You have probably heard the phrase, “the only constant is change,” countless times before. But despite how engrained those five words have become in our culture – does anyone really like change? While society can appear obsessed with new technologies and processes, looks can be incredibly deceiving. Because if we all love change and the innovative and exciting so much, why are we so terrible at adapting to, learning, and managing it in our organizations?

At Market-Partners Inc., we have over twenty-five years of experience introducing new technologies and approaches to sales and marketing professionals. I share this to emphasize how difficult it is for me to remember an implementation we were tasked with that did not represent a positive outcome for the organization. Yet regardless of the benefit, the majority of would-be end users have never raced to change from how they did things in the past. Even in situations where the technology or approach could add immediate value to its users, adoption still happens over time – sometimes a painfully long time.

To successfully introduce any new technology or process in a reasonable window demands attentive planning and an understanding of change management. This starts by swallowing two hard truths about people and change.

People trivialize change. The optimistic innovator – both the ones among us and the one inside all of us – believes that the change required to move from a traditional way of doing something to a new, better way does not require that much effort. “The new way can be learned by anyone so easily. Why all the fuss?”

Evidence does not overcome hesitancy. “Afterall, who wouldn’t want to use a technology or approach that is going to help them get proven results?” This often materializes as the influencing style of Assertive Persuasion; we present the facts, the logic, the compelling stories that demonstrate the benefits of the new technology or approach and assume the listener will be convinced.

If ease and evidence were all it took to convince people to change, we would all eat our vegetables, work out every day, never sit for more than 40 minutes, sleep eight hours a night, and never smoke, overeat, or drink alcohol. The list could go on and on, but the reality is that we do not always make the changes needed to do what is best for ourselves – and by proxy our organizations – even when it is simple and is founded in hard evidence.

The Psychology of Change

Overcoming human behavior requires careful consideration. Naturally, we like to do what is comfortable, safe, low risk, and achieves for us an acceptable result. We are also presented more choices than we know what to do with every single day. As such, we must decide what requires immediate action, what we must schedule for later, what we should ignore, which distractions to indulge in, and then, pushed to the very back of our minds, what alternatives might be out there.

Understanding why “doing something better” is so frequently put on the back burner is deeply rooted in how our brains function. We hardwire what we do so that it becomes a natural pathway we can take without thinking and overusing limited cognitive power. As an example, if our brains had to work out how to type each letter in an email, they would hit overload before the first period. Lucky for us, our brain has already worked out how to move our arms, hands, and fingers to translate what is in our mind to our keyboards without putting too much effort into how each symbol forms a word and mainly focus on how we want to phrase something. This kind of hardwiring is the same process we use for everything that we do. But while impressive, this feature is not always helpful. All habits – whether or not they are right or wrong – are hardwired. This is why the two aforementioned beliefs do not line up with reality. Change is not hard because it requires learning something new; it is hard because it requires unlearning something familiar.

Divide and Conquer

So, if minimizing the change and evidence or assertive persuasion are off the table, what option are we left with? The good news is that when managing change within an organization, you do not have to convince everybody to change– at least not straight away. In fact, when introducing a new technology or approach to a business, it is best to divide people up by how easy their brain is to convince and work outward, splitting employees into three distinct groups.

I. Early Adopters. This is your control group. While early adopters make up less than ten percent of any given population, they self-identify and self-select as motivated to try something new and different. They are the learners and explorers of an organization, and you should rightfully embrace them as the “testers.” Although tempting to think of early adopters as a pilot, we strongly recommend avoiding this term. It signals a certain tentativeness about the direction and sets early users up as testers or critiques, rather than real users.

These early adopters will provide insightful feedback on technology and allow new approaches to be optimized. We should learn as they adopt. Once we have optimized and have a cadre of enthusiastic users, we can then move on to the next set of adopters.

II. Pragmatists. Pragmatists represent about a third of the population. They are not looking for something new or different, and as such, new technology or approaches should not be presented to them this way. However, this group is also very logical when faced with a lower risk, proven way to gain a simple advantage. Perhaps it is getting easier access to the collateral they use or a superior way in which to personalize documents for their prospects and customers.

Pragmatists do not require a “big vision;” this second group will change and adopt when they can see a problem or opportunity that has been staring them in the face can be solved or capitalized upon easily and without much risk. The early adopters should pave the way for the pragmatists to present a localized “case for change,” with the initial group having already smoothed out the kinks.

III. Conservatives. By the time you have the pragmatists on board, the remaining employees – those most attached to the old way or unmotivated to leave it behind – will start to consider using the now accepted technology or approaches. This final segment needs to be assured by an abundance of peers that there is almost zero risk and that the needed change is remarkably simple with no idiosyncrasies or effort required. Ironically, for them to adopt the new technology or approach, it cannot be all that “new.”

When tackled in this order, dividing and leveraging your headcount can become one of your greatest advantages – but that is not all that it takes to achieve adoption. A complete approach should also encompass the following.

1. Clear vision for the future, including the details of the envisioned change (specifically the technology, process, and people required).

2. Identification of critical success factors and the driving forces that make the change worthwhile.

Written by Martyn Lewis
Posted October 24, 2022

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