The Digital Transformation Resistance
Alright, it’s probably not the best idea to compare your company to the Galactic Empire, but you get the picture!
Your employees are the greatest advocates for change for your organization. That makes it all the more painful when a well-intentioned and hugely impactful digital transformation project (like The Relatable Organization’s intranet) is undermined because, for one reason or another, a portion of your staff resists the change. The Resistance is not a purposeful organization of malignant employees. Instead, they represent the gaps in implementation and adoption that staff can’t cross without your help. And because The Resistance is louder and more influential than supporters of change, it’s critical to find ways to bridge that gap before it grows.
Change management is an inherently emotional practice. It’s most effective if you can empathize with your staff, predict their struggles, and provide support to help them come around. This starts with understanding what triggers resistance. To that end, we’ve broken down some common Resistance archetypes to help you turn resistors into supporters from Day 1 of implementation – ordered from least to most resistant to change!
It should be noted that most of your staff really do have the best intentions in mind, even when they’re throwing wrenches in the machine. A great example is with The Commander. In this scenario, a member of leadership, say a departmental manager, goes off on their own with your new software and introduces their own unique processes, naming conventions, configurations, etc that suit the specific needs of their team. Generally, this happens when the manager is excited by the opportunities for improvement for their department that weren’t anticipated during your implementation plan. Maybe their department wasn’t consulted during implementation and certain pain points weren’t addressed. Maybe they don’t have a forum to request changes to the system to meet their needs. Either way, they will take the tool and begin to shape it for their team, often in a vacuum.
This siloed portion of your staff will be using tools and processes that are inconsistent with the rest of your organization. Commonly, this leads to duplicate teams, files, and workflows will take up valuable storage space and create bottlenecks. Staff will also learn bad habits that will be tough to correct down the line. Multiply this by the number of departments in your organization, and your perfectly laid plans will become as tangled as the wires behind your television.
The Wizard is your power user, your agent of change, and (potentially) your Achilles Heel for the long-term success of your new technology. If your staff aren’t equipped with the skills to properly use your new intranet, there is a good chance that the limited power users within your organizations to become knowledge holders. The Wizard will act as defacto support staff, spending valuable time answering questions and troubleshooting for other staff that were left behind. And The Analog or The Elephant will not come to The Wizard to learn. They just know that the Wizard will bang out a solution for them in a fraction of the time for them to teach themselves to do the same. Even more worrying, of course, is if The Wizard chooses to move on from your company. Your organization was using The Wizard as a crutch, and now that this arcane knowledge is lost to your staff, you’re right back to square one.
Plenty of folks take for granted the skillset that is ‘to google’. A good portion of your staff will habitually turn to Google to troubleshoot everyday problems or learn a new skill. The challenge is finding an answer that is reputable and accurate. We’re all aware of the significant harm that comes from misinformation on the internet. If you present a new tool to staff to use without comprehensive training and support, The Googler will turn to forums and tutorials for quick hacks the moment they need help. These folks will certainly learn quickly; but are they following organizational processes? Will they use your carefully crafted naming conventions? Are they adhering to security best practices for sensitive documents? The Googler has the potential to either become a power user, or the mole in your system that unintentionally undermines your transformational goals.
In short, if your staff aren’t given access to organization-specific guidelines that provide clear expectations, they’ll take matters into their own hands for better (or more likely) for worse. However, you can give The Googler a chance to shine. Encouraging staff to share technical challenges and methods for troubleshooting in a public forum gives you a chance to see where your team is struggling, and note which solutions are valid and which should be left behind.
It’s an unfortunate outcome in our new digital age that many workers are feeling more and more left behind with every passing year. Digital literacy is a significant barrier for a significant portion of workers to overcome, for a variety of reasons. Some people feel intimidated, are missing key skills, or just don’t care about staying up-to-date with tech in their free time. The point is, it’s the responsibility of the employer to help the employee adapt to new technologies. And for staff that prefer working ‘offline’ as much as possible, particular attention must be put to an effective training plan if your change management is centered around digitizing existing processes. This means helping The Analog understand the change you’re recommending is important to the business and how it will affect change (for the better!).
Change management can’t be achieved simply by providing step-by-step instructions and links to Microsoft FAQ’s. As we pointed out before, there is an emotional component to technological change. Managing those emotions (fear, anger, frustration) means meeting your staff where they are, providing targeted training resources for a variety of skill levels, and aligning change with tangible outcomes.
You know what they say about elephants? They never forget. If you’re implementing a popular software platform like Microsoft 365 in 2022, you are guaranteed to have staff who have used the platform in the past. At the first whiff of a change from your current system to Microsoft, The Elephant will immediately turn up their nose and declare their distaste for all things 365. And you can hardly blame them. Bad experiences from previous jobs are carried forward, whether it’s from frustrations with outdated software versions to a lack of training & support. These workers are coming to your digital overhaul with a preconception that they HATE Microsoft. The worst thing you can do (and an all-too-common response by organizations) is to assume “they’ll come around eventually”.
The Solution? Even more than brand-new users, Elephants need to be shown that the software WILL make their lives easier. If there are barriers to learning the platform, whether it’s unclear instructions or the smallest technical errors, The Elephant will simply choose to stick to what they know. And if you force the change, they will become the squeakiest wheel you can imagine. The last thing you want during a massive technological overhaul are staff that actively relay their frustration of the product to their peers. You’ll just end up with a herd of Elephants.
I’m sure readers of this article can think of examples of these archetypes within their organizations. On paper, it’s simple to acknowledge that these resistors to change exist, but so much more difficult to implement new technology with their needs in mind. As much as this article pokes fun at the interplay between The Organization and The Resistance, the biggest mistake you can make is to treat your staff as the enemy. Software companies love to make it sound as though their tech will help modernize your workforce at the push of a button.
The truth is that software is only the vehicle for change. The enormous impact that you’re expecting comes when that vehicle is driven by a workforce that is knowledgeable, supported, and most importantly, actually likes using the technology. You can use morale and satisfaction as a key indicator for a successful technology implementation – if your staff are actively praising the benefits from your new software, you’re almost guaranteed success in the long-term.
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