The reluctant employee

Ways to motivate them to embrace new tech

By Laura Haight

Planning a new tech implementation in your company? You’ve got a 15-to-65 percent chance of pulling it off.

With so much new workplace technology hitting the marketplace, it might come as a surprise that success is this elusive. There are many reasons for it; a significant one is lack of adaptation by employees.

Moving to any new tech is a three-stage process. At each of those stages, we have an opportunity to win or lose the battle for employee approval.

STAGE ONE: Evaluation

Many studies, articles and posts on this subject talk about how to engage employees and get them onboard during implementation. But by then the negativity boat is already out of the harbor. Start with who’s on the team that will evaluate and select the new system.

A cautionary tale comes from the story of Avon’s 2013 epic fail in its transition to a new enterprise system. The cosmetics company lost between $100M and $125M, not to mention four years devoted to the project, when its initial territory rollout to Canada (big territory!) was quashed by staffers’ absolute refusal to use the system. (goo.gl/3MplXz)

What killed it? Clunky software that was so hard to use that a “meaningful” number of employees quit rather than deal with it. All the more reason to have an age- and experience-diverse evaluation team.

Don’t assume that millennials – the “digital natives” – will be more adaptable to anything you throw at them. They grew up with technology, sure, but the smartphone-software kind, not the one-step-from-a-green-screen kind. The more experienced workers know what doesn’t work in the system you have now and what they always have to work around. Instead of age, look for a spirit of discovery and an openness to possibilities and opportunities. Don’t expect or demand a rubber stamp.

When your diverse team is able to agree on a system, you are a third of the way home. And you have advocates to mentor and lead.

STAGE TWO: Implementation

Formal training on new software is often a missed step – and a missed opportunity.

Dr. Kasie Whitener, president and CEO of Clemson Road Creative, a “knowledge consultancy”, works with businesses on system adaptation and training and she has a few suggestions for successful implementations:

Make it their idea: “Introduce the technology and then ask the staff to identify what the benefits might be. Let them come up with their list of ways in which the new system will make their jobs better,” Whitener suggests. “Once they’ve got that idea in their head, there’s not really any room for them to backtrack. Because they’re the ones who demonstrated the benefits.”

Build “to-be” processes: Don’t try to fit old processes into new systems. Identify how the system works and then design the new “to-be” processes. Implementers are usually pretty bad at this, notes Whitener. In a perfect world, she says, “we would teach the geography of the system first, then give users the opportunity to “design their own adventure.” Because we don’t create these cultures of “adventure” and “exploration”, we “often fail in our adoption rate.”

Rely on change agents and “Bettys”: More than age, implementations can rise and fall on the risk-aversion levels of your staff. “You’ve got to have people who are change-minded and who can be ambassadors for change,” says Whitener. “Otherwise all you’re going to get is a new tool to do the same old stuff, maybe slightly better.” But don’t leave out the Bettys, who Whitener describes as the more experienced, possibly older employee, who get really excited about new software and “jump in feet first.” She focuses on the Bettys in training because they know how the business works, they will inspire other older staff to come along, and even the millennials will be pushed toward acceptance. “Young people will look at that and say: ‘If Betty can do it, I can do it.’ “

STAGE THREE: Normal Operation

Businesses tend to think that once normal operation begins, the implementation is over. In reality, this is a critical stage where so many systems fail. People who behaved during training or group meetings, are back in their element. If they haven’t gotten excited about the system, this is when they backslide into old ways and legacy systems.

  • Get your ambassadors, your early adopters and change agents out among the staff to see how they are doing.
  • Set up mechanisms for fielding questions and sharing the answers.
  • Do small group “how to” sessions as new processes come up.
  • Publicize positive comments and results, and look for real data (increased sales, reduced errors) to support the new system.

But don’t listen exclusively to the good. Seek out the things that aren’t working as well. Once you know them, you can focus on improving them and get extra boss-points in the process.

If you missed it, you can still read Part 1 on Why We Can’t Let Go of Old Technology .

More about technology in the workplace