When a project fails, don't blame your end users

Change isn’t an end-user problem, but a leadership opportunity, says former Red Robin CIO Chris Laping.

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It’s an all-too-familiar tale: A CIO pushes a new process, platform or digital transformation effort across the company and when it fails (as 70 percent of all change programs do, according to the famous statistic reported by Harvard Business Review), the CIO pins the blame on uncooperative end users.

This is a mistake, according to Chris Laping, co-founder and CEO of People Before Things and the former CIO of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. In a presentation at the CIO Perspectives event in Palo Alto, Calif., earlier this year, Laping told the audience about the many times that his own change initiatives would sputter or not be effective.

 “As a CIO, I got really obsessed with understanding this thing around change,” Laping said. “After all those experiences, what I’ve learned is that change isn’t an end-user problem. Change and innovation … doesn’t work principally because it’s not an end-user problem, it’s a leadership opportunity. It’s a leadership opportunity that in many cases, remains vacant.”

Change management didn’t seem to make it any better. I would have change managers come and work with me on projects — and what they would do is throw a lot of training and communications at people. They would disproportionately put the burden of the change on the end user … and when they don’t start using the new system, what do we do? We give them more training, and we give them more communications, it’s like ‘The beatings will continue until morale improves.’

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