The Human Aspects of Technology Change
May 27, 2020 in Technology & Tools
By Catherine Neale, Shrish Willett
Every month we explore the various tools and technologies that impact employees and organizations. Organizations can invest in the most cutting-edge technology, but if employees aren’t ready to accept these new tools and related changes in process, the investment is unlikely to pay off! Tools and technology are unique in their ability to inspire resistance. They bring many potential benefits to an organization but are also disruptive and unsettling. People can feel uncomfortable with learning new skills and even fear losing their jobs due to new or changing requirements. To capitalize on tech investments and keep employees at ease, organizations need to incorporate thoughtful and proactive change management strategies. We’re going to talk about the importance of strategic organizational change and provide tips to help ensure successful implementation of new tools and technology in terms of the human aspects. Engaging in the following will help facilitate successful organizational change and alignment:
- Implement change management from the get-go
- Expect and formally manage resistance to change
- Identify and inspire stakeholders
Having a well thought out change management strategy from the get-go will go a long way in mitigating resistance to change and other unforeseen roadblocks. One way to think about change management strategies is grouping them into Pre-Launch, Launch, and Post-Launch phases.
- In the Pre-Launch Phase, consider the message you want to relay, the best way to communicate it, who should communicate it, and how different groups are likely to react (can you think of any reasons a particular group might be skeptical or resistant?). To craft a message that resonates with the workforce, consider the necessity, potential alternatives, feasibility of implementation, and perceived value of the initiative (Armenakis & Harris, 2002). Put yourself in the shoes of different parts of the workforce and think about how they’ve responded to change initiatives in the past. Identify potential pockets of resistance and talk to them to understand their perspectives and convey how the outcomes of the project connect to and can help with their concerns. In other words, don’t try to avoid resistance, and don’t try to stifle it. Turn your would-be resistors into change advocates!
- In the Launch Phase, you’ll communicate the message(s) to inform the workforce in a thoughtful way (thanks to your prep-work during pre-launch!), which will help garner buy-in. In this phase it’s important to introduce initial activities to engage and excite employees about the change initiative. Tailoring each communication and message to speak to the benefits for each group and level in the organization will go a long way.
- In the Post-Launch Phase, it’s important to have a multi-faceted communication approach; more involvement and exposure leads to more buy-in. After the launch, steps will need to be taken to sustain the change. Dealing with the unanticipated consequences of change initiatives requires understanding that not all roadblocks can be foreseen and being prepared to take swift action when they occur. Taking initiative and being flexible will help maintain the momentum of the implementation and keep employees engaged and excited about the change!
Resistance to Change
We talked about identifying and working with potential resistors, but what do we mean by “resistors”? To help answer this, think about a time when you wanted to organize a get-together at a new hot spot in town with a group of friends or family and you know from experience that not everyone will want to stray from their local hangout. These are your resistors! So, you must find a way to appeal to each of their personalities and mindsets. The same goes for organizational change initiatives! Individuals will react to and resist change differently, and you need to address this for change initiatives to be successful. There are several reasons why employees will resist change initiatives including being invested in the current way of doing work (especially if they played a role in creating it), fear of not being able to adapt to the new way of work, expecting more work as a result of the change, and having been rewarded for their role. There are several types of resistance and ways to mitigate their effects.
- Blind Resistance indicates that employees will not accept any kind of change, regardless of what it is and the potential value of the change. Organizations with people displaying blind resistance will want it to be open and communicative with them and provide as much reassurance as possible. As time goes on the resistance may diminish as the employees adjust and accept the change.
- Political Resistance occurs when people think they’ll lose something due to the change initiative. To mitigate this resistance, organizations will want to assure employees that they will still have something of value after the change occurs.
- Ideological Resistance refers to the type of reaction by people who don’t think the change initiative is going to work well based on their opinions and beliefs. In order to encourage these individuals to accept change, organizations can use data to demonstrate the value of the initiative to garner their support.
Do you see any of your friends’ and family members’ reactions within these types resistance to change? Someone with political resistance to going to the new hot spot may respond well to being told that the new place is on the metro and has a killer happy hour, while someone displaying ideological resistance may respond well to the rave reviews the new place has and the innovative cocktail menu that is posted online. While the exact same appeals may not work for tools and technology change initiatives (though cocktails will likely help), the same thought processes and strategies can be used! With new tools and technology, you need to understand how work is currently performed and how that will change after the implementation, and work to address whatever gaps exist. Encouraging the learning of new skills, competencies, and ways of operating in the newly changed organizational system will help employees accept the new tool/technology being introduced and feel supported by the organization!
To ensure a successful change initiative, it’s important to have the right people supporting the effort, relaying the message, and effectively mitigating resistance (Hussain et al., 2018). When implementing new tools/technology, think about the unique impacts of the change on different groups: Who has influence or might be influenced by the project and its outcomes? Will anyone experience short-term costs? Additional workload? Who stands to benefit from the success (or failure) of the project? Lastly, what information is valuable to each of these groups?
Remember, no one likes to be caught off-guard. Taking the opportunity to explain the duration of the impact and what the long-term outcomes are will help avoid immediate resentment and skepticism. To gain buy-in and willingness to work through the transition, emphasize the end-goal and benefits in a way that’ll resonate with different groups based on what they value. Yes, we mentioned this before, but it’s important! Here are some examples:
- Senior leaders pay attention to new insights and decision-making capabilities based on data and dashboarding functions enabled by new tools/technology.
- Employees care about how new tools/technology will impact how they work, learning and development opportunities, and potential career paths both within and outside the organization.
- Managers and supervisors typically have some combination of both senior leader and employee concerns (i.e., paying attention to strategic decision-making and looking out for their employees). Managers can be the biggest conduits of information and champions of acceptance.
Technology change is an unavoidable reality these days. To keep up with the pace of change, the most successful organizations foster an adopt-and-adapt culture. This type of cultural change takes time to develop and starts with strategic change management, which leads to repeated “success stories” of new technology implementation. The tips described in this blog are key to creating these success stories that foster a culture of receptiveness and excitement around change, especially pertaining to tools and technology. Taking the extra time to thoughtfully and intentionally pay attention to the human aspect of technology change will result in compounding benefits in the long run!
Armenakis, A. A., & Harris, S. G. (2002). Crafting a change message to create transformational readiness. Journal of organizational change management.
Hussain, S. T., Lei, S., Akram, T., Haider, M. J., Hussain, S. H., & Ali, M. (2018). Kurt Lewin’s change model: A critical review of the role of leadership and employee involvement in organizational change. Journal of Innovation & Knowledge, 3(3), 123-127.