Overcoming resistance to change means telling people the way it really is
Despite “change management” being an overused phrase it remains, as a concept, undervalued. There’s a real challenge in getting people to change the way they do stuff because often, the way they do stuff is much better than the way you propose. So how do you implement a set of technology that enables better practice when, for some users, it means a retrograde step?
Suppose you have a courier business. It serves customers by carrying something from A to B. Today you use a car or a van or a truck but the vehicle is increasingly seen as environmentally unfriendly and expensive. So you consider changing it for a bicycle. The things that you’re expected to transport can easily be held in a ruck sack so from a business requirement perspective, the proposed new way of working will meet business requirements. But take a closer look and you can see some serious disadvantages in moving to peddle power.
The most obvious advantage of the truck is convenience. It’s quicker (usually). If someone needs a ride from A to B, that can be accommodated. There’s actually more than enough spare space in the van so if there’s a need to carry something else too, that can go in there too. And it’s dry. Riding a bicycle in wet weather isn’t great and it requires special clothing to keep dry and warm in cold weather.
Moving from truck to bike may not be straightforward. The current truck driver may need to be retrained or may be unsuitable for the job on a bike and all of those extra things that the van can do have to be rethought. And if it’s the industry convention to use motor vehicles, that makes it even harder to change.
But suppose a new entrant emerges in your industry and they use bikes. It may take them a little longer to get from A to B but they still operate comfortably within the required SLAs – and their operating costs are lower. Defying convention and employing a different type of work force – young, fit and not afraid of a bit of rain – they disrupt your industry and steal your market share.
The example I’m using may seem a little trivial but it is exactly what happens when a business attempts any kind of change especially systems changes. Take a P2P example and consider what happens when you try to implement something like an e-procurement or electronic invoicing system. At a corporate level, the case is compelling. Systems managed controls are put in place, there’s better compliance, fewer people will be managing processes etc. – what’s not to like? But go out into your community of users and you will hear a different story. “We can’t raise purchase orders because we don’t know prices till the service is delivered.” (Classic!) “We have an arrangement with our supplier so we don’t need P.O.s.” “How can you receipt a service?” “Our bespoke system allows us to do special reports that the new system can’t do” and so on and so on. It’s the P2P equivalent of “I sometimes pick my kids up from school in the delivery van.”
Resistance to change is very understandable. People prefer the status quo and they are comfortable with convention but if there is a better way then change is essential. Waiting for the competition to steal your clients because they are brave enough to challenge the conventional way you’ve always done things makes no sense.
Change management is sometimes simply a polite phrase for telling people the way it really is. The business requirements for a new system sometimes include the need to rationalise costs, standardise and automate and that is often in conflict with the requirements that users perceive – convenience, stability and doing things in a familiar way.