Embracing Change

Development, Enterprise on July 22nd, 2010 No Comments

Each year, organizations spend millions of dollars on technology.  Between upgrades, maintenance, training, implementations, and integration… there is a steady bleed of cash.  Technology is the #1 enabler of organizational change – it can provide faster service, increased communication, cleaner data. It can help an organization overcome a tiny staff, a small budget.  Technology can enable any size organization to make things better.

But even the most pristine, glorious application is meaningless without users.  And therein lies the problem with many implementations – most employees do not understand, or embrace, technological change.

Why not? Is it because employees are really lumbering oafs, resistant to using a computer?  Many organizations portray their users to be this way; pegging employees  as obstinate elderly, practically incapable of sending an email.   But in my experience, this portrayal is false – I have had devoted users upwards of 70 years old, burning with zeal to get something new and innovative.  There is one common theme, however, that occurs in implementations and may have something to do with employee reluctance.

Several years ago, an organization decided to wholly replace their HR systems. All training, quals, payroll, benefits. The whole deal. They picked a provider and they ante’d up – $120 million dollars worth of change. And damn, they needed change. Their existing systems had been running (or is that, limping along) since 1984.  Filled with enthusiasm, their C-Suite sent an email to every employee.  Change, they said, was coming.  They helpfully pointed out that process efficiencies could result! Imagine!

It was a very nice email.

Yet the employee reaction was, well, less than enthusiastic. There was an immediate outcry! There was frustration! There was, dare I say it, irrational rage and panic.

Are we going to lose our jobs? I’m not losing my technology staff! I’m not paying for this! How am I supposed to train people! And who decided this! And why weren’t we consulted on the vendor.

It was pandemonium.  And this new, sweet, innocent system, that had never hurt anyone and only wanted to be helpful, made enemies.   Enemies that would gossip and spread fear in the hearts of users.  Enemies that would deride and mock its cheerful face. Enemies that would insist it was too expensive and unwanted – even when it was clear that the old system was a dying wreck, trapping them in a death spiral of doom and archaic disorder.

Strangely, these enemies were often the very same people who’d been the most vocal advocates for change.

And so, the sweet pristine system developed a bad reputation.  Before any progress, before the first bit of data had been loaded, she was already considered a hindrance and a failure.  Some employees begrudgingly accepted her, and others turned their backs outright.  The organization never got real change. They got some marginal benefits, but sometimes their costs actually increased. Executives and employees alike blamed the system, and forgot that she was dependent on them for her success.

And it all started with that one, happy, excited, email.

How could the organization have communicated change without arousing red flags? There are a couple of key points.

1. Be very clear about what the change IS.  Don’t skirt the issue, do not lie, and do not pretend you don’t know. People, especially your own employees, are not fools and they can tell when you’re trying to fool them, even via email.

2. Establish what the goals and benefits are.  This should be as long a list as possible, and it should be detailed. It should not just be in consultancy speak, but in terms employees can understand.

3.  Don’t talk at them, talk with them. Make technology change a discussion. Have a town hall. Have massive conference calls that are an open forum. Embrace questions, and meet dissenters head on.  If this change is truly necessary, which it is!, you’ll be able to respond to their concerns and allay their fears – if you’re just wasting money though… see point 1.

4.  Have a plan, and ask feedback on it. From people who know what they are talking about. Too many times, organizations have an implementation plan that is totally insane. And when they send it out at the last minute, IT employees are dumbfounded then indignant, and no one is happy. I am going to bold this – IT departments are always the biggest critics and without their buy in the project is screwed. Incorporating IT employees into the process will not only engage them, but it will also result in a better plan. Ownership can turn an enemy to an evangelist. That’d be good.

5. Do what’s right for your employees and your organization.  At the end of the day, it’s really NOT about cost.  A failed implementation is going to cost you way more than dollars, it will cost you goodwill, employees, and your dignity.  If you don’t feel an approach is right, if you don’t like a template, say so.  Demand it be done differently.

6. Admit Flaws. Sometimes the very folks who insist on change don’t see how resistant they truly are.  It’s possible, even likely, that some of the ways an organization does business are just…wrong. And bad. And inefficient.  Try to remember you’re spending millions of dollars to change, truly change, and not just recreate a newer version of the same old system.

About the Author

is an IT consultant working in the Washington DC metro area.
Connect on Twitter: @techbelle

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