Parties and persuasion — keys to breaking user resistance

'Go live' parties and communicating with end users can result in more effective implementations of new systems, Australian IT pros say. Michael Crawford reports

IT professionals are getting creative when it comes to overcoming end-user resistance to new technology projects. Knowing that users don’t like change and that old habits can be hard to break, IT pros are using strategies that range from staging “go-live” celebrations to creating “change champion” positions across the organisation.

As Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst at research firm Enterprise Applications Consulting points out, change management is often more important than technology itself when it comes to large projects.

“Without a well-mannered change management process, everything else will roll up on you,” he says.

Throwing “go-live” parties is fast becoming a common practice, because it breaks down the barriers with end- users, raises the profile of IT and there is a likely chance beer will be served.

Diane Dromgold, managing director of Australian project management consultancy RNC Global Projects, says “go-live” celebrations have become common across the Tasman, but companies can throw them a little too soon.

“It’s better to throw them further down the track, when everybody has adjusted to the application,” she says.

“When tackling user resistance, IT departments should also use a combination of one-on-one tutoring and tough love.

“I am a huge fan of going overboard to support good communication, education and training for a project.”

Malcolm Gill, client services manager at Australia’s Victoria University, says the best way to combat end-user resistance towards new software and applications is to discuss what the various departments specifically want in a face-to-face setting. A “go-live” party is more of a way to show that the IT department is human.

“‘Go-live’ parties would be great to raise our profile and we could talk informally with users — it would overcome the ‘us and them’ mentality,” he says.

But Ron Gascoigne, IT manager for Holmesglen TAFE (Technical and Further Education institute), says parties aren’t always the answer.

“It’s about good communication — “go-live” parties are just an excuse for a drink,” he says.

Gascoigne admits the university has had to overcome an anti-technology mentality among users, but strong leadership from management ensured greater acceptance.

“IT tends to take a back seat when successes occur, with users not always recognising IT’s contribution to improved processes,” he says.

Holmesglen TAFE releases about 12 home-grown applications every year and is constantly tweaking off-the-shelf applications.

Peter Seddon, associate professor of information systems at Melbourne University, reckons the term end-user is a hangover from the 1980s and says the two necessary parts for ensuring new software acceptance are training and subsequent support.

He says it’s not resistance that IT managers need to get their head around, but how to handle inertia.

“It is important IT managers focus on five channels of training to keep a project on track: active, helpdesk, user groups, power users and talking to buddies.

“IT managers should also focus on training and the helpdesk ... they also do not realise the benefits of user groups to share information.”

Carol Tyler, change management director at Catholic Healthcare, creates “change champion” positions at each facility to promote the new software.

Tyler’s position was created to help shepherd major technology projects in the wake of huge resistance from users after a failed ERP installation.

“They had a very, very strong distaste for a new IT project” she says.

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