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Crossing the Rubicon Part II: How organizations can successfully navigate change

Oct 15, 2018

You thought you found the perfect technology solution to a challenge your organization has been dealing with for years — but when implementing the new tool, most everyone resisted using it, and very few replaced the old ways with the new. Now people have invented workarounds and figured out how to do the minimum necessary to be compliant, and the technology investment looks like a bad decision.

To read part I of "Crossing the Rubicon", click here.

Watching a technology implementation fail is frustrating, and it makes you realize how crucial change management is to helping organizations and teams become more effective and efficient. Your technology solution is only as good as the number of people fully adopting it.

The value of change management

Wipfli recently has been working on technology implementation and change management projects with Team Rubicon — a nonprofit organization that sends veterans and civilian volunteers around the world to assist in disaster relief efforts. Team Rubicon is a perfect example of how to successfully navigate change to implement needed technology and process improvements.

In dealing with major catastrophes in hundreds of locations, Team Rubicon solves tough problems with limited organizational resources. They historically have run their organization that way, too — but they realized they could better deploy and track volunteers, create and communicate engaging events and measure impact by significantly upgrading their technology. To address these needs, the organization teamed up with Wipfli to develop a customized volunteer management system (VMS) that would keep the team better organized, more effectively serve their thousands of volunteers and help them respond to disasters faster and more efficiently.

Team Rubicon also recognized that by transforming their digital tools, they needed a partner to help them through the people-side of change, an area in which Wipfli excels. We identified the various people-related impacts of their technology implementations: making Team Rubicon’s employees aware of the coming changes, explaining the business purpose of making those changes and how they benefit from using the new technology platform, training them to use the new system and follow the new processes and, most importantly, ensuring Team Rubicon leadership continually reinforces these improved ways of getting things done.

Many people across Team Rubicon’s “TRibe" were impacted by these changes, and they needed to understand why they were switching technology platforms, as well as how it would help them do their volunteer work, specifically. If they ignored the “why,” Team Rubicon would risk losing people or sacrifice their buy-in through the initial clunky period of change. If they undervalued the WIIFM (or “what’s in it for me”), they risked divergent practices across their wide network of dedicated and crafty volunteer leaders. We needed to maximize the value of the system in their eyes.

Navigating culture to encourage change

As with many nonprofits navigating today’s volunteer environment, Team Rubicon also wanted to ensure we took their unique culture into account. They didn’t want to lose their entrepreneurial, make-it-happen core values by adopting intensely structured processes. That’s why Wipfli took a customized, collaborative approach to applying our change methodology to fit their culture.

At an onsite visit, Wipfli team members interviewed Team Rubicon’s operations and regional directors to understand where they were as individual leaders and how they thought their organization could support the digital transformation a new VMS would bring. We also performed sponsor mapping and modeling to analyze Team Rubicon’s org charts and discover who were the most influential employees that would make the best change agents. Who were the go-to leaders for the most active volunteers?

The ultimate goal was to determine where both the risks and success factors were, where we could leverage Team Rubicon’s resources and where we needed to bring our own. One of Team Rubicon’s strengths is in branding and messaging, so Wipfli created a master communications plan, which included developing messaging that tied the mission of the organization into the mission of the digital transformation. It was the perfect cultural tie-in.

Now, Team Rubicon has started to see the high adoption rate they came to Wipfli looking for. Beginning with a few key short-term wins (such as converting all email accounts and network access to a Microsoft 365 Cloud platform), the organization was able to simplify and highlight the steps necessary to adopt changes that were increasingly more operations-critical — and more complex. Today, Team Rubicon’s leaders and volunteer network are working from a more secure, more integrated foundation.

Achieving a successful technology implementation

But getting there is a challenge in and of itself. Change management requires diligence and dedication through the lifecycle of the project, including follow-on support and long-term sponsorship. Keeping stakeholders informed is a first step, but dropping the ball by failing to reinforce individual, volunteer and client benefits can torpedo a project. Core employees and highly engaged volunteers that mean everything to your daily success also tend to be resistant to changes that threaten past successes. Technology implementations that achieve return on financial investments are the ones that dedicate time and resources in an intentional way to navigate the human element of change.

Does your nonprofit need guidance and support in implementing new processes, technology and successful change management? Wipfli can help. Contact us to learn more.


Ryan E. Risley, CIO
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Wipfli recognized as 2021 Microsoft Nonprofit Partner of the Year
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