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System implementations and the inevitable discomfort of change

Harnessing the power of the subconscious mind – tips for reducing stress and increasing the likelihood of success.

The world we live in today is in a constant state of flux, more now than ever. In today's world, the only constant is change.

Having worked in the information technology sector for the last decade I can confidently say that change is more prevalent and more disruptive today than it has ever been. In order for businesses to survive in a technology-centric world, the requirement is easily summarised as: 

  • Do more with less
  • Do it faster, with a higher level of accuracy and lower cost
  • And don't forget to add a dash of convenience into the mix!

The change challenge

A large part of this requirement can be addressed with new intuitive systems that automate previously manual processes and enable businesses and their employees to have more time to be creative and provide more value to their customers. The hardest part of introducing new systems to a business is the change management that goes along with it. The shift to a new system can be stressful, difficult and the success of change management is directly linked to the success of a new system or process implementation. Simply put, if your users won't adapt to the new system and change, your project will fail.

As a general rule, humans are creatures of habit and comfort – there are very few of us who actually welcome change. We have become a species that has a deeply-ingrained need to be comfortable and sure of our footing. Any form of change is usually met by resistance, defence and, in extreme cases, complete rebellion.

Change is inevitable, and it can be as uncomfortable or comfortable as we choose. We can choose to welcome it, or to resist it, but as the world of technology advances and shifts, change is going to become more prevalent than ever and it would be in our best interests to welcome it and then elect to address it with enthusiasm and excitement. 

Inviting change, or at the very least giving the new and unknown a fair chance, brings about growth, contrast and expansion in knowledge. There really isn't anything to lose – worst case scenario you can always fall back into your ways of old if you so choose.

The subconscious versus conscious mind

To understand why we are generally resistant to change or deviating from our daily habits, we need to understand the basic functions of our conscious and subconscious minds.

Our conscious mind is responsible for a very small percentage of what we actually accomplish on a day to day basis. Our common thoughts, creativity and impulse actions are handled in our conscious mind. The conscious mind helps us to stay on top of things we need to do, and process information that is right in front of us, process thoughts and ideas and come up with solutions as a result. There is no argument that the conscious mind has a large role to play in our success but the subconscious is where the real work happens.

The subconscious mind is responsible for a large portion of our actions, how we interact with people, how we respond to the world around us, and how we assimilate change. Our subconscious mind is programmed through repetitive processes, thoughts and learnings and once this programming has happened, your conscious processes hand over to the subconscious mind and it takes over as if on autopilot. 

As an example, as I sit here typing away and putting my thoughts down, I am not consciously thinking about the keys on my keyboard that my fingers are tapping away at; I am not thinking, "Where is the ‘A’ key?" and having to spend time finding it. Yes, once upon a time I did, but now my subconscious takes care of that and I can type an entire page or paragraph without ever having to look at the keyboard or think about where my fingers are going. Certainly time saving and a lot more comfortable than having to re-learn the QWERTY layout every time I sit down in front of my PC – thank you subconscious!

The fact that our daily rituals and jobs are very repetitive and today’s tasks often resemble the tasks we did yesterday, and the ones we will do tomorrow, means that our subconscious mind can take over and process what we need to do with minimal input from our thinking minds. This means that we have almost all of our conscious thought capacity free to think, innovate, differentiate and be creative – all of which are qualities that are extremely important to our success.

Enter the new innovative system or software solution... 

The introduction of a new system or platform shifts the standard daily tasks which are familiar and well known from the subconscious' auto pilot to the unknown and unfamiliar and forces the conscious mind to take the controls. This can be a massive stress for your employees, and understandably so! The thinking capacity of your employees, which is normally focused on making decisions, being creative and ensuring that deadlines and targets are met, is now dominated with the need to learn a new and unfamiliar system and, on top of this, the usual deadlines and targets still need to be met.

How do we handle this? The following points can help in reducing the stress of change, and increasing the likelihood of success.

1. Start the conversation early

Whenever you decide that a system change is in order, start the conversation and socialisation with your employees as early on as possible. Let them sit in on demos, allow them to see and understand the product and your reasoning behind the change. This helps to bring your staff along on the journey. And having seen the product and its improvements to the process they will start to think of it when carrying out their day to day tasks on your old system. Old processes and frustrations on your aging platforms will be met with their thoughts of how great it will be when ‘X’ functionality on the new system will make this pain go away. This is slowly starting to program their subconscious to accept the change and the new system as they can see the value in it.

Before you know it, your staff will be asking you, "When is the new system coming?!"

2. Make everyone a part of the process

Involve your staff in workshops and software planning sessions as much as you can. Let them know you value their input and want them to be a part of leading the change rather than just having to accept it when it arrives. Value their thoughts and opinions and understand that software systems cannot be designed solely from the perspective of execs or upper management. Let your business champions and hardest workers have a say in the design of the system and process – after all, they are most likely the people who use it the most and are the cogs that keep the wheels turning.

3. Sponsorship from the top down

Software implementations will not succeed in isolation or in silos. Buy-in is needed from all levels of the business, but probably the most important is exec buy-in to ensure that the use of the new system is driven from the top down.

Make it a part of the daily process of doing business. If your CEO is asking your GMs for reports or information to be presented in the new system, then the GMs will need to be making sure that the information captured by their immediate reports is in the new system. It’s a ripple effect and ensures adoption.

4. Have a properly defined change management plan. Partner with a business consultancy that specialises in change

The implementation of new systems can be costly, and introducing additional cost by involving a consultancy that specialises in change management is often put at the bottom of the list. What could cost your business more – investing an additional 20% in proper change management processes, or losing 100% of your investment due to a failed project?

5. Make a list of your five core business objectives

In one of my most recent projects for a non-profit organisation, one of our top solution architects introduced this concept to me which had a huge impact to the overall project, especially given the need to stay within a super tight budget.

At the start of any new software project, make a list of your five core business objectives. What are the pain points, or solutions that this new system is meant to achieve? Keep this list handy, and reference it often.

Throughout workshops it is normal for people to get excited about the possibilities that a new system brings, however its extremely important to keep within your original objectives. Whenever new scope is introduced, reference it back to your five core objectives and ask yourself, "Is this design principle or new functionality addressing or aiding our key objectives?" If not, push it out for a phase two or put it on the nice to have list; don't overcomplicate your design if you don't have to.

Simpler design means easier adoption – this is just one of the many reasons why Agile implementations have higher success rates. Agile allows system users to learn new systems in bite-size chunks which means smaller disruption to their day to day tasks and better adoption.

Posted by: Kyle Haskins, Client Director | 23 June 2016


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