Land Records Leadership Series: Change Management

Posted By: Kim Meinert Community,

The Land Records Leadership series focuses on professional development and leadership topics relevant to our WLIA members.  We hope these articles help foster conversations and provide insight into how other land records professionals approach their work.  For our inaugural article, Kendis Scharenbroich, President & CEO, Pro-West & Associates, talks us through how to navigate change and how to make everyone happy (or close to it) in the end.

Surprise! Things are Changing!

As human beings we are wired to resist change. But we can work through change, even when we don’t want to!  

IT recently gave me a new laptop.  I had applications to download, files to transfer, settings to remember and update, and Google bookmarks to move. I didn’t want to do it.  You know where I’m going with this…it took me five months to switch to my new laptop, so…I get it.  Change is complex.  Especially when we face change in an area we have never been before, or the change involves our “less than favorite” tasks.  Change can also involve difficult conversations with team members or partners, which makes taking the first steps even more complex.  

Over the past 23 years of my career working with local governments to implement new GIS workflows, I’ve witnessed, been a part of, and led change.  Here are my tips!

1.  Identify the issue

Change starts with clearly identifying the issue and who it affects.  This can involve many conversations with team members to “get to the bottom” of the core issue.  Without fully understanding the core issue, gaining buy-in and funding is difficult.

  • Does an application need to be replaced or does the current one need to be upgraded or have a new module added to it?  Does a team member need training on a new software?   
  • It’s also important to identify “why” the issue (or change) needs to occur and what will happen if you don’t move forward with said change.

2.  Identify the champion and stakeholders, and meet often

Every project that involves change needs:

  • A leader, a champion, someone who is willing to “rally the troops”.  Never been a champion?  That’s OK!  This person doesn’t need to know everything, but they do need to be willing to find the right people and ask the questions needed to move the issue along.
  • Direct stakeholders:  these are team members that are directly affected by the change. Maybe you are moving your parcel editing practices from CAD or ArcMap to ArcGIS Pro.  This is a big change. Parcel editors, IT and those leading the parcel editing team members are all examples of direct stakeholders. I always recommend at least one end user be involved as a direct stakeholder.  One or more people who will be using the data, solutions, or workflows is critical to overall success in making change.
  • Indirect stakeholders: these are team members who aren’t directly involved with the day-to-day data, applications or processes, but who will benefit from the end result. In our parcel scenario above, the Recorder is an indirect stakeholder because their document imaging systems need to integrate with the parcel data. If the parcel data changes, the way in which their systems integrate with it may change.
  • Communication: once all stakeholders are identified and they clearly understand the issue and why they have a seat at the table, it’s time to meet regularly so everyone remains engaged through the entire process.  Having stakeholders involved early makes all the difference, especially with change that affects more team members and/or departments.

3. Research solutions

Solutions or options to resolve the issue will be identified through regular stakeholder meetings. Depending on the extent of the change, this can last a day, several months, or even years!  The key is to “do your homework”.  Maybe this is having someone test a technical process or attend a training to learn about a new tool or module that may help.  Maybe it’s reaching out to other organizations who have done something similar. Or, even talking to a contractor or someone with expertise in the area you are exploring. This brings us to number 4…

4. Identify and reach out to experts

The more people and processes are affected by change, the more you will need to bring in experts to assist with architecting a solution to the issue.  Replacing a permitting or asset management system will require more expert involvement than changing how a zoning layer is edited and managed.  Maybe the experts are internal, maybe they are external, but experts can go a long way in helping determine the best path forward.

5.  Identify funding

Brainstorming solutions, testing and talking to experts will help identify the funding and internal “time” and resources needed to implement change.  If you are new to the organization, you may not be familiar with procurement processes or funding resources.  Maybe a more senior stakeholder is familiar with the financial process or stop in and visit with your procurement/finance leaders to further understand the process.

6.  Propose a solution

You’ve identified the issue, stakeholders and options to implement change.  Now it’s time to propose a final solution!  Document it and ensure all direct and indirect stakeholders are on board.  Since you’ve involved stakeholders early in the process and have been providing consistent communication, this will minimize surprises.

Part of proposing a solution also means having a plan and process in place for when things change during the change! OH MY!  Yes, this happens!  And yes, you will survive! The more complex the change, the more possibilities exist for unknowns.  Have a mitigation and communication plan in place for when change interrupts change (this can be in the form of meeting for a cold one at your local watering hole - it has been known to help, at least 😊). 

7.  Draft a schedule

Having a clear, transparent schedule for stakeholders is important, so that everyone knows what they are supposed to do and when.  People do better when they know what to expect.

8.  Execute

Stakeholders, a solution, funding and a schedule are all in place. Now it’s time to execute!  The champion is leading the way, the stakeholders know their roles and tasks and regular communication is occurring.  And then…it happens…the champion takes a new job, a new stakeholder pops up or the vendor can’t deliver according to the schedule.  See #6.  Check your mitigation plan, communicate with your stakeholders and course correct.

9.  Follow-up

Congratulations, change has occurred!  Maybe you have a new parcel editing process, a new asset management system or a new workflow in place.  But you aren’t finished.  Follow up with your stakeholder group, follow up with end users.  Maybe this is a week after change has occurred, maybe it’s months.  Consistent follow-up is important to ensure the change is successful. 

10.  Consistent, transparent communication

This should really be #1!  When I reflect on all the change I have seen, this is by far the most important item to get right.  Whether change affects one person or a hundred, having stakeholders and leading with consistent, transparent communication is critical.  It’s the people that make change happen every time. When we understand the issue, our role and expectations, change can become less scary.

Going through tough change can be uncomfortable, but when you’re finished, it can be so gratifying.  Take little steps or take big steps, but…take a step. You can do it! Let’s go!