Getting full value for your investment in new technology requires much more than getting the new hardware and software launched. In every technology change, there are behavioral changes needed for you to get the full intended value for your investment.
But all too often, everyone, including management, thinks a project ends once the system officially gets to “go live.” The lights go on and the new processes are in place, so they declare the project complete. It’s successful “installation.” Yes, successful installation of your new system is critical, but it’s definitely not the finish line!
What these organizations don’t realize is that if peoples’ behavior hasn’t changed, nothing has changed! Successful “implementation” is when the project is on time, on budget, all of the technical objectives have been met, AND all of the business and human objectives have been met as well. If people were using the new technology to its full capacity, what would you see them doing differently?
In our experience, here is the change management dilemma and the challenge. Organizations just don’t seem to apply the same business-discipline and rigor for managing the human elements of their change as they do the timeline, the budget, and the technical objectives for the project. The human objectives are poorly defined, and ultimately, poorly measured.
5 Common Barriers to Technology Adoption
When issues arise during a technology project, the integrity of the system is rarely the source of the problem. Instead, it is usually the human and cultural aspects of implementation that cause sub-optimized results. In our 35+ years of change management consulting we’ve seen a lot of technology projects heading down a path toward failure. Below we discuss 5 common barriers to success we’ve experienced, as well as a few tips on how to avoid them.
- Lack of Clear Scope/Definition from the Starting Gate
One of the most common barriers to any change is the lack of agreement on the scope of the change for everyone impacted. In the words of Don Harrison, developer of the AIM Change Management Methodology, "if you don't know where you are going, how will you know what it will take to get you there?" How do you know what the resource load will need to be?
Frankly, your leaders would be far more hesitant to make the investment in hardware and software if they really had insight into the true cost of implementation. Think of it this way: if the cost of the hardware and software is “X,” the true cost if you include implementation is going to be somewhere between 4X and 10X! No vendor is ever going to talk about that, right?
The starting point for every change initiative must be a clear, compelling definition of the change. That’s more than just expectations for time and budget, or technical objectives. It must include the human elements as well. This is where a lot of people get tripped up in a technology change as they focus on the “system,” rather than how people will be using the system and new processes in their jobs.
- No Sustained Leadership Support, Especially at the Middle Level
Sponsorship is the single most important factor in implementation success. But remember, project Sponsors must do more than sign a check authorizing funding for the system or showing up at the launch meeting. Sponsors must authorize, legitimize, and demonstrate ownership through their public and private, personal commitment throughout the lifecycle of the project. This means managers, directors, VP’s, etc. need to consistently demonstrate their individual commitment to the new system by what they say, what they do, and how they reinforce adoption with their direct reports. Here’s the rub: if your Sponsors don’t have insight into what those new behaviors are, they can’t possibly reinforce them!
- Employee Resistance
Since resistance is a function of disruption we know a change to technology will result in major levels of resistance. This resistance can be out in the open or lurking below the surface. In either case, you can't ignore it. You need to have a plan for how that resistance will be sourced and managed. It’s not that resistance to change is inherently evil—it’s just that resistance will slow down the adoption process.
- Weak Motivation to Change
The motivation to leave the current state must be greater than staying in the present state. But there is a lot of motivation to remain doing things as they have been done in the past--it's comfortable, it feels safe, and it's faster (or it seems that way.) The gravitational pull of the status quo is enormously powerful.
However, the only way to motivate people is to alter their reinforcement. But this isn't a one size fits all proposition. Each group has its own "frame of reference" on how the new system will impact them--as a group, and as individuals. That is why local Change Agents need to work with the various departments and functions to identify what will get people to try on and adopt the new behaviors and achieve new performance expectations.
- Ineffective Communications
There is often a common belief that simply getting a message out to an audience is enough to get buy-in, eliminate resistance, and even drive behavior change. As a result, too many organizations singularly invest in top-down, one-way communications that don’t motivate people to move from the status quo to the desired state.
Instead, center your communication efforts on targeting the right message, to the right audience, using the right delivery vehicles, and always includes a feedback loop to gather reactions to both content and process. Communications should not oversell the benefits of the new technology, or undersell the challenges that users will face.
Buying and installing new technology is actually the easy part. Making sure users adopt the new system to its full capacity, and continue to use the new processes on a sustained basis is where a lot of organizations fall short. Getting to full adoption and benefit realization for technology projects is not simple, and it is certainly not a given. But by overcoming these 5 barriers you will be heading down the right path to new technology implementation success.