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Keep your DAM on the track to success: use change management to nurture user adoption

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Kristina Huddart

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Think back to the time when you received your work laptop.

When Slack and Teams was rolled out.

When Instagram focused on all video and Reels.

These are just some examples of changes we experience every week, sometimes every day!

When it comes to the digital world we live in, change is the only constant. And, as any good marketer knows, success depends on keeping up with those changes.

Too often, organizations invest in shiny new solutions, like DAM systems, only to see them fail due to lack of user adoption. Much like a website, DAM is not a technology that you can set up and walk away from. Not only is DAM not a set-and-forget technology, it is also much more than a project. DAM is a business practice that involves a combination of people, process, technology and data to be successful. DAM is a practice that needs ongoing maintenance and updates, it needs to be properly resourced, and it requires planning to meet the ever-changing needs of your organization.

When changes are made to a DAM practice, it’s important to manage those changes effectively to ensure user adoption and continued success.

As such, successful digital asset management (DAM) implementations require far more than just the right technology. In order to avoid failure and wasted investment, it’s important to take a holistic approach that includes creating a strong foundation of all of the elements that are part of your DAM practice – people, process, data and technology – in that order!

As your DAM grows and evolves, so must your:

  • people, including stakeholders, leaders, your business sponsor, users, your vendors, and the DAM team
  • processes for how you work with digital assets across the digital asset lifecycle and workflow management
  • data, including metadata, rights data, and user behavioral data
  • and technology, including your core DAM system, but also stretching to your integrations, plug-ins, AI tools, SSO tools, interoperability, updates, cloud storage, and more

This is where change management comes in.

What is change management?

Change management is an enabling framework for managing the people side of change. On a basic level, it is the process of planning, implementing, and monitoring changes to an organization. The goal of change management (in DAM) is to minimize the risk of negative impacts on employees, customers, and other stakeholders while maximizing the chances of a successful DAM implementation, high user adoption, and maximized return-on-investment.

All too often, our primary focus when we’re starting out is on project management and initial implementation. This short-sighted approach is a mistake. Setting up a DAM and walking away is a recipe for failure. Change management is an essential part of any DAM practice, and it should be given the attention it deserves from day one. Change management is a critical element in ensuring that your new technology is adopted by users and integrated into regular business processes successfully.

The benefits of a DAM system are only as good as the users’ ability to put it to use. That’s why user adoption is essential to maximize the return on investment (ROI) of any business technology. A study by Forrester Research found that “a shocking 82% of tech projects fail due to poor user adoption.” To increase the chances of success for your DAM system, focus on change management from the start.

Managing change isn’t easy, but you can do it in only 3 steps!

Here’s how:

The 3 basic stages to change management (based on Lewin’s model of change management) include:

  1. 🧊Unfreeze
  2. 💧Change
  3. ❄️Refreeze

This model of change compares the process of business change to changing the shape of an ice cube. If you have a cube of ice but decide that what you want is an ice ball, what do you do?

  • Firstly, to be changed, the ice must first be melted (unfreeze).
  • Then you must put the water into a spherical mold (change).
  • Finally, you would put the spherical mold in the freezer to solidify the ice ball (refreeze).

If you’ve ever made ice cubes, you know that this process is not instant. The same is true for business change. Let’s walk through the 3 basic stages in your change management process.

1. 🧊Unfreeze – Evolve or vanish!

In the unfreeze stage, you’ll work with your stakeholders to prepare for change by raising awareness and understanding of the need for change. You also develop a shared vision for the future and begin to build support for the change. Guide your stakeholders through this stage with these steps:

Clearly define the current situation and why it is not sustainable/competitive/scalable: Clearly define the change that you want to see. What are the goals of the change? What business processes will be affected? What new technology will be used? What will NOT change? By defining the change, your stakeholders will fully understand what is changing, the urgency of changing now, the reason why things cannot stay the same, and how the change will impact them (for better or worse).

Create a shared DAM vision: Collectively, the senior leadership of the organization, led by the DAM business sponsor must create a shared vision of the next 3-5 years for the DAM. What will the business look like after the DAM has been implemented? What is Phase 2 of the implementation? When will the DAM be integrated with other systems in the marketing technology ecosystem? How will users work differently? Which teams will the tool be rolled out to initially and over time? By creating a shared vision for the future, you can build support for the change and give your stakeholders a bigger picture to know what they are aiming for.

Identify the potential forces that will drive or cause resistance to change: Even the most positive changes will be met with resistance, it’s simply human nature. In order to avoid getting side-tracked or blocked by resistance, we can start planning for it early. Consider, what are the risks of implementing the change? What are the potential benefits? Which stakeholders will be most impacted and how can we support them? Are there any individuals who have had a bad experience with a previous DAM implementation who may be particularly resistant to going through another implementation? By understanding the potential risks and benefits, you can start to develop a resistance plan to mitigate the risks whenever they pop up and maximize the benefits.

Explain the benefits of the DAM to stakeholders: To build a wave of momentum for the change, help stakeholders understand how they will benefit from the new DAM. What advantages does the new technology have over the old? How will it improve the work process? How will the DAM alleviate the tedious, manual tasks that frustrate your teams on a daily basis? How will the user experience be a delight when compared to email collaboration? By explaining the benefits of the new technology, you can increase buy-in from employees and recruit a group of early adopters.

Establish a change management team and a change agent network: It is unlikely that any one person will be able to convince all of your stakeholders to change the way they are working. Influencing, motivating, and leading people through change requires many different voices and individuals. A change agent network is a selected group of individuals from across all areas of the business that will be impacted by the change. By starting early to recruit a change agent network (or I like to call them DAMbassadors), you will create a support network that will be able to communicate across the business, represent the needs of their business units and share feedback, and ultimately take on ownership and leadership for the DAM in their areas of the business.

2. 💧Change – Time to make some waves!

In the change stage, you implement the actual changes and begin to see results. This is where you will need to overcome resistance and promote user adoption. You also start to build commitment and ownership for the change.

Guide people through change using a change management plan: A change management plan is a living document that serves as a roadmap to track progress, identify risks and issues, and course correct when needed. The plan should include your change strategy, communications plan, training plan, resistance management plan, and specify ongoing support for the DAM. By having a change management plan in place and someone who is methodically executing it, you can proactively address any challenges that come up and you can increase the chances of success.

Overcome resistance to change: Change is hard, no matter how you look at it. And when you are trying to change the way people are working, you will inevitably face resistance. The key is to proactively address resistance and have a plan to overcome it. Some common strategies to overcome resistance include: identifying and addressing the root causes of resistance, building support for the change (with your DAMbassadors!), providing training and support, demonstrating the benefits of the change, addressing concerns head-on, and asking stakeholders for feedback throughout the change process.

Involve people and provide safe learning environments: In the midst of the change phase, it is natural that people may be worried about the change. Possibly even angry, frustrated, and confused. During this time, you can guide stakeholders through this tumultuous time to a place of acceptance of the change by providing safe learning environments. A safe learning environment is one in which people feel comfortable trying new things, making mistakes, and asking questions. This can be done by involving users in the planning process right from the beginning. I recommend getting end-users involved on day one in building the business case for getting a DAM. By highlighting the individuals who will be impacted by the change and the pain points they experience in their work before having a DAM, your leadership will recognize that the DAM is more than a piece of technology, it is intricately linked to daily work, emotions, and employee satisfaction. Make sure to keep involving people throughout the change by providing training and support, opportunities to provide feedback, share stories of DAM success, and creating a culture of change.

Allow for experimentation (do a DAM proof of concept, pilot, test/learn, laboratory sessions): In the initial stages of DAM selection and implementation, the process can feel conceptual and theoretical. It is important to provide opportunities for people to experiment with the DAM and get their hands dirty. This will help build confidence in the system and allow for user feedback early on in the process which can help shape the system to better meet business needs. I recommend doing a DAM proof of concept or pilot to get started. A DAM proof of concept is a small-scale version of the system that allows you to test out its functionality and usability.

Role model the changes you want to see: When line managers and leadership using the DAM for sharing assets (rather than email or other methods), collaborating on assets in the DAM, or screen sharing from the DAM during marketing meetings, users will take notice. If you want to see changes in user behavior, model the behavior yourself and ask your business sponsor to socialize this effort at higher levels. Role modeling changes demonstrate a committed to and adoption of the change.

Quick wins are essential to sustain the change momentum: A great way to sustain change momentum is by achieving quick wins at the beginning of a change. Quick wins are small, tangible changes that can be made quickly and easily. This means that you need to identify and implement changes that will have a positive impact quickly. For example, by ensuring that all brand assets and guidelines have been migrated into the DAM, new users will be delighted with their first impressions of the DAM as a space for brand management and a single-source of truth for brand logos, typography, templates, and more. Be sure to share quick wins to attract the curiosity of others and encourage user adoption.

3. ❄️Refreeze – Let it set and stick!

In the refreeze stage, you consolidate the changes and ensure that they are embedded into the organization’s culture. This stage sets a sustainable foundation for long-term success.

New ways of working become work habits: Once the change has been implemented, it is important to ensure that new ways of working become daily habits. This means that the behaviors associated with the change should become part of the routine and not be seen as something “extra” that needs to be done. For example, if you want people to use the DAM for all their creative needs, then you need to make sure that it is integrated into the creative workflow so that it becomes the go-to tool for creative tasks and collaboration.

New ways of thinking become institutional knowledge: In order for the change to be embedded into the organization’s culture, new ways of thinking need to become institutional knowledge. This means that the knowledge and understanding gained from the change should be passed on to future users. For example, if you want the DAM to be seen as a valuable tool for the organization, then you need to make sure that it is included in new staff and partner onboarding and training.

Keep an eye out for users regressing to the old ways: It is important to keep an eye out for people who may fall back to old ways of thinking, talking or acting. This may be due to a lack of understanding of the new ways, a feeling of comfort in the old ways, or resistance to change. By monitoring user behavior and addressing any issues that arise, you can ensure that the change is embedded into the organization’s culture. It is critical that DAM teams include a role who is responsible for this process.

Provide ongoing DAM support and communications – training, triage support, onboarding, drop-in sessions, etc.: Ongoing support and communications are critical for DAM growth and to maximize your return on investment. A major benefit of SaaS-based DAM systems is that they are constantly being improved and developed. DAM vendors typically release new functionality throughout the year. This new functionality may be valuable to your teams and business objectives or it may solve a new business challenge. Don’t miss out on new functionality, and don’t let your DAM growth stall! Make sure your users can continue to learn and use the tool effectively. A dedicated DAM resource or team will be able to communicate new functionality quickly and can provide ongoing training, triage support, onboarding, and drop-in sessions.

Celebrate successes! (bring treats) – reward behaviors and results aligned with the change: Just as you’ve celebrated quick wins during the DAM roll-out, continue to celebrate successes along the way to maintain momentum and keep people engaged. Whether it be a new department using the DAM, the shift to managing video in your DAM, or an integration with a CMS that increases efficiency by 50%, share your stories with the business and celebrate these wins! By rewarding behaviors and results aligned with the change, you can reinforce the new ways of working and ensure that the change is embedded into the organization’s culture.

Communicate long-term roadmap and direction to maintain commitment and avoid creeping scope: When people see the value that the DAM is providing and how it is benefiting the organization, they are more likely to be committed to using it and less likely to resist change. By communicating the long-term roadmap, the shared vision, and direction for the DAM, you can ensure that users understand the value of the tool and how it fits into the larger picture. This will help to avoid scope creep and the commitment to user adoption of the DAM is sustained.

Make your DAM a raving success with change management

Change is hard, but with the right approach, it can be managed successfully. Use this 3-step change management model to make sure your DAM changes are successful and embedded in the business for long-term return on investment. When you are using the 3-step change management approach, keep in mind that each stage must be completed one after the other. There are no shortcuts in change management! In my experience, organizations that go as far as the Change stage but don’t Refreeze end up with a cold, wet puddle. Organizations that skip the Unfreeze stage often find that employees feel that a change is being imposed on them and exhibit higher resistance to change.

And without a change management guide, many stakeholders will not engage with the DAM and will continue working in their own ways, or use inefficient workarounds. It is critical to hire someone with change management experience to help your stakeholders navigate these choppy waters and ensure successful user adoption of your DAM.

As we know, change is the only constant in life and work. I recommend applying this 3-step change management approach to all types of DAM changes along your DAM journey, including:

  • DAM selection
  • DAM implementation and launch (decommissioning a legacy DAM)
  • Asset migration
  • Integrations with other marketing technology tools
  • New workflows
  • New departments onboarding to DAM
  • Onboarding new team members, partners, and agencies
  • Mergers & acquisitions
  • and more…

With a seasoned change management Sherpa on your side, your DAM journey will be stress-free and pleasant! Please keep me posted on your challenges and successes!

This article was originally published on the Woodwing blog.

Kristina Huddart, DAM Consultant, Huddart Consulting

Kristina Huddart is an independent DAM consultant who helps companies and cultural heritage organizations to find, implement and make the most of their digital asset management (DAM) practices. Kristina has over 9 years of experience in the DAM industry, working on the client-side across industries including finance, startup, charity, cultural heritage, energy, retail and eCommerce, and events sectors.

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