Too many people believe that a technology driven project is just that: technology. Yet, the single biggest determinant of its success or failure could rest solely on the people who will be impacted by the technology, not the technology itself.
When businesses change their HR software, someone is going to have a problem with that. It happens in almost every project and it’s the smart executives who anticipate this resistance to change.
People just don’t like change. In a child development book I read years ago, the authors cautioned new parents to understand how little tolerance that children have for change. Children crave routine. If you’re the parent who takes your child to its dance class every Tuesday, then notice how rattled your child gets when someone else has to take them to that class. In business, one only needs to remember that workers are simply older children.
In an ideal world, businesses would have workers who possessed the fearless curiosity of a 17-year-old with the wisdom of a 60-year-old while simultaneously absent any fear of change or fear of the unknown. As it turns out, there aren’t many workers like this.
Why is Technology Change so Hard?
To better understand why people fight change in their business and business technology, you need to get inside their heads for a bit. When someone joins the company, they go through a significant learning curve. It can take them days or years to fully understand all of the little subtle nuances that your company has built into its business processes as well as the special spreadsheets and other tools that work alongside your core business application software. After they have finally mastered this patchwork of technology and processes, most employees would just like to see this fragile, complicated environment stay constant. Why? Because when this environment changes, then the employee will not only have to learn new methods, practices, technology, etc., they might also make mistakes because they didn’t fully understand the new systems as well as the old ones. Change to these workers can present some measure of career risk.
“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”
Former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933
Old Technology is Like an Old, Comfortable Pair of Shoes
Over time, the shoes become molded to us or vice versa. Who among us enjoys breaking in a new pair of shoes?
There’s another change challenge, and it involves the “investment” that employees have made in the old methods and technology. For some people, the allure of learning new things just isn’t that great. Once they have mastered or completed something, learning something new of a somewhat similar technology just isn’t all that appealing to them. These individuals are people who are more “comfortable with the devil they know than the devil they don’t”.
This Isn’t a Generational Thing
Some believe that resistance to technology change is a generational thing. This generalization is not correct. The fear of change is actually tied more to what one has already got invested in the status quo. If you’re new to a firm, do you really care if you’ll be learning a new HR system or the existing one? Both of them are effectively new to you so change is not an issue. But, for someone who’s burrowed into the bowels of the existing software these last ten-plus years, change is something that will once again be unfamiliar.
One generational aspect of change is true though and it occurs when a young person is asked to utilize an HR technology that they’ve never encountered. Ask a millennial to send a fax, sharpen a pencil, use a rotary telephone, or, handwrite (in cursive) a thank you note, and they’ll look at you like you’re from another planet. People often don’t like to embrace old technology especially if it was something created before their teenage years. So, if you’re still trying to implement that 1990’s mainframe HR system, don’t be surprised that no one wants it.
Change doesn’t have to bedevil an HR technology project. Here are some methods to smoothing the process:
- Identify early on who will be the big change resisters. Be especially vigilant in identifying Passive-Resisters. These team members will say they’re supporting the project but will do nothing to actually help it succeed.
- Get the project team to become very familiar with the future state. You might need to take them to another customer of the software to ‘see’ the future state in practice. Sometimes, people need to know that they’re not going to be pioneers and that others made the same transition successfully.
- Be prepared to remove saboteurs. If a team member is intentionally trying to halt the project, deal with them. If this person is especially vocal, toxic, etc., then deal with them publicly. Afterwards, remind everyone that a project is like a north-bound train. Everyone on these tracks and this train are going in one direction. There won’t be the budget or an option to put down tracks in a different direction.
- Celebrate successes. Don’t wait to the go-live date to finally celebrate the new systems or recognize key team members. When major breakthroughs occur, make this known loudly and visibly.
- Reward risk-takers and dreamers. The design of new processes and systems requires people to think out of the box and to communicate these bold ideas to others. The people with the vision and communication skills to sell that vision to others are key project people. Make sure they know it.
About the Author
Brian Sommer is an IT industry analyst who is as passionate about technology as he is about cars and travel. His technology career began by re-writing a payroll and time reporting software package for a fast food chain. Fast forward a decade or two and Brian is a technology heavyweight: an award winning writer, guest university lecturer and sought after speaker.
Connect with Brian @BrianSSommer