“You can only go halfway into the darkest forest; then you are coming out the other side.” (Chinese proverb)
Since technology is based on cold, hard logic, you would think that changing from your present set of ones and zeroes to another would be a breeze. But most of us who have survived technology changes in our respective organizations might liken it to more of a hurricane.
Employees Often React Emotionally to Tech Change
Making the decision to change, swap, or upgrade to a new technology can be a logical process. Persuading those who will make the new technology work is an emotional process that relies on a number of important factors that parking professionals should think about before embarking.
Blake Laufer, founder and CEO of MiStall Insight, says a good first step is to make the change as non-threatening as possible, beginning with product design and layout.
MiStall provides yield management and demand-measurement tools for parking including video analytics. Laufer spent 17 years at T2 Systems in Vice President roles related to research, development, and technology. T2 produces a suite of equipment and software for access control, revenue, and meter applications for enterprise-level parking operations.
“In terms of product construction,” Laufer says, “we try to leverage consistency across our products to use common interfaces, modules, or use stepwise ‘wizards’ to help users become familiar with the application quickly, and leverage what they already know about a browser or similar technology (in design terms this is called ‘affordance’).”
“Finally,” Laufer says, “we try to design software and systems that model around the parking operation, citing best practices that we’ve seen across the market; this ‘standardizes’ the manner in which parking is done and makes the change less onerous for customers.”
Coping with Change: 5 Mechanisms
A study published in the Journal of Information Technology & Management, called “How IT Organizations Handle Rapid IT Change: Five Coping Mechanisms” (Benamati & Lederer) culled from a nationwide survey the most common “coping” mechanisms utilized by IT (Information Technology) professionals to institute new technologies.
Sorted into related groups, the researchers concluded the five most common, rated from most to least important, were:
1. Education and Training – Providing advance notice about the technology change, why its necessary and offering numerous opportunities to learn.
2. Internal Procedures– Customizing and/or changing existing procedures and process to leverage the new technology.
3. Vendor Support – The supplier takes an active role in the implementation process, working through obstacles as part of a start-up team.
4. Endurance – Waiting out those who oppose the change; trying to build maximum consensus.
5. Consultant Support – Bringing in an outside consultant to guide the implementation process.
Blake Laufer says success in implementation comes from trying to think like the end-user. He notes, “Many of our staff at T2 came from the parking industry so they were intimately familiar with the details of running a parking operation. When they train customers they understand the customer’s pain points.”
Technology Acceptance Parallels the Grief Cycle
Speaking of pain, researchers have also noted how technology acceptance curiously parallels the “grief” cycle. First comes the “news” that the change is coming. Next, there is “denial”, as workers offer excuses why it won’t work and even undercut implementation efforts. These efforts to subvert the process can even result in expressed or repressed “anger” and resistance to the change is at its peak.
As change looks more inevitable, employees begin to “bargain” with management to soften the change; for example accepting the new technology but not changing procedures and work processes.
When the consequences for not cooperating become clear (i.e. discipline and/or termination), a state of depression is reached where the worker looks at the new skills that must be learned as a mountain that must be climbed. This mountain must be scaled at the same time the worker is expected to continue to maintain his/her existing productivity.
Finally, the worker is (hopefully) brought back into the fold via training and contact with others enduring the same emotions and circumstances. “Acceptance” and increased self-reliance is ultimately achieved and improved productivity is realized. Training is a recognized key to achieving acceptance and lowering the stress levels of implementation.
Practical Ways to Sell Tech Change to Employees
Poole and Denney in an article “Technological Change in the Workplace” researched community college library staff being asked to adopt new technology.
According to the article’s abstract, “Their [Poole’s and Denney’s] subjects reported that too little training on technology increased their job stress, and 25% reported that library employees are expected to learn too many new things too fast. They also surveyed employee technology education preferences. Employees preferred to receive training in a workshop or structured class first, followed by learning on one’s own with a manual. Only 9% preferred to learn new technologies from a supervisor or friend.”
Gwendolyn Eastmond, in her article “Technical Training: From Eeek! to Oooh!” in Library Administration and Management magazine recommends some practical ways to implement technology training that can certainly applied in a parking environment.
First, Eastmond says, “employees must be sold on the technology and be motivated to use the technology.” This means presenting an irrefutable and inarguable business case for change and offering ways this new technology will improve the work lives and/or productivity of the worker.
Next, she recommends that “employees be surveyed to assess their technology skills, and train employees in groups based on their skill levels.” She suggests asking staff specific yes/no questions such as ‘I know how to send an e-mail attachment’ to determine actual training requirements.
Before actual training begins, management must make sure the trainer’s skills are up to par. Eastmond recommends a variety of training methods be deployed so students can choose the teaching style they prefer; this to keep in mind that some persons learn by hearing, some by seeing, some by doing, and some by a combination of all three.
Finally, it is critical to allow students sufficient practice time. Periodic retraining and incremental advances in learning levels are also a good idea.
Success is Driven by Effort at the Beginning, Not the End
Laufer notes both his present firm, MiStall, and his former one T2, place significant focus on up-front training and installation with online classes for new users, on-site visits from implementation consultants, and previews of their converted data.
“When the system is finally installed,” Laufer says, “customers should be very familiar with it well before the day they ‘go live’. Finally, after installation the customers have a wealth of continued online training, access to a self-serve knowledgebase and plenty of support resources – all to make the impact of the change easier for them.”
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