As a consultant and technology volunteer, I work in a variety of capacities with a broad range of nonprofit organizations. Although my work touches various aspects of technology, I am sometimes a system administrator, a web developer, digital marketer or data wrangler. Most of the time I spent my time as a project manager.
For a project to be successful all three areas – technology, people, and processes – are critical. Individuals need to collaborate as a team. The most challenging area for me is to navigate the resistance of change which is demonstrated by select individuals.
“Only babies with full diapers like change.” — Anonymous
The rest of us tend to hold onto our ways, sometimes beyond a sore point.
I don’t like change. For example, I don’t like to change hair stylists. Lou cut my hair for 14 years. He and his partner, Don, announced in November that they would retire. It took me way too long to accept their retirement and venture out to try a new salon. This resulted in my hair growing quite long (resisting making Trump hair joke). I knew there would be a terrible time of trial and error until I found the right one. And until it was a familiar routine as a recurring monthly event I could integrate into my processes with reminders, automatic scheduling, etc., it was a terrible distraction:-) Now, I feel much better with my new haircut. My world didn’t come to an end.
As a 5-year-old kid, I learned to ski downhill with two skis. I became rather accomplished and had enjoyed skiing on a regular basis for many decades. Whenever I had the opportunity to go skiing, I would dash off to be my happiest in the world of snow on a sunny day on the slopes. I gleaned excitement from speeding through the crunching of the snow and ice beneath my feet, soaking up the view from the mountains. The speed and acceleration were the closest things I experienced to flying freely. It was Heaven. Naturally, I had my fair share of falls and injuries. That’s all part of it. I would dust off and go back up again and again. With the wind whipping around my nose I skied downhill full-speed, conquering my fears and managing the terrain.
Over the years, I watched more and more snowboarders speed down the snowy hills alongside me. The grace of the master snowboarders was intriguing. It reminded me of my days of skateboarding at my Grandmother’s house. So one day, while in my early thirties, I was on the slopes on my time off during the week. I got adventurous and rented a snowboard for the day. Of course, I had to practice a bit, but I figured I would get the hang of it eventually. I went to the kiddy section, walked up the hill and tried to figure it out. Already sweating, I was tumbling around the hill covered in snow, more horizontally than vertically. I was prepared to be stupid again and not to know anything about how to snowboard successfully. I can be very stubborn, so I got up, again and again, to try to curve down this kiddy hill. After 30 minutes, I wasn’t any closer to actual snowboarding. My muscles were sore, and my winter jacket was soaked from sweating on the inside. I tried very hard. I sat down in frustration and considered why I was doing this to myself on my day off, a beautiful day in the mountains. I returned the mono-ski, grabbed my skis, boots and gear from my car, and went up the hill. Reflecting back upon the previous half-hour of frustration, I bounced back to being the happiest person on the hill. But I learned something about myself: I don’t need to learn snowboarding. I don’t think my happiness will increase with a different way to venture down the slopes.
If the outcome is only marginally better than what they have now, what is the point?
I believe that some resistance to change comes from not clearly seeing the added value of the modification. You can make people transition through a change of a longtime successful routine they managed for many years, and then require them to accomplish something new. But unless you can feed their imaginations with a much better outcome, they remain resistant. They need to be convinced the additional effort and interruption of a fine process is worth the effort. If the outcome is only marginally better than what they have now, what is the point?
Are we as project managers, technologists, as executive directors able to instill the vision of a better world?
When we look at overall organizational performance during a change process, we look at what consultants call the J-Curve. Your organization is on one level (left) and wants to reach a higher level (right) to get their new software, new processes, and new procedures are introduced. Over time the performance first decreases on a rapid slope downhill, then it goes past the “Valley of Death” and in a steady recovery, performance level increases again way past the original performance level to reach the next plateau of enlightenment.
What is the Valley of Death?
The Valley of Death is what Seth Godin meant when he wrote about the Dip –
“Every new project (or job, or hobby, or company) starts out exciting and fun. Then it gets harder and less fun, until it hits a low point—really hard, and not much fun at all.
And then you find yourself asking if the goal is even worth the hassle. Maybe you’re in a Dip—a temporary setback that will get better if you keep pushing. But maybe it’s really a Cul-de-Sac, which will never get better, no matter how hard you try.”
Pushing through finding a new hairstylist was worth pushing through the dip and the reward was on the other side. Learning snowboarding was the cul-de-sac and apparently not worth the effort.
The biggest technology challenge is not technology per se.
The biggest technology challenge is not technology per se. It’s how to focus people on working through the initial dip when our lives are out of routine; the work product quality decreases for a while and the same outcome we obtained the old way, is harder to achieve when we begin to use new processes, with the new technology. We find ourselves in foreign territory. And each one of us needs to make our way through being a novice again, along with those mistakes. Sometimes we make silly mistakes because we are concentrating so hard on the new thing, that we also neglect the things that haven’t changed but are also disrupted. Those of us leading the effort need to be there for our staff and tell them it’s ok to lesser quality work for a while when we are learning, it’s ok to take longer than usual to finish a report, because we are learning.
The old saying, it needs to get worse before it gets better.
How to deal with technology within an organization?
Yes, there is a generational change of guard happening. How to deal with technology within an organization? How to handle learning new things, when you feel like you don’t know much. How comfortable are you with the fact that you might feel stupid for a while? The GenX and Boomer generations deal differently with it than the 20 somethings, who just got out of school having spending 80% of their lives not knowing what they don’t know, but then getting smarter every day. Each of us needs a little more time coming to grips with the changes around us, and we need to weigh the rewards of the efforts clearly.
Volunteers, staff members and board members of smaller to midsize organizations gather monthly at the Tech4Good SWFL meetups for the last three years. Although it’s exciting to learn about the next shiny, cool gadget or idea in technology, say Google Glass, and such an event draws a lot of people, but those high-attendance meetings don’t necessarily have the biggest impact. They are successes for the day. The meetings where we share our failures and our successes help us all to start collaborating and learning from our peers have a more meaningful and lasting effect. In these meetings, people get technology education as well as implementation experience from their peers and can adapt it all for their organizations.
Our hope at NPTechProjects is the next organization and its people going through a change projects
- Know about the J-Curve and doesn’t expect to get from here to there in a steady curve upwards.
- Don’t go into the Dip as deep as it could be and
- Transition through the period of recovery faster to enjoy the improved work life.
In a post on FastCompany: Change Management: Nobody likes change!, I wrote about three things nonprofit leaders need to consider when leading a team through change.
- Communicate 10x more
- Consider the WIIFM factor
- Don’t loose sight of the big picture
What were your most significant hurdles on implementing technology changes in your organization? Please send us a note via the comment section!