When you are the leader of an organisation making change decisions, there are naturally risks and concerns. But when you are the engineer, technician, plumber or carpenter working for that organisation, the business changes can have a far deeper impact. Whether they feel uncomfortable, anxious or just fearful of the consequences, the adoption of new technology into the daily working lives of people used to clocking cards and paper job sheets can be a very daunting prospect.
Until recently, the use of technology by housing providers has mainly been the remit of back-office staff, those taking calls from service users or booking work to be carried out, and maintaining asset registers. But with the convergence of reliable, high-speed mobile communications and easy to use PDAs, we can now deliver a greater degree of efficiency, accuracy and accountability within the workforce.
However due to the ever changing demands for technological innovation, those providing services on the ground are becoming increasingly involved in the technology. The lack of awareness of this dimension has led directly to many failed or prolonged projects. Getting all stakeholder groups fully engaged after the fact is far more difficult, if not doomed to failure.
Top-down push or bottom-up acceptance?
The top-down push strategy may seem like the easiest route for management to take but the risks to the overall project are far greater. Bottom-up acceptance will take longer, involve more resources and be a greater challenge; but ultimately it will be more successful.
When introducing new technology, we must take one step at a time and do so in an inclusive manner. This may seem like common sense but what frequently happens is that the workers only see the mobile devices for the first time in a classroom training session a few days before the system goes live. This is also often when users start to express their fears for the first time:
Is this thing tracking me?
Can you see where I am?
Why do you want to know when I start work?
I don’t do my job that way.
The screen is too small.
I have never used a computer in my life.
Where are the games?
This list can go on and on.
The management teams and project teams from both purchaser and vendor must be aware that user acceptance is as important, if not more important, than any other aspect of the project. To ensure successful acceptance you must:
This will ensure that the users are involved and one decision they can help with is the device choice. The range of devices available is growing almost daily with manufacturers updating device capabilities as new features become available. Suitability for purpose given the needs of the business, the functions required, ease of use and the conditions in which it will be used should be the main factors influencing the choice of device.
Setting up a forum where users can ask questions and voice their concerns to the management team will continue the early engagement. And remember that many users will have genuine concerns that they may be embarrassed about, so work with users both as a group and individually where necessary to overcome the concerns.
As part of the project schedule, acquire a few devices well before the planned go-live date and let users handle them. This will ensure that workers who are anxious about the technology can be given help early on and overcome any fears well before they need to use the device in a live environment.
You should build on early ‘look and feel’ sessions by introducing a functional overview of the total system, including a clear explanation of the benefits to the workers of the new system – creating a win-win mentality at this stage is essential to the success of the project.
By continuing the involvement of the end users throughout the user acceptance testing phase of the project and by appointing ‘super users’ before the go-live date will help to create a sense of project ownership within the group.
Ownership of the system also has other well-documented benefits. In studies carried out where employees take ownership of working processes and practices, day-to-day management of the workforce is reduced and employees demonstrate more personal control, have greater knowledge of their job and organisation, and invest themselves more extensively into their work. The results of these investigations suggest that psychological ownership, and especially feelings of ownership for the working processes and practices, leads to a closer relationship in the working environment and will dramatically increase employee ownership behaviors towards the organisation.
A well-run project that takes into account all of the end-users’ concerns and fully engages them in the decision-making process will lead not only to a successful outcome but can strengthen the employees’ commitment both to their own job function and to the overall aim and aspirations of the organisation.
Iain MacLachlan is business development director for TotalMobile at Consilium Technologies.