How to get employees comfortable with business change

One of our challenges in providing the direction for IT for our clients is getting the employees and sometimes the management to become willing to change. There is always someone who is a stick in the mud, but if your whole company is entrenched and fights change, then you’ve got a serious business problem. In today’s highly competitive marketplace coupled with the rapid pace of advancement in technology, if you don’t develop a business culture that easily adopts change then your business will get left behind.

On the surface it may not seem like IT can participate in setting the business culture, but IT is really thing one thing that touches everyone and makes their job easy or difficult. The tools available to your employees define the business processes that are in place. IT has a big role in defining the parameters within which your business culture is created. For IT, making sure that the business remains competitive and doesn’t get left behind is a big responsibility. It isn’t one that every IT person wants to embrace. Some will willingly accept and thrive under the weight on this responsibility while others prefer to take a back seat.

Living on past success

business change

Unfortunately, we see it often. A seemingly thriving business is living on past success and not nurturing and creating a successful future. Instead, they are spending their time trying to make sure that what they have keeps going. The result: They become afraid to tweak the formula at all.

Here’s an example. An advertising business has three large well-known name-brand big-box store chains as clients. They have had them as clients for 20-plus years. Everything is rosy for a long time. They just keep putting out the same thing, responding and serving those clients well. The owners age; they stop investing in the business because they have everything they need to support these clients. The equipment ages. The staff ages. The bank account drains as everyone makes money but none is invested in the business. As we know, big-box retailers are struggling today. Two big ones closed recently. The advertising business is in trouble now. The staff is entrenched in providing a very specific set of services for very specific clients. It’s all they’ve done for 20 years. The business doesn’t have a stash of cash to invest in new, more modern equipment that would make them competitive when going after new clients. It’s a tough position to be in and it’s one I see over and over again as an IT consultant. When a certain comfort level sets in, the business becomes less competitive and the employees less willing to adopt change.

Comfort can kill, but so can chaos. The key is to create an orderly culture that supports and embraces change

Here’s another example. The client is a small manufacturing firm. They have used internal staff with other job responsibilities to support their IT environment. It’s every department for themselves. They buy the computers from local computer retailers, they use NAS devices to store files. Essentially, they have a giant home network and they have a constant array of problems but internally they know how to apply a Band-Aid to make it work again. There really has been no IT budget, no advance planning, no strategy. Then they hear about the cloud and they need some help getting it set up. They have finally recognized that they need a more modern approach to technology to land those contracts that require security and compliance. They hire an IT firm to do what they think will be just a little bit of work. It doesn’t go well because of the vast layers of Band-Aids and nonstandard configurations of everything that is in place. For an IT professional it’s like walking into the biggest, thickest spider web imaginable. For the business, every time they call a professional it’s a bad experience because problems begin to surface so they fall back to where they were. The business is stuck and can’t move forward.

Comfort can kill, but so can chaos. The key is to create an orderly culture that supports and embraces change. I have a secret formula to help businesses move forward without causing chaos and undue stress on the employees.

My secret formula for successful business change

business change

Here is my secret formula for getting employees and whole businesses to adopt change.

Start small: Small successes build confidence. The business may have a long list of things that they want to accomplish and the IT staff may want to jump in and get them all done right now but doing so is a recipe for failure. Sure it might all go smoothly and it might technically all work, but no one will adopt it. New technology that doesn’t get adopted by the employees and integrated into their processes is a total waste of money and time. No one can afford that, so start small.

This is about changing the culture and to do that you have to start small. Having a small success will build confidence and make those resistant to change more comfortable. Enable that shared vacation calendar if that’s the easiest smallest thing on their list that has the broadest potential adoption.

WAIT: Now we pause and make sure that everyone adopts that one small new thing and is very happy with it. This wait period gives employees time to get comfortable again.

Add small: Now pick the next easiest and smallest item on the list and enable it. Look for an item that employees have wanted for a long time. Follow the same formula of making sure that everyone is thrilled with it.

WAIT: What you are doing here is building confidence in IT. You should now have two successful changes that everyone loves in place. Confidence in your previous work will buy you some trust which you will need to successfully implement a larger project. Employees will now support the larger change that is coming.

Train: Now for the hard part. Hold a training session. Teach the employees something new that they can go back and start doing immediately. The hard part is actually going to be to get them to come to a training session. I recommend buying lunch. In addition to training them on how to do something new, tell them what’s coming down the line next. Listen to their concerns.

Go big: Now that the employees have experienced some success with small changes, they are ready to consider adopting bigger changes. You’ve gained their confidence. Now roll out that big project with confidence.

Train: Make sure that employees are getting the training they need on this big change. It will probably require more than a single training session. Bite-sized pieces are easier to swallow. Make a training plan part of the project deployment process.

WAIT: Before you implement the next big or small change, wait a while. You need to complete the training with them, give time for business processes to adjust to the new technology toolset that they’ve been given. Let it all sink in.

Add small: Next, I like to go back to a small thing. The tendency at this stage is to be excited with the success of that recent big change to dive right into another one. I don’t recommend it. Go small for a while. That big project, even though it was successful, was stressful. Change is stressful even when it goes well. So take a good long pause and let that stress be part of the past. Stick with small changes for a while.

Continuous training: Make training part of the ongoing plan. Employees are not comfortable when they feel like they don’t know what they are doing. No one wants to think that they are the stupid one that doesn’t get it. Without scheduled training, the employees have no outlet for their questions and to realize that everyone else has questions too. Trained employees will adopt the new tech. Untrained employees will drift back to doing things the old way.

Ensuring ongoing success

This process that I’ve outlined results in ongoing success for your business change program. Continuous training, new features, new app rollouts that happen regularly build confidence in employees. The sales staff can go forward with the knowledge that the company is current in technology or perhaps even a leader. Employees can go forth and adapt old business processes to the new way of doing things. Technology makes businesses more efficient but only if you keep working on it. Stopping and letting the competition continue to gain efficiency is not a great business strategy. IT can help a new business culture develop that helps drive the business forward with a change that everyone will buy in to.

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