Have you mastered your new technology yet?

In many a firm and for many a manager, January is a month for deployment of new technologies. New budgetary cycles, the start of the New Year, perhaps even a few days off in December, all seem to collaborate to make it possible to start exploring new ways of doing things, sometimes using new gadgets, sometimes using old ones in different ways.

Certainly, this is not the only month, as we all know, for example, that our friends from MicroSoft decided to launch their new operating system and software suite last summer. It was interesting for me to hear all the negative reactions against having to learn the new interface with more powerful features that are likely to hog the current computing resources. I heard very few people talk about the added benefits of the newest release!

Still, many of these same people are now happily exploring the new features in their new cell phone, PDA, e-reader, software, camera, website... --or combination thereof! It seems as though adopting a new technology individually is much easier than adopting a new technology in a group context (e.g., within a department or organization). What do you think? What have you experienced, individually, or in your organizations? Have you seen any patterns that have helped you minimize resistance to a new technology?

David Riojas (MBA 2008, McCombs School of Business at UT) tells us that “Adopting new technology in a group context is harder because in many cases groups need to use the same technological standard in order to interact in an effective way. For the same reason, it is common to see groups that give up the benefits of the new technology for the use of an old one that is familiar to everyone within the group. On the other hand, it is easier for individuals to adopt a new technology, especially when this doesn’t affect the way they communicate with people that still use an older standard or tool.” His comment highlights the effects of interdependence in groups.

To complement, Al Escobar (Director at Cima Associates in Oxnard, CA and NSHMBA Chair for the South West Region) writes: “Change is the only constant in the universe, yet, irrespective of where or how it is encountered, it generates resistance at some level. In general, change for the sake of change will yield the greatest resistance. For example, everyone knows what they need to do to lose weight, yet very few take steps in that direction. Still, personal change is an individual decision, which makes it easier to deal with because one has control.”

He continues: “Group change, on the other hand, gives way to external variables for which one may feel loss of control. This creates challenges for organizations attempting to improve processes, productivity, or any other goal. Some time ago, an organization negotiated a better telephone plan for all its employees. It then notified all employees that old mobiles would be replaced with phones. Some employees freely welcomed the new policy, while others felt loss of control and resisted the change being "imposed" on them. Eventually all yielded, but it took time. Individuals are more open to change on a personal level when there is a social component and or when they experience a change in life such as moving to a new area, obtaining a new job, etc. All in all, change is not without challenges, but these can be minimized through careful planning and may include tools such as end-user buy-in, perceived benefit gain, input vs. output, and others.”

In a book chapter that is about to be published (Technology, Outsourcing & Transforming HR. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2008), my colleague, Dr. Gary Florkowski (Katz Graduate School of Business) and I offer research-based suggestions for enabling a smoother adoption of information technologies in Human Resource departments. Among these suggestions are:

  • Identifying early adopters, early majority and other eager users to focus your training efforts on them and minimize the probability that the technology will be accepted

  • Building a business case that has not just financial but also behavioral and other relevant performance indicators

  • Accepting that 100% adoption of a given technology is, in most cases, unattainable

The list of suggestions is obviously much larger than what I can include in this column, but these three seem to be often forgotten. The investments to upgrade our work technology –whether individually or organizationally—are too large to neglect the lessons from the field of change management. I hope these thoughts are helpful for your work as a leader that tries to improve your team and your own performance in your line of business.

For February, the “month of love”…

We all know how strongly associated in our culture are the words “passion” and Latino; they are almost used as synonymous. In your experienced as a Hispanic MBA, is this a disadvantage or an advantage at the workplace? Why, or how? I look forward to hearing from you via email, fax, snail mail or blog --the latter is preferred: http://drolivaslujan.blogspot.com/.