The underlying challenge to any print software project is the change management of the people who will be required to work differently once the print software solution is implemented.
The word “underlying” is very important because I have never heard a printer say, “my people simply rejected this solution and I failed to provide the leadership required to overcome their objections.”
The most common reasons for print software implementation failures revolve around the technology (usually at the feature level), the technology vendor (usually service related), and the lack of time and resources available at the printer. I’m not saying any of these reasons are not valid, if you focus on finding flaws in software you will be rewarded, if you focus on finding weaknesses in the service level of technology vendors you will be rewarded. What if all this focus on the “negative” was a smoke screen for your people just being fearful of the underlying change in their role, job, and career? What if the manifestation of fear was to focus on challenges instead of solutions as a way of stalling or preventing the change to actually happen? How would you change your approach to introducing technology into your business if the primary reason for failure was the underlying fear of technology?
Introducing technology into a business process can feel threatening if your core belief is that technology is a substitute for humans versus a complimentary tool for humans to work more effectively. Humans and computers are not interchangeable; they are good at different things. Humans are good at thinking on the fly, taking into consideration human relationships, feelings, and emotions while computers are much better at handling massive amounts of data. For example, in 2012 Google announced that after scanning 10 million thumbnails of YouTube videos, the super computer learned to identify a cat with 75% accuracy. As Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPalsays in his recent book, Zero to One, “this sounds impressive – until you remember that an average four-year-old can do it flawlessly.” Computers and people are good at different things, when you combine people and technology you take advantage of both skill sets simultaneously.
For example, a printer who wants to provide a human touch and build a profitable business can implement a Print MIS to send a personalized, customized e-mail to their clients when their orders have shipped. This is a simple example of an “automatic” touch point that provides value to the customer and, once its configured, lets the computer do what it does best; scheduled, routine tasks, executed consistently on-time. On the other hand, when one press goes down and the staff gets food poisoning from the employee appreciation lunch, your leadership has to kick into gear and a computer will be of little assistance in this situation. You need to think fast, assess all your available resources, prioritize, and then get moving. Computers and people are good at different things.
If you could change one core belief in your culture that would be most beneficial to your future success it would be that technology is a complimentary tool for humans, not a replacement for humans. The people who are best at utilizing technology will thrive in your organization; the ones who reject the technology tools required to remain competitive will have to be replaced.
How do you develop a culture of engagement with technology as a complimentary tool?
Personalize the Message: Every individual that works in your business is constantly assessing their role within the business. Their job is to take care of themselves and their families. Presenting a generic message of “we need to modernize our operations” as the reason for a new Print MIS is not necessarily relevant to them. Every Print MIS implementation should start with interviewing a representative from every role in your organization and asking them “what data could we provide you that would increase your job performance?” Isn’t that the core objective of a Print MIS – provide the data to the right people, at the right time, so they can do their job better and make better business decisions? If you personalize the implementation of a new technology to each role in your organization, your chances of success will skyrocket.
Keep Score/Measure/Celebrate: Technology projects get difficult. You are usually trying to complete the project while running your business (akin to trying to change the tire of your car while you’re driving) so people are stretched and stressed out. If you’re a leader, please stop asking the question “when will this be done?” There is no such thing as done in software but there are milestones such as first customer live on your web-to-print system, initial launch of your Print MIS or accounting cut over on your Print MIS. Proceed through a series of milestones and stop to celebrate each one. One of the most important things to do for your celebration is to take a baseline measurement before you start. When you spend a ton of time, effort, and money changing a business process, it’s nice to report the before and after in measureable units. For instance, one sales representative calculated how much time he spent processing orders for his top client prior to implementing a web-to-print store. At the “celebration” of the milestone “first customer to go live on our web-to-print” the before and after clearly showed the 1.75 hours he is now out selling instead of order-taking.
Reassuring Words, Authentic Conversations, and Patience: There is an emotional side to change that cannot be overlooked. Some of your team will be intimidated, worried that they can’t learn a new system or that they will break something if they click on the wrong button. You have to have a culture where people aren’t afraid to ask questions. One of the strategies that my colleague, Jane Mugford often recommends is to create an implementation team with representation from several functional areas. These people can be the front line support for people who are frustrated or need an extra hand but don’t want ask for help in public. Empower people throughout your organization to become subject matter experts on the technology with the important responsibility of teaching others. Make sure these people are patient and have good teaching skills – the wrong personality in this role can do more harm than good.
Technology is the tool of the information age to expand your business, make your business more efficient, and most of all increase the effectiveness of your human capital. Your people have the power to resist technology tools if they see them as a threat. Your job is to build a culture that portrays technology as a complimentary tool for the benefit of your people.