Tips for Managing Technology Change
The Industrial Revolution brought about many great technological changes, including steam ships and modernization of the textile industry. But not everyone responded favorably to those developments. A group of textile artisans called the Luddites felt that industrialization threatened their way of life and demonstrated their displeasure by destroying the mechanized looms they thought would take their jobs.
Technologies have evolved since then, but reactions to technology changes — and the need to effectively manage those changes — have not. Most people do not like change, particularly changes over which they feel they have no control, even if those changes are objectively “good.”. Change can create anxiety, which can, in turn, create resistance to the technology initiative.
Even though your nonprofit colleagues are unlikely to smash the new technology you're implementing, here are some things that you, as the leader of a technology change in your organization, can to do help generate support for your initiative and guide its success:
Tip 1: Create context
What is the technology change you’re proposing to undertake? How will it help your organization? The people in your organization are probably very committed to the organization and the constituents it serves. Isn’t that why they work there? By clearly tying the technology change to the organization’s mission, you can help people understand the reason for the tech change, how it will help the organization and its mission, and why they should support it. In addition to focusing on the mission, creating context for change means letting people know that a change is going to happen, why it's taking place and when it will happen so they know what to expect.
Tip 2: Get ahead of the change
Letting people know what’s going on early in the process can help them feel more comfortable as the change gets under way. Small, incremental changes are much easier to handle than large, disruptive changes. The ideal change setting is an organizational culture that is comfortable with change, where small changes happen frequently (also known as an “adaptive organization”). But in the short term, letting people know about the change early in the process can help get them on board with it.
Tip 3: Involve senior management
While technology changes can be initiated anywhere in an organization (and frequently those that originate lower in the organizational chart can be really beneficial), a successful technology change needs to have executive support, if not active involvement. Clear support from senior management helps demonstrate that the technology change is an organizational priority and can help generate support for the initiative throughout the organization.
Tip 4: Recruit champions, influencers and end users
While executive support is needed, it isn’t enough. People throughout the organization need to buy into the technology change for it to be successful. This means directly engaging people who will be affected by the change (try asking for their input and suggestions — you might be surprised by the ideas they have) and recruiting people to be champions for the change. Champions will be cheerleaders for your initiative and can help act as surrogate change leaders to get buy-in throughout the organization. An ideal champion is someone who has influence in the organization, whose opinions are respected and sought by others , and who can articulate what the technology change is and why it's important to the organization.
Tip 5: Communicate early and often
It’s easier for people to feel both involved and less anxious when they know what’s going on. Communicate early on that a technology change is happening; first the “why” of the change, then the “what.” As the change is progressing, keep people in your organization up to date on the initiative. Once it has been implemented, tell a success story or two, and keep providing needed information to support the change (see Tip 7).
Communication needs to be multidirectional — while you’re telling people in your organization about the technology change, make sure they also can provide feedback, talk to you about it, and talk to each other about it to help generate a thorough understanding of the change and help diffuse anxiety.
Tip 6: Mitigate anxiety
The first step in mitigating anxiety is understanding that it exists and acknowledging its presence. People might be afraid that their jobs will change (or disappear), that they won’t be able to handle or learn the new technology, or that the new technology will have other negative impact on them, their jobs or their day-to-day work lives. You can help to mitigate that anxiety through good communication, opportunities for feedback, and by allowing people to explore their anxiety in ways that let them know that what they're feeling is normal, understandable and manageable.
Tip 7: Support people throughout the life cycle of change
Your work isn’t done once the new technology is in place. Keep reaching out and providing opportunities for feedback. Frequently, the people in need of the most support are the least likely to talk about it. Create ways (e.g., an open-door policy, user guides/cheat sheets, a suggestion box, recruiting a sympathetic colleague) to check in with people who are reticent, and create safe and private spaces for them to keep learning and getting support.
Even if you don’t have an imminent technology change on the horizon, you can set the stage for successful change leadership in the future by connecting with people in your organization, establishing your expertise in your subject area (whether it’s technology, fundraising or something else), serving as a resource for others, and understanding your organizational culture and the priorities and perspectives of your co-workers.
While people in your organization might not be Luddites, acknowledging that they may feel some anxiety about a pending technology change can help get them on board. Getting wide support for the initiative through good communication early in the process can help the technology change succeed.
For more information about managing technology in your organization, a great reference is the book "Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission: A Strategic Guide for Nonprofit Leaders."
Dahna Goldstein is founder of PhilanTech, a social venture dedicated to using technology judiciously to enable social-sector organizations to maximize service delivery and social impact. Dahna presented a session on managing technology change at the NTEN Online Technology Conference held Sept. 16-17.