People don’t like change, they need to be led through change because the transition between “how you’ve always done it” and the “new more tech-focused way to do it” can be a river of misery.
You have a great sales representative, they found a great client. They bought into the idea of having a web-to-print platform for distribution and control of all their marketing materials. All is good in the world.
Then change does not happen. Adoption of the tool is stalled. Only three users have logged into the site. Order volumes are nowhere near the expectations set in the sales process. Around every corner all there seems to be is “resistance” and people pointing out what is not working.
How did we move so quickly from an optimistic vision to a project that can’t seem to catch a break?
Humans resist change. Older humans typically resist change more. Changing the way someone has been doing something to a new way of doing it that they don’t immediately understand makes humans feel stupid (temporarily). Nobody likes to feel stupid. We’re not conditioned to understand that this is a temporary feeling (uncertainty of how something new works), so we resist. We are good at resistance.
Change must be managed. Humans need to be led through change. The transition from “the way we’ve always done it” to the new way we’re going to do it now that inevitably involves technology is a difficult road to travel. Ask anyone who has tried to implement software into an organization of any size. Everyone has horror stories.
Here’s the unique challenge of your customer’s ability to manage change. You cannot do the change management for them. You cannot insert yourself into their culture to lead and manage the change – even if you are willing and able. The change must come from within. The leadership must come from within. This leadership is not a motivational speech, it is a consistent reinforcement of the new direction until everyone gets through the river of misery. I know that sounds dramatic; but I’m speaking from direct experience and several of our customers are knee deep in that river of misery right now. The transition is a process that needs to be reinforced over and over and over until the humans see that their resistance is futile. Do not underestimate the resistance! (sounds like a space movie).
This is so frustrating because you did everything right. You have a solid web-to-print solution, you’re a reliable and high quality print fulfillment provider, and you have a great sales resource. What else could you have done? Some web-to-print projects fail even with all these positive conditions in place.
One of the misunderstandings of change management is that nobody admits they just don’t like change or they feel intimated by technology. People don’t say that stuff in corporate America, it’s not a safe place to talk openly about your insecurities. What people do is they get really focused on why this will not work. Your average employee suddenly turns into the greatest quality assurance (software bug finder) resource on the planet. Their primary objective is to find every single reason why this solution will not work. Unfortunately, software is a target rich environment for highly motivate resistors.
What is the outcome of this behavior?
The change leaders, the people who believed in the vision that one web-to-print platform would help us manage the craziness of marketing material requests and keep our brand messaging consistent start to doubt themselves. Then they start to doubt the software, their perspective switches from what it can do to what it doesn’t do well. They start focusing on the limitations rather than the possibilities. This is a downward spiral that is hard to come out of.
We think the best thing we can do is be responsive. We’ll fix every single thing they find in the software and we’ll do it so quickly it will make their heads spin. This is often not possible (software is not easy or fast to change) and it’s a really bad precedent to set. You are basically buying into the resistance. You are saying you agree, this isn’t ready to happen yet, let’s work on it for a few more weeks, months, years (this is the secret plan of the resistors). Keep this whole project in “refining / iteration mode” so we really don’t have to change.
Leadership is the only thing that gets you through the rive of misery. You must outlast the resistance. You must be patient and talk them through the benefits. Most people find this process maddening. It can test your patience but it is the path to the other side (adoption) and the “new process” is now “the way we do things.” Don’t be shocked when those super-resistors then turn into the prophets of the new way.