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Resistance to change: motivating employees to adopt new technology

Written 01 August, 2018, 5 minutes to read

Technological innovation is a natural, healthy and wholly expected part of running a business. You need to constantly improve your tools and processes in order to grow. But no matter how cool it is, your new technology is completely pointless until people actually adopt it. We take a look at some of the main reasons people resist technological change and explore winning strategies which encourage employees to rapidly adopt new technology.

Why people resist change

Managing resistance to change starts with understanding it. The introduction of new technology in the workforce has historically posed a major threat to workers’ sense of security, stability and purpose. Key reasons people resist change can include:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Not being consulted
  • Lack of communication
  • Threat to expertise or status
  • No clear benefits or value
  • Unclear on the need for change
  • Effort required to learn
  • Lack the skills to use it
  • Distrust management
  • Hardwired habits
  • Lack agency

Anticipate the main reasons your employees might be reluctant to use your new tool before you introduce it. Better yet, actively consult them during the tool research stage. It will help you lead from a position of empathy and adopt strategies which actually address people’s concerns and reservations.

How to encourage early and rapid technology adoption

1. Keep it simple

Why should I bother? How much extra effort will this cost me?

Always prioritize ease of use. Simply put, the easier it is to use your new technology, the quicker the adoption. While it might not necessarily be “fun”, a well-designed user interface makes using your tool infinitely more enjoyable than one requiring a set of complex commands and its own taxonomy. People hate wasting time in tools – it feels unproductive and takes them away from “real” work – so select a technology that’s intuitive and easily accessible.

2. Connect to people’s needs

How does it affect me? Will it change the way I work?

Demonstrating clear personal gain from the outset is crucial. People don’t want to hear about how cost-effective it is for the company; they want to know how it will directly impact and transform their working lives. Make sure you link the positives of the tool directly to people’s needs – how it makes their life easier, what burdens it removes, how it improves their workflow and productivity. To invest time and effort into learning how to use the new technology, people need to clearly understand its benefits – as well as what is broken with the existing system.

3. Share tool ownership

Is this actually for me? Can I shape how I use it? Will it be used to control or limit me?

As technological thinker Calestous Juma argues, people don’t fear technology just because it is new; they fear it because it means losing a piece of their identity. Including people from the start and demonstrating that the tool is a supplement – rather than a substitute – to their skills is crucial to successful adoption. Get your team to trial the tool before you actually buy it, and share your own data to build trust. Employees need to feel that they have control and autonomy over their work, and that the tool aligns with their own sense of purpose.

4. Use group endorsement

Do other people actually buy into this?

Social approval is a powerful thing. Getting a solid group of people to start successfully using and enjoying your new tool can be a great catalyst for overall buy-in. Why? Because it helps build trust for the tool. Start small – get a few tech-enthusiastic people to try it out and feed back. Ideally, choose a spread of good communicators who will be able to endorse its value and help others get to grips with it. You don’t just wat to target obvious early adopters; try to also include key influencers in your team.

5. Tailor training

How do I start to approach using it? What areas are most relevant to me?

Sadly, technology adoption doesn’t follow a simple calculation. The difficulty of adoption and learning curve involved varies from person to person, depending on their realtive experience, interest and familiarity with technology. So you need to make sure you are catering for your whole team’s learning needs. Customize training, considering light-touch online resources for the tech-savvy and opt-in group training sessions for those who want a practical walk-through. Ask people if they have specific training ideas and suggestions, or if they want a one-on-one demo for functionality specific to their role. Ideally, if you’ve picked an intuitive, simple tool your training shouldn’t drag on across multiple sessions.

6. Establish new routines

When will I use it? How will it fit into my established workflow?

Your new tool has to contend with – and even uproot – established habits and routines ingrained across years of work. Try to work your new technology into everyday rhythms as quickly as possible to set it as the new standard. Try setting a useful project or practical request which depends on the tool, so people can immediately understand its value and wire individual new shortcuts. It’s essential you send a clear message that this will become an integral part of your business’ daily life, and that you’re leaving previous methods behind.

7. Continue open discussion

Can we revisit it if something’s not working? Will anyone listen to my ideas?

To be truly sustainable, your culture itself needs to be built on innovation. Practically speaking, that means being as open and positive to new ideas as possible. Encourage people to share suggestions for improvements, create spaces for honest feedback about your tool, and actually respond to the concerns people raise. People need to understand that it’s healthy to challenge established business norms, and that you will actually listen to them when they do. Your support here as a manager is essential for building an engaged, happy and productive workforce.

Leading with empathy makes a difference. Make sure you give your employees room to test out the tool and get comfortable using it. Your role is to clearly communicate how it makes their lives better and support their training to ensure they get as much out of it as you’ve promised.

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