The key is thinking “people first.”
Change management has been considered something of a formal business discipline since the 1980s. At that time, business journalists were beginning to study the challenges of bridging “persistent and troubling gap[s] between the inherent value of the technology they develop and their ability to put it to work effectively.” We knew then that managing change effectively, such that we derive actual value from the technology we invest in, was a difficult undertaking. Nevertheless, we considered it a necessary evil.
Since then, however, as companies have become increasingly reliant on packaged software applications to drive internal processes — abiding by the “There’s an app for that!” philosophy — the difficulty of educating and convincing employees to use new technological systems has only increased, while the value-add of implementing new technology has dropped. Because the apps we purchase can’t natively accommodate whatever existing technological systems we’ve already deployed, they inevitably require subjecting employees to more and more disruptive, exhausting change. This has resulted in a steady rise in what Prosci calls “change saturation.” In its 2018 Best Practices in Change Management Report, Procsi found that more than 73% of companies had reached this saturation point, where “the number of changes you’re implementing exceeds the capacity of individuals in your organization to effectively adopt and use those changes.”
That hasn’t stopped companies from continuing to purchase and introduce new apps into their operational infrastructure. But forcing employees to change their day-to-day behavior after they’ve already hit the saturation point is risky. As more companies are beginning to understand, it results in employees becoming frustrated and resentful — so much so that they simply stop working as hard to achieve their companies’ goals. It’s largely for this reason that, as McKinsey & Co. wrote last year, improving change management processes without burning employees out, such that they stop working as hard as they otherwise would, has become “a critical competitive advantage” for companies in the market today.
Unfortunately, no one’s really been able to figure out how to introduce and facilitate technological change within their organizations in such a seamless manner. Most of us are stuck in a pernicious cycle.
Luckily, there is a solution, and it’s relatively simple.
To not only improve our change management processes but eliminate the need for them altogether, we have to start thinking “people first.”
In other words, when we endeavor to improve or redesign our internal systems and processes, we should consider first and foremost the needs and priorities of our employees rather than myopically seek to increase our top or bottom lines. The best technology solution is not one that saves or makes your company a bit of money, but that empowers employees and makes their lives easier.
Few companies implement technology so empathetically.
Consider, for example, the way most companies today go about implementing automation software into their workflows. Automation software is, for a variety of reasons, the next truly revolutionary piece of technology. Utilized correctly — as a means of empowering employees — it’s a perfect example of technology that could eliminate the need for change management. But most everyone who shops for automation software goes about it the wrong way. Folks may use tools like robotic process automation (RPA), for example, to automate individual tasks or replace people, but in the end, RPA still requires employees to adapt to its unique and sometimes beguiling demands. Automation so applied, in fact, leads to more, not less, change management. It also results in more frustration, dejection and burnout. Consider, for example, what happens when you automate away someone’s job inside an organization. Sure, doing so might save some money on your bottom line, but it also requires everyone who relied upon or collaborated with that employee to learn a new way of carrying out their essential functions. It also places a new kind of burden on leadership, as even the mere existence of technology whose purpose is to replace people requires change management, namely in the form of placating, repurposing and eventually replacing workers.
All told, such platforms can frustrate and encumber, rather than liberate and empower.
We need to apply technology like automation in a way that works for our people, rather than the other way around.
The technology we invest in and use to drive our internal systems should augment and empower our people, not simply replace them.
Most forms of automation software, for example, can be implemented on top of the existing systems and tools people are already using. It can integrate with and connect many different kinds of platforms and applications, and in the process adapt to workers’ preferences and processes instead of placing that onus on employees.
Such platforms allow COOs and process designers to finally use technology to support employees, as opposed to replace or require more work of them, all without ever forcing folks to learn to use new tech.
Eliminating your organization’s need for cumbersome change management is a matter of seeking out and implementing technology solutions that adapt to and prioritize employees’ needs and workstyles.
But, again, our ability to use automation to this end depends first on stakeholders recognizing the importance of investing in technology that makes employees’ lives easier.
And we’re a long way from that currently. The proliferation of packaged, cloud-based apps and the rise of the now-universal there’s-an-app-for-that mentality has had the unintended consequence of rendering us subservient to static, uncompromising pieces of technology. It’s a paradox: We invest in technology to make our lives easier, but that technology only further complicates and burdens our day-to-day existence.
To break that cycle, we must begin to prioritize empathy. So, next time your company runs into a bottleneck or begins to consider a change initiative, instead of asking yourself, “What technology do I need to solve this problem?” push yourself to consider the more productive, people-first question, “What do my people need?”