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Overcoming technology resistance

All companies must deal with employees who balk at using new technology. Bryce Smart and Kevin Desouza have studied the best IT managers ...

By Kevin C. Desouza and Bryce Smart . 01 December 2007

All companies must deal with employees who balk at using new technology.
Overcoming technology resistanceBryce Smart and Kevin Desouza have studied the best IT managers in small- to medium-sized enterprises to learn how they kept "resisters" from pulling the plug on techno-progress.


Organizations that do not innovate flirt with extinction. While innovation involves the calibration of new products and services to meet the needs of customers, it also involves the adoption of new technologies within the organization. Advances in technologies can help in the redesign of business processes, the development of competitive capabilities and even the carving out of market shares or new markets.

Most organizations face dire challenges in adopting new technologies. New technologies are often met with resistance. Resistance is followed by the under-utilization of the technology. This leaves the organization both vulnerable to critical disruptions in business processes and in a poor competitive position. While most organizations face challenges in technology adoption, the challenge for small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is even more dire.

SMEs often do not possess the necessary slack resources to give attention to new technologies as they are too busy making ends meet. They may also lack the necessary know-how to decide on new technologies or decipher the value to their organizations. Perhaps the biggest problem they face is resistance from employees tied to the status quo. Based on our experience, we offer 10 lessons for the SME manager to address “technology resisters”, those who oppose new technology for whatever reason, to get them on board.

1. Know what must be accomplished. Define success.


Information Technology (IT) managers defining success can easily become distracted from the problem at hand by looking only at strategic-level success metrics and overlooking the immediate issue of dealing with employees who value the status quo more than helping grow the company. These employees tend to limit themselves to an operational view of their work, caring only about fulfilling their specific responsibilities and getting their pay cheque. To reach these employees, an IT manager will have to create a success metric that supports the IT strategy on an operational level.

2. Understand why employees might resist even the best of technological innovations.


Even the best technological innovations may be rejected by employees for reasons that are not obvious. While all firms focus on increasing company value, SMEs play a more desperate game, often frantically trying to bring in money just to survive through the next quarter. To many workers, attempting to learn a new system can be a disruption that makes it more difficult to meet immediate objectives. Even if the innovation will radically help them next quarter, these employees may be far more concerned about this quarter and refuse to learn a new system. The IT manager will have to rely significantly on intuition and personal insight in order to ascertain employee motivations.

3. Ensure that the innovation is one that employees view as labour-saving.


When dealing with technology adoption problems, IT managers must consider whether the innovation reduces work for the employees, complicates work for employees, or replaces employees altogether. In either of the latter cases, employees will reject an innovation in order to preserve themselves. Understanding this is critical for IT managers looking to improve the perceptions of their coworkers regarding the innovation. When IT managers understand this distinction, they become more capable of framing their arguments in terms employees value: making work easier or more effective.

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