Get company-wide buy-in for your software project.
When I was a kid, I had an extremely comfortable pair of red and grey sneakers that I wore every day. In a world of treasures like giant glass marbles and Polly Pockets, they were my prized possession.
But at 6, my feet were still growing and soon breached the surface of the pleather. My toes may have stuck out of the ends like I’d invented a bizarre new kind of sandal, but it didn’t matter what my mother said — I was going to keep wearing them until I physically couldn’t.
Exhausted by my conviction that these were the only shoes I would ever need, she eventually took me shopping and offered to let me pick out replacements on the condition that I let her throw the old ones away.
I reluctantly agreed.
I was excited to get something new, but when the time came to let go, I was devastated. The new shoes pinched my feet and breaking them in felt especially sour when I knew what I was missing. I resented the new shoes and complained constantly about wanting the old ones back.
Now, what does a grumpy 1st grader with uncomfortable new shoes have to do with getting buy-in for your software project? The psychology of change is the same.
It doesn’t matter how old you are or how many changes you’ve been through, we’re all as attached to our comfort zones as I was to those old sneakers.
And with much of our lives in constant flux, those trusty systems and routines at work feel that much more important, providing a safe haven and a sense of stability. That comfort blinds us to when we’ve outgrown a system and when change has become necessary for survival.
If the decision to forge a new path is out of your control, it can be jarring.
When you feel forced to adapt, you tend to focus on the discomfort. Time and energy are lost to lamentations about what you miss. And all too often, in the name of refusing to fix what isn’t broken, teams simply ignore the request to change and continue using their “tried and true” methods.
Unfortunately, you can’t just take your team to the software store and offer to buy them whatever technology they want if they pinky swear to integrate it into their workflow. So what can you do to ease the transition?
Keep reading to learn how a pair of old shoes and a deep understanding of the psychology of change can help you seamlessly introduce new software to your company.
- Collaborate on the Decision
- Choose Your Software Wisely
- Lead With Empathy
- Offer Custom Training and Support
- Stay Positive
1. Collaborate on the Decision
When my mother decided she needed to get me out of my old shoes, she didn’t just buy a new pair in the right size and throw away the old ones in the dead of night (as much as she may have wanted to).
Instead, she made me part of the decision by letting me try out new pairs and pick something that resonated with me. Although I found the change hard to adjust to, I was partially responsible for the outcome, so I had no one to blame.
Allowing me that autonomy over the future of my foot comfort also made me feel like I mattered and took the sting out of losing something I was deeply attached to.
Your employees need that feeling of autonomy and accountability too.
When you create operational changes through the introduction of new technologies, what you’re really doing is asking your team to change how they work. This may not seem like a big deal, but people are creatures of habit who spend half of their waking hours working. It’s where many people find purpose, confidence, and a sense of accomplishment.
When someone who takes pride in their knowledge and abilities is simply handed down new processes and expected to comply, it takes away their voice and control, breeding distrust and resentment.
Instead of informing your team when a decision HAS been made, let them know when one NEEDS to be made.
Start by explaining the issues you’ve noticed with the current system and ask if it jibes with your team’s daily experiences. Offer your suggestions for solutions and find out if team members have used those platforms in the past. What did they like or hate about it? What features did they find themselves using often? Never?
At the end of the day, the decision is ultimately yours, but it should be a lot easier to make when you know how your team feels about the options. Remember that the goal isn’t to make everyone happy — it’s to create transparency, build trust, and show respect by bringing people in on the ground floor of decision-making.
2. Choose Your Software Wisely
When my old sneakers were destroyed, I replaced them with new sneakers, not 5-inch stilettos. When you introduce new software, the goal is to replace your existing system and processes with a product that can achieve your goals more efficiently, not one that broadens the scope of what you do beyond what your team can handle.
Unfortunately, many leaders get swept up in the grand possibilities a shiny new system could deliver. And in the name of advancement, they pick products with unnecessary bells and whistles that waste money and confuse their team.
Aim to find a solution that addresses your current needs and immediate predictable growth with options to scale as you continue to expand.
To pick the right option, conduct an audit of your current processes and procedures. Make sure you know exactly what’s happening now, where the pain points occur, and the functionality your team expects in order to do their jobs more efficiently.
Before making the final decision, ask software providers to give you and a few key players on your team a walk-through of features. If you plan to build something custom, ensure your development team is able and willing to provide early prototypes that you can play with and ensure ease of use.
To get buy-in from your team you need to pick something that fits their needs as closely as possible.
3. Lead With Empathy
Despite your best efforts to bring your team into the decision and find the perfect solution for their needs, when the time comes to implement, even the most ardent supporters of change will struggle to adjust at times. Going from feeling like an expert in your processes to a novice is frustrating. It’s inevitable, and it’s ok.
Sure, I was happy to get those new shoes, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to throw them out of the window as soon as my feet started to hurt. There will always be moments when you feel like you’ve made a terrible mistake.
The problem is, stress negatively impacts memory and learning, making it more difficult to adapt to new processes. The trick is to use empathy to reduce this period of stress and negativity as much as possible.
Start by identifying your team’s fears and frustrations.
- Do they feel like they’re too busy to learn or implement the new solution?
- Do they genuinely like and miss the old system?
- Are they skeptical about aspects of the new system?
- Do they feel like these changes could ultimately result in job loss?
Once you understand the exact fears and frustrations that are driving people to act out, you can address individual concerns and provide clarity.
- Clearly define the problem, exactly how the new software will address the problem, and why the team decided that the chosen solution will work for you.
- Reassure them that the frustrations and fears they experience are perfectly normal when faced with a big operational change.
- Be honest about how you foresee your day-to-day changing and the struggles you are or anticipate experiencing as a result. (But be sure to follow this up with your excitement about the positives.)
- Reiterate the rationale for the change and remind people about the pain points you are trying to resolve for them. (Chances are, the current pain of change is overshadowing the memory of the daily annoyances they are used to experiencing with the old system.)
- State the long-term benefits you foresee the software creating in your team’s day-to-day lives and to the company.
- Ask them to be open and honest about how the implementation is or isn’t living up to those goals so adjustments can be made as needed.
- Create a clear plan for support, ensuring your team knows the options available to them if they have any questions.
The goal is to assure the team that you know that change is uncomfortable and frustrating while addressing individual needs and concerns where you can.
4. Offer Custom Training and Support
I may be stubborn and formidable, but one major advantage my mother had when trying to convince me to embrace my new shoes was that I was only one grumpy child. When you’re dealing with a team, there will be many strong personalities to contend with.
Each member of the team will vary in their desire to change, their interest in technology, and their belief in the chosen direction. Everyone will need something different from you to adjust, so make sure they have it. While a one-day one-size-fits-all training event may sound easier, the fallout of trying to make everyone fit in a box will slow you down in the long run.
To reduce the number of people who may need help all at once, identify the people who will most often use the software as part of their daily activities and prioritize their training.
For the tech-savvy and more independent members of your team, online training may be more than enough to get going. Others may benefit from group training sessions or personal attention. Ask your team members how they learn and do your best to provide multiple training options to fit their needs.
Once people have chosen their learning paths, communicate key dates when they are expected to hit different milestones. For example, by the end of the second day, each person should have created and filled out a profile.
Remember that completing training doesn’t ensure continued use.
How often have you completed an online training and never thought about it again? Help your team turn it into a routine by keeping it top-of-mind in their process expectations. For instance, ask for weekly analytic updates from your new software’s reports to encourage daily use.
5. Stay Positive
When members of your team brazenly refuse to comply with the changes you outline, the temptation to slap hands can be overpowering. But a show of force will only escalate negativity and increase rebellion.
If my mother had punished me for not wanting to wear my new shoes, it would have been the start of a civil war in my household and bare feet would have become the symbol of a righteous struggle. Instead, she told me how much better they looked than my old ones and assured me they would break in and be more comfortable eventually.
So celebrate the small wins. Find the people who are demonstrating the behaviour you’d love to see instead of seeking out and punishing the behaviours you don’t want. Penalties should only be doled out as a last resort for the very worst offenders.
Figure out what kind of rewards motivate your team and offer them to those who adhere. Counterintuitively, money is known to be a pretty bad motivator, so get creative! Does your team want recognition? Added perks like flexibility? Healthy competition and bragging rights over another team?
Can you add a bit of fun and excitement to your software through gamification?
To call your project a success, people need to be happy in the new reality. They should be AT LEAST as happy with the new tool as they were with their old process.
To help shape people’s beliefs about the change, make sure the internal story of the software is consistent and positive. Enlist marketing and comms people in your company to help cultivate a compelling story and get them to spread the positive message to whoever needs to hear it.
Unfortunately, some leaders approach getting buy-in as an exercise in brute force or persuasion. But helping your team adjust to new technologies and processes isn’t about treating them like stubborn children or playing Jedi mind tricks. It’s about remembering what it’s like to lose something that brings you comfort and providing the support people need to mentally adjust to a daunting new challenge.
There is no one-size-fits-all magic answer. Attaining company-wide buy-in for your software project relies on an open and ongoing conversation that starts as early as possible. Asking your team how they feel and being open about how you may or may not be able to meet their needs shows a level of respect that will encourage them to do their best for you.
And before you know it, the new system will feel like it has been there all along.
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