IS Survival Guide: End Users' Resistance

SAN MATEO (03/27/2000) - MANAGEMENT SPEAK: Must be able to overcome internal and external barriers, so troubleshooting and analytical skills are a must.

TRANSLATION: Must be able to identify and operate management hot buttons.

-- This week's contributor is good at figuring out what jobs really require.

NEW YORK recently pulled the plug on its psychic training program.

While the program has successfully trained welfare recipients in the arcane craft of psychic hot-linery, officials apparently wanted to avoid criticism such as that leveled by one "legitimate" psychic, who described the program as "totally a scam."

Satire shrivels in the face of such reality.

The image of welfare recipients as feeders off the public trough fades in the face of such clear evidence of willingness to work, and one presumes these same individuals will easily follow the logical career progression from psychic predictor to Wall Street analyst.

Preconceptions are hard to let go, whether about psychics, welfare recipients, or end-users. Nonetheless, one of our most cherished preconceptions about end-users -- that they obstinately reject new technology -- has to go.

This image of the typical end-user is no longer accurate, at least according to a pair of studies reported last month in The Washington Post. The first polled 1,000 end-users and found about 750 of them figured technology generally translates to personal benefit. Reinforcing this finding is the second study, which reported that most employees average more than an hour a day on a computer.

Employees no longer fear information technology. That shouldn't surprise us.

Most Americans master the art of driving at an early age, prefer ATMs to bank tellers, and hook up VCRs and DVD players without fear. We live in a world in which information technology is as ubiquitous as oxygen. Ubiquity and fear rarely coexist for any length of time.

If we recognize that the age of computer-phobia is largely behind us, what should we do differently?

For one thing, we need to facilitate change differently.

Increasingly, IT is recognizing that the job isn't finished when the software runs without crashing. Until the business puts new technology to use, preferably in the way envisioned, the entire effort is irrelevant.

Part of the process of making sure technology gets used is facilitating change.

Many practitioners of this art start with two false assumptions, however: 1) Resistance to change is the province of end-user employees, and 2) the major cause of change resistance is instinctual -- people naturally resist change.

But it turns out that end-users like new technology and some forms of change.

This challenges the assumptions that many change-management pundits use as a starting point for their process, usually described as "managing resistance to change."

The biggest change resistors reside in the executive suite. In general, they have the biggest stake in the status quo, have the least to gain, and have the most to lose when a company changes. Worse, many executive compensation systems reward exactly the wrong behaviors.

As to resistance to change? It's common, but it isn't instinctual, in part because nothing about human behavior is purely instinctual -- everything is a complex interplay between genes and environment.

Employees resist change because, in the absence of communication, they assume the worst. In their experience, change means layoffs or longer hours, while executives receive the bonuses and accolades.

Employees resist change because the information they have tells them they ought to.

Therefore, facilitating change is easier than most of us thought. All you have to do is make sure the average employee will benefit from it, communicate a lot, involve them, and keep those change-resisting executives where they can't sabotage the effort. Nothing to it.

Does this match your experience? Send Bob Lewis an e-mail at Lewis is a Minneapolis-based consultant with Perot Systems Corp.

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