Whether you’re part of a small community site, a massive academic research center or even a technology provider like Forte, change is inevitable. Those who stand still get left behind, and the need to keep innovating and evolving will continue to drive us to move clinical research forward. Oftentimes, along with change comes anxiety and uncertainty for those most impacted. While we may not be able to avoid these altogether, strategic and proactive planning can dramatically ease the burden of change at your institution.
Planning for Resistance
For those managing change across large teams, you’ll likely experience a wide range of reactions. It’s important to remove your emotion and attempt to relate to the different perspectives within your organization. Some will fully understand the reasoning and impact of the change and buy in immediately, though you may also encounter steadfast opposition from others. Especially for team members who have a great deal of experience with the “old way”, change can bring about skepticism of not just new processes, but also the leadership that initiated those changes. While these reactions may not seem logical to you, resistance to change is normal and a team member’s adjustment will take time.
Managing the Transition
One key area where organizations often fall short is communicating change vs. managing transition. Simply conveying the change and the reasoning behind it, no matter how well-communicated, is not enough to ensure that your team will buy in. Understanding how each team (or even each individual) is responding is the first step toward effectively managing the transition.
As you phase out old processes, it’s normal to see lower productivity and even defensiveness or withdrawal from certain team members. It is important to recognize these feelings of loss, and provide time for employees to adjust. Be open with staff, treat previous processes (many of which team members may have contributed to) with respect, and provide a detailed timeframe of milestones for your new initiatives so your team understands the timing and scope of what lies ahead. This is also a good time to highlight processes that aren’t changing to reassure your team.
Once you move into the transition phase of your initiative, look for ways to engage team members to emphasize that they have control over the new processes. Make sure leadership and other project stakeholders appear visible and engaged, and challenge them to connect with as many team members as possible. Also, though we noted above that communication alone isn’t enough to effectively manage change, you should take care to communicate:
- The purpose of the change
- The ideal future state once your institution has transitioned to the new process
- The part that each team (or team member) will play in the transition
- The organization- and team-level plans to get to the desired goal
A key component of the items above is timing. Often, organizations become so occupied with developing the new initiative itself that they lack a cohesive plan to manage the transition from the start. Team members may feel blindsided if change is communicated at the last minute, which can dramatically reduce buy-in. As you begin to create project teams around your initiative, make sure you emphasize the importance of developing a comprehensive change management plan that begins well before the initiative is implemented.
Another key element of the change management process is measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of your transition. When possible, avoid measurements that could be subjective or open to interpretation. Also, try to evaluate effectiveness throughout the entire change process. For example, in the case of adopting new enterprise technology, here are some key components you could measure:
- Communication: How many end users have you engaged? Have all team leads formally communicated what the change means to their staff?
- Implementation: How many users have completed training on the new system? Have you hit target dates for migrating data into your new system? Have you checked in your first patient?
- Adoption: Once live, what percentage of patients are registered in the new system? What percentage of study staff are using key elements of the system?
- Results: What key performance indicators can you measure to evaluate efficiency? How has the system affected important processes such as study activation, financial management/reconciliation, study team productivity or other measurable items?
As you collect data related to the items above, your team should be constantly evaluating the effectiveness of the transition, and adjusting accordingly. As you hit milestones, make sure to communicate those successes to all team members affected. This will reinforce the significance of the initiative for staff, and help generate buy-in for those who may still be on the fence.
If you want to learn about change management from the perspective of clinical research leadership, view our on-demand webinar Bringing Effective Change Management to Your Organization: The University of Michigan’s Story. In this webinar, Teri Grieb of the University of Michigan discusses how leaders, faculty and staff came together to redesign the organizational and operational model for clinical trials at U-M by taking a systems-based approach, and how you can use some of the same principles to enact meaningful change at your institution.