! The thing we did differently, however, was the communication process, which was probably as mapped out and rigorous as the actual system implementation process. We concentrated on that piece of the implementation plan to ensure everyone knew what they were getting, how they were getting it, and when they were getting it. While our implementation was not flawless, we avoided a lot of negative noise because everyone was consistently informed about what was happening.  Good or bad!  

During a major change, ongoing communication is critical, and management cannot communicate too much with those stakeholders who are affected by the transition. To guide our communication activities, we developed a detailed master plan outlining how to reach all of the key groups. From senior leadership down to the person who hit the button at the practice level, we had different communication streams for each group, and the content was consistent. Each group received a weekly newsletter, and every communication had the same phrasing in the opening paragraph explaining what we were doing, why we were doing it, and what the benefit or value was to each group. By being consistent, we always had the overarching principle strengthening awareness of our main message. 

We formed a steering committee and advisory councils at different levels to help create support for the transition. We also appointed team leaders in each practice comprised of people with an aptitude for the new system who were willing to help us get the message out. We built our own fan base locally. We had regularly scheduled meetings from leadership down to problem solving groups that worked on identifying and implementing best practices. We also had a lot of information available through webinars, seminars, printed worksheets and flyers. Additionally, mailboxes were set up specifically for troubleshooting, so people could easily ask questions. 

These detailed communication activities gave us the ability to be proactive and avoid the negativity that is common after a system implementation. While we probably did not have any fewer bumps than in any other implementation, in my experience the perception of success or failure is really not based on the system, but rather on peoples’ willingness to adapt and feel like they are being consulted. By keeping all of the stakeholders in the loop, we created a positive environment for change. 

Another critical element in implementing change is to set realistic expectations and manage them diligently. Our group was extremely proficient at this, and consequently our stakeholders never dealt with the disappointment that comes when things do not happen when promised. We set realistic goals which were very reachable in the introductory timeframe. For instance, even though we bought the whole Workday system, we didn’t implement everything at once. Every bell and whistle did not come on board immediately, which would have been overwhelming to some practices. We set realistic expectations with our stakeholders on what and when they would get certain features and what the value of that was, and then consistently communicated that information to them. 

Finally, it is critical to keep communicating post implementation, and that is the stage we are in now with our transition to Workday. There is always a period of instability after something new is implemented. Consequently, the communication cycle needs to continue post go-live, and continue in a way that allows people to deal with the issues that arise while the organization fine tunes what they have implemented. Once a system is in, getting to the point where it is fully utilized takes a long time, and that is the next half of the journey. In our case, we just formed a governance committee to prioritize and vet possible Workday enhancements and better ways to utilize the tool. The committee includes stakeholders from all areas of the practice, as well as corporate finance, HR, and IT, who will determine where we should invest our time and resources. 

There were lots of lessons learned during our transition to Workday. While it was not perfect, all in all we feel we had a good implementation because we were able to manage and consistently communicate expectations. Best of all, we now have a state-of-the-art workforce management system that will grow with us while empowering us with analytic capabilities to look at our workforce more strategically.  

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