Managing IT Resistance in the Workplace

Paul Brown
07.12.2018 Published: 07.12.18, Modified: 07.12.2018 13:12:44

The importance of managing user resistance when it comes to IT projects is often overshadowed by concerns of technical specifications, development capabilities and budget restrictions. However, the success of an IT system is also heavily linked to end-user acceptance. No matter how well designed or advanced a new IT application is, performance outcomes will ultimately depend on how effectively end-users accept and adopt the new technology. By properly managing user resistance, an organisation can reduce the risk of an implementation failure, mitigate technical support costs and boost employee morale.

What is IT Resistance?

IT resistance is when an application that has been implemented draws a negative reaction from the end user. User resistance does not necessarily mean total rejection of the new system. Employees will often use the new technology while engaging in passive resistance such as conversing about system flaws, submitting formal complaints, or simply delaying their tasks to avoid using the system. On the other end of the spectrum, there are more troublesome forms of resistance, which include active protests, purposefully committing errors and other disruptive behaviours. In some cases, a certain degree of passive resistance can be beneficial as it could bring attention to certain bugs and weaknesses of the system and lead to improvements. However, cases of aggressive resistance could potentially lead to total rejection of the system, employees quitting their jobs and significant losses for the company through reduced productivity and additional IT investment costs.

How Does Resistance Arise?

Resistance stems from how users perceive the IT implementation as well as how they perceive their own technical abilities. Oftentimes when a company rolls out a new IT application, end-users have minimal to no input and are sometimes only notified of the change once the technology is set to deploy. In these cases, employees have no real connection or sense of urgency to adopt the new IT initiative. As a result, they end up using the technology without buying in to the vision behind the implementation and are not inclined to go above and beyond to use the system to its full potential. Furthermore, certain user types have a higher potential for resistance. Older users are generally less confident in their ability to learn new technical skills and can often be intimidated by the prospect of adopting new technology. Another issue is job stability as new technology, especially those that increase automation, can be seen as a threat to job security leading to higher risk of resistance.

Dealing with Resistance

The best approach to dealing with IT resistance is prevention. It is often too late to address issues of user resistance once they arise as productivity losses and additional technical adjustment costs are more or less unavoidable at that point. A key success factor for a new IT implementation or any organisational change project is getting buy-in from employees and end-users. Allowing users to become involved in the development process creates a sense of excitement and belonging, which can improve employee perception of the project and ultimately lead to more effective use of the final product.

To improve employee perception, it is important to involve users at the very beginning of the IT development life cycle. When determining business needs and requirements, conduct surveys to assess existing user issues and collect suggestions for improvements and desired new system capabilities. Furthermore, organisations may consider launching an awareness campaign spanning the duration of the implementation process to maintain transparency and ensure employees are aware of certain updates and changes to the system. By doing so, employees are able to have a say on certain application features and will feel invested in the new IT system for which they will be the final users.

Another strategy for dealing with IT resistance is to identify high-risk individuals and address their concerns before it becomes an issue. Organisations should consider providing specialised training as well as Q&A sessions for potentially high resistance users to help them voice their concerns. The fact is, when companies invest in new technology, they are ultimately investing in their employees. Innovative technology is meant to enhance an employee’s work experience as it alleviates the need for employees to perform menial tasks such as data entry. As a result, users will be able shift their focus to more meaningful responsibilities including managing client relationships or developing new business strategies. Once high resistance users understand the intention and vision behind the IT implementation, they will be more inclined to buy-in and accept the changes.

IT implementation projects are complicated endeavors and are affected by many different challenges and obstacles. According to McKinsey & Co, 45% of large IT projects end up being over budget while delivering 56% less value than expected. Though there are many potential factors that contribute to these statistics, addressing user-resistance may mitigate these performance issues. By preventing resistance, companies can alleviate the need for additional system adjustment costs while also reducing training related expenses. In short, managing resistance is an aspect of IT implementation that cannot be overlooked and should be emphasised just like any other element within the Software Development Life Cycle.

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