Michael Hempseed explains how business leaders need to give much more attention to the adaptation of people and not just the implementation of new technology.
“The times they are a-changin” sang Bob Dylan.
Researchers believe that with the advent of the computer the world has changed more in the last 30 years than it has in the last 200. As the pace of technological development increases, the world will continue to change at a faster and faster pace.
In order to simply survive, businesses are being told to innovate, innovate and then innovate some more. Business leaders are warned that if they do not change with the times then they will face certain bankruptcy. We need only to think of Kodak, Blockbuster and Netscape to know what happens when companies fail to innovate.
What we often don’t talk about is the other side of the coin, many companies fail because they innovate!
Adam Grant found that 47 percent of first mover companies fail, whereas only eight percent of improvers fail. Even if companies do not fail, many experience strong resistance and difficulty when they try and bring in a new leader, a new computer system, move offices and often the kiss of death is a company merger. Research suggests 83 percent of mergers fail*!
Many managers will know of the immense frustration that is often experienced when they try and bring in even small changes.
Why does this happen?
Innovation has several problems, firstly it usually requires a lot of time and money to educate consumers, businesses or staff about a new idea. The problem is even worse when it is a new concept, just imagine how much Trivago has invested in consumer education with all their ads on TV and online!
Those that push the idea of innovation often forget something that psychologists have known for a long time, human beings are generally resistant to change.
George W Bush was one of the worst presidents the United States has ever had, yet he was re-elected for a second term. The reason is that in times of war America has never changed a first term president. In other words, in difficult times people would rather stick with what they know than change.
There are probably many evolutionary advantages to resisting change, for example if you know one type of food is safe it is probably a good idea to keep eating that and not risk eating something that is poisonous.
Unfortunately, our brains often don’t work so well in the modern world. Google discovered the hard way that even insignificant changes can lead to fierce resistance. In 2015, when Google changed their logo there was a huge uproar. It was a logo. It didn’t affect the usability of Google at all.
One of the best examples of this is Coca Cola. In 1985 they changed their recipe to become “new coke.” The reaction to the new coke was overwhelmingly negative, so much so that it threatened the stability of the company.
Psychologically many people do not like change and this is what businesses need to remember.
If an insignificant change such as a logo can be met with such fierce resistance what happens when bigger changes are brought in? Recently I worked with a company that tried to bring in a new computer system 18 months prior to my involvement. The new system was much better, yet as many as 30 percent of the staff outright refused to learn the new system. These weren’t just difficult employees, many of these staff were great assets to the business in other areas.
When it comes to innovation I’m not saying that we should never innovate, if we didn’t we would still be living in caves. What I’m saying is that business leaders need to give much more attention to the adaptation of people and not just the implementation of new technology.
For the rest of the article I will look at bringing about technological change, but what I say applies to most situations of change.
The absolute wrong way to go about bringing in a new computer system is to spring change on people and expect everyone to be happy about it. This is especially true when the decision to change has been made in a management void, without consultation or warning.
Rather than having a staff meeting and announcing that there is a new computer system (which always meets with resistance.) It is far better to have a staff meeting where you ask what are the current problems with the current system. This way the staff may even suggest the change themselves.
Next, a few weeks later business leaders should announce that we have listened to your concerns and we are acting on this. The other advantage of this is that staff feel valued and respected.
Staff should be slowly introduced to the new system and told that there will be lots of training and support given. Many people feel overwhelmed when they have to make many changes in a short space of time.
To start off with, I would teach the staff one simple part of the new system. This first part should only require a few steps. This will help people to build their confidence that they can successfully change.
Everything that I have said until now should happen before the new system is brought in. Once everyone is comfortable and given adequate time to learn and ask questions then the new system should be brought in.
Another important part of human memory is people need time to learn, especially if it is something new. One session on a Monday morning will leave many staff overwhelmed and many may consider resigning.
If business leaders give more attention to the support of staff through change they will meet far less resistance, gain the trust and loyalty of their staff and ultimately have a more profitable business.
Michael Hempseed is the Managing Director of the Employee Solution Service, he gained an Honours Degree in Psychology from the University of Canterbury in 2008. www.ess.org.nz