Traditionally, change can be accomplished in two ways.
The first is the ground-up, or organic, approach, in which an individual evangelizes and implements a solution for the team. This has distinct advantages because it can be more controlled and ultimately more focused. However, this process can result in cross-department conflicts or disenfranchisement by people not part of the process but who are directly impacted by the change. The resulting confusion can bring more harm to the organization as a whole, than the gains realized by the small group.
The alternate approach is a more top-down approach, wherein a corporate directive (with numerous committees and meetings) is set to standardize on a process or toolset. The advantages here are clear: providing an alignment between teams or departments. Of course, there are also issues. Selecting a universal approach or tool potentially disenfranchises large groups of people who were not part of the decision process or simply find themselves required to do more work than before in order to incorporate the new process (even when there are clear gains from doing so). Word documents are a perfect example. Although a document is by far the simplest tool for capturing written information, the long-term impact of multiple documents (organizing, updating, collaborating on, extracting information from) can be costly. Moving to a new solution may require additional time for entry, but the broader perspective is a positive gain.
So, both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. Neither is that effective.
So what can be done to improve the success of process change? Again let’s embrace an equally basic truth about human nature. Humans inherently desire to feel connected. They also desire to have that shiny new object.
A recent article in the Boston Globe describes how to effect change.
The two quotes that caught my eye:
- "To really change how a group of people thinks and behaves, it turns out, you don’t need to change what’s inside of them, or appeal to their inner sense of virtue. You just have to convince them that everybody else is doing it."
- "The pressure to conform to what is typical … tends to be stronger than the pressure to follow top-down rules."
With this in mind, market the change not as something new, but as something that everyone is doing already. Do this whether your organization follows the organic or the top-down approach.
Once you consider the early adopters, and the shiny-new-object factor, effecting change becomes simply a matter of tapping into that cool factor that makes things more interesting. When selecting a new tool, consider the user interface, intuitiveness and the cool factor as part of the decision process. These attributes will draw people in naturally and create the necessary groundswell for widespread adoption.
It will help to work with marketing or management to alert the organization that teams are being successful with change and others should follow.
In summary, change will not be truly accomplished with force, regardless of the approach. Human nature is part of the process, and we work better when we feel that our work is enjoyable and when we are connected with our coworkers.
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