Today’s financial institutions need to embrace change — and master it — if they want to stay competitive. Even if you are a change management expert, the journey of change is a difficult one. Change starts. It gets worse. You do not sleep. You pull your hair out. It gets better. You sleep. Then it starts all over again.

At the recent National Technology in Mortgage Banking Conference & Expo 2015 conference, I had the pleasure of moderating a session on change management. The panelists shared their personal experiences and tips for managing change.

The panelists were:

  • Diana McKeever Smith
    Vice President, Technology Product Manager, PrimeLending, A PlainsCapital Company
  • Lynn Ryan
    Executive Vice President, Chief Information Officer, The Loan Depot Lending Company, Inc.

Change management is about managing the people-side of change. While a change may be minor, such as updating an application, many technology implementations represent larger strategic changes in the organization. The biggest point everyone agreed upon regardless of the scope of change is — when it comes to people, you must prepare for the unexpected. You can reduce the angst of a critical business change, whether it is technology or compliance related, through careful integration of the existing workforce.

5 of the key points that resonated with attendees were:

1.  Make communications a top priority

Communications includes training before, during and post change. This is so important that we expanded our own services to include launch training. The more people know about the change’s impacts and understand about the future vision, the better they will buy into the change. Good communication does not mean that everyone impacted will jump for joy, but it will speed acceptance of the new normal.

2.  Pre-define success by establishing goals and specific plans for all areas

What keeps managers up at night are the things they did not know that they did not know. So, it is important to find out all you can. Scrutinize and determine how to handle process modifications and any related business impacts, controls and third-party services. Cast a wide net when you are planning and include:

  • Customer touch points.
  • Investor, partner and agent touch points
  • Operational functions such as accounting, human resources, treasury, etc.

3.  Protect and dedicate your resources

At the very beginning, select your subject matter experts (SME) and dedicate them to advancing the change. Protect the SMEs scope of work and do not let regular operations interfere with their ability to make their deadlines. Also, check in regularly to get feedback and buy-in throughout the project’s duration.

4.  Pilot with real users

To get the best outcome from any change, management needs to pilot the technology and any processes that integrate or support the change. A change to one area often has unintended consequences for other parts of the business. It is important to test the impacts of a change from the beginning to the end of the task. Shortchanging pilot testing typically results in unanticipated breakdowns, which never, ever happen at a good time.

5. Top management must actively participate

The above point is the most important point in this article. The responsibility of senior management and executive leaders stretches beyond providing funding and giving the approval for change. In my own personal change experiences — which number in the hundreds — getting leaders to understand they must take an active role is the most vital part of preparation and implementation. Leaderships’ visible support and personal investment in the change are critical for the successful results of any change.

Paula Tompkins, CEO and founder of ChannelNet, is a digital marketing and sales expert. ChannelNet has helped hundreds of the world’s leading companies use technology to sell their products and build customer relationships.