As humans, we are constantly evolving and adapting to our changing environment. Yet, when someone at the office proposes a change, like new AMS software, some of us (not you or me, of course) stubbornly insist on standing in place and resisting any forward progress.
When you understand the individual and organizational psychology behind resisting and accepting change, you’ll have more success getting buy-in for the new software or project you’re proposing.
Looking to build a business case for new AMS software? Have questions about the buying process but don’t know where to start? Check out the Membership Software Buyer’s Guide.
Take the Change Temperature of Your Association
Before approaching the C-suite with your great idea for new membership management software or any other project involving change, you need to know what you’re up against. How change-ready is your organization?
Find out about any change initiatives proposed in the past few years, for example, new technology, new practices or processes, and new programs. Talk to the people behind those ideas to learn what factors helped or hindered their success, for example:
- Who was involved in their proposal and how.
- What they did (or didn’t do) to gain buy-in.
- Who cooperated and who didn’t.
- What factors led to the success of their proposal.
- What factors led to the rejection of their proposal.
Were projects in the past tied to strategic or business goals? If not, your association may have a history of wasting resources on bad ideas. To increase the likelihood of getting staff behind the idea of new membership management software, make sure your project aligns with organizational and departmental goals.
Did projects in the past meet the expectations of stakeholders and users? If your association has a history of projects not meeting expectations, your new idea will naturally be met with raised eyebrows. Or, you’ll hear a variation of “We tried that and it didn’t work.” Be clear about your project’s purpose and set reasonable expectations.
The culture of an organization can make all the difference to a proposal’s success. It’s more difficult to get change accepted in a dysfunctional office culture where people feel insecure and distrusting. For example, people are less receptive to change if they work in a hierarchical organization where an “us vs. them” mentality festers between executive/senior management and the rest of staff, or in an office where information is held tightly because of a lack of communication, trust, or transparency.
Understand Why People Resist Change
Why do otherwise reasonable people dig in their heels and resist necessary change? Why would they stick with the status quo instead of wanting to improve it?
Because they’re human and that’s what human brains are wired to do. Our brains are programmed to avoid anything threatening, like the unknown or difficult. Change isn’t easy. It takes effort to put in place and to adopt. The end result isn’t the problem, it’s the transition that’s tough.
Behind the resistance to change is fear, but it’s a disguised fear that takes on many forms. People fear losing control over their time and routines. They resent having to take on the additional work required for software selection and implementation. No one wants that—unless they’re willing to make short-term sacrifices for a desired long-term goal.
People want to guard their time. Users worry about the time it will take to learn and adapt to the new software. They’ll have to figure out new routines as they get used to new workflows and processes.
They want to guard their ego too. Behind most fears lies a wary ego. Some of your colleagues are used to being experts at using familiar tools to get their work done quickly. Now, you’re going to make them learn a new system. They worry about not feeling and appearing as proficient as before.
Many of them may be invested in the old way of doing things. Other staff may rely on them to pull reports or find information. They may have even created the processes that are driving everyone else crazy.
Your proposal for a change in software threatens the control they feel over their work realm. You need to give that sense of control back to them.
Create a Market for Change
Successful companies, like Apple, don’t always give people what they want. They figure out what will delight people and give them that instead. As Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.” Apple created a market for change and you can too.
However, in associations, you can’t motivate people to consider and accept change without getting them to understand and agree with the reasons behind the change. First, you must spend time talking to users and stakeholders of your existing software. Listen to their concerns, frustrations, ideas, and suggestions. Don’t pitch your idea for change yet—listen first.
This isn’t a conversation with only a few key players. You have to involve, consult with, and prepare the people who will be impacted by the new software—even the ones, especially the ones, who are likely to resist what you’re proposing.
What you learn may cause you to alter your plans or make you realize just how badly new software is needed. Now it’s time to get broad buy-in for your plan from an executive sponsor, stakeholders, and users (including the resistors). Start by contrasting the existing situation and its challenges, problems, risks, and missed opportunities with a picture of how the future will look with new membership management software in place.
You have to make sure everyone agrees you have a problem to solve and you can find a solution to that problem—that things can be better. But you will find that solution together—everyone who will be impacted by this change must be involved in working toward the solution. If you have their buy-in before implementation, you’re less likely to come up against their resistance later.
Everyone must agree this change is worth doing, despite the extra workload it requires. Remind them of the common goals you’re trying to achieve, how the existing situation holds you back from reaching those goals, and how the proposed solution will help you achieve them. Inspire them with a vision of a better future but don’t lay blame on the existing situation—you don’t want anyone to take that personally.
Change is personal. Everyone reacts in a different way. You can never predict who’s going to be trouble—it might be someone in the C-suite, a department head, someone in IT, or the tech-savvy colleague who doesn’t have any trouble with the existing software.
Keep alert so you can identify resistors. They’re the ones who are predisposed to expect failure. Or, they’re always too busy for meetings. Talk with them individually. Listen to and validate their concerns. They think you have an agenda, and you do. Put that agenda away and really listen to them, you may learn something. You need them to open up and share their knowledge with you. What they’re saying does matter—let them know that. You want their counsel and involvement—they need to know that too.
People want respect. Show them respect by listening to what they have to say and giving them the opportunity to be part of the solution. People also need a sense of control. During times of change, they feel like they’re losing control. Keep them informed. Focus on what will stay the same. But, also give them a sense of how things might be different and how they could adapt. Demystify as much of the future as you can.
Make Change Easier for Co-Workers to Adopt
Get your timing right. If people already feel overwhelmed by other projects in process or by upcoming events, such as a conference, board meeting, or budget process, don’t pile software selection and implementation on their plate too. They’ll say “No” just to save their sanity.
Give people time to get used to your plan and absorb everything you’re telling them. They have to figure out how to cope with the change you’re proposing—that takes time. Don’t rush them and further stress them out.
Keep everyone informed. Rumors and worries take root in the unknown. Don’t leave anyone in the dark about any aspect of the project.
Make sure staff knows they will have the support they need to learn any skills required for new processes. Assure them that they will have enough training to be proficient.
The support and understanding of the executive sponsor will be crucial from the very beginning. The sooner you can get the sponsor to acknowledge and promise rewards for the extra effort required by staff during the proposed project, the better chance staff will get on board. People want to be recognized for their efforts and they’re unlikely to support a project if they think all their extra work will go unnoticed.
Convincing people that it’s time for a change is never easy. It will call on all your powers of persuasion and empathy. You also need to be armed with facts about your existing situation and a more promising future. Our guide, How to Subtly Push for Change When It’s Obviously Time for an Upgrade, will help you prepare a case for new membership management software or any other type of new technology.
Find a full suite of resources about change management and building a business case for new software in our Membership Software Buyer’s Guide.