Roadblock: Reluctance

By Mel Duvall  |  Posted 2005-01-13 Print this article Print

Winning over reluctant employees so they actually use the software you're putting in place.

The Obstacle
There are only three things certain in life: death, taxes and new software. As Service Corp. replaced its old homegrown corporate business software with a new set of packaged applications to manage its 3,000 funeral homes, cemeteries and trust management operations, it faced significant reluctance from employees such as funeral directors and cemetery managers who were comfortable with the systems they had been using for years. Project manager Elisabeth Nash says managing the psychology of the change was just as important as getting the technology right because without employee buy-in, the company could be brought to its knees.

So, how do you win over reluctant employees?

The Response
Prepare the way. Service Corp. brought top-notch funeral directors and cemetery and crematory managers into its Houston office to assist in the software development phase. These experts were then able to go back into the field and tell their peers exactly what the new software would do, and why it was better than the old system. Such "viral marketing" is many times more effective than receiving a mandate from senior management, says Bill O'Connor, chief information officer of Ottawa, Ontario, semiconductor maker Zarlink, which recently went through a systems overhaul project similar to Service Corp.'s.

"Pull in" your people. The phrase "new software rollout" is enough to spread fear and skepticism across an organization. "Instead of rolling new software onto employees, think about pulling them in," says Tom Werner, a software-learning researcher at Sunnyvale, Calif., consulting firm Brandon Hall. The best way to pull them along is to identify and recruit a few department heads and staff members who are willing and, preferably, eager to jump on board. When employees see a change in the way a department head is doing things, they usually don't want to get left behind. And nothing convinces employees of a new system's benefit than observing other staffers using the software and deriving positive results-such as completing contracts in half the time as before.

Make sure there is job training, not just software training. Many companies make the mistake of telling employees that new software will require them to work differently without giving them the skills required for the change. For instance, a company may, according to McKinsey & Co. analyst Emily Lawson, tell employees that their jobs will be more "customer-centric" with a new system. "But if [those employees] paid little attention to customers in the past, they will have no idea how to interpret this principle," she says. If the new software allows funeral directors to more easily sell additional services such as Internet memorials or grief counseling, for example, they should be given training to ensure that they can sell those products knowledgeably and compassionately.

Make it personal. To feel comfortable with change and carry it out with enthusiasm, employees need to know how the change will benefit them. At Service Corp., for example, the company showed funeral directors that the new software could automatically generate a death certificate when a new funeral order was entered into the system. That, in turn, saves funeral directors from having to do the task, and gives them more time to do what they feel is their primary role: helping grieving families.

Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.


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