ManagementSpeak: Must be able to overcome internal and external barriers, so troubleshooting and analytical skills are a must.
Translation: Must be able to identify and operate management hot buttons.
This week’s contributor is good at figuring out what jobs really require.

New York City recently pulled the plug on its psychic training program.

While the program has successfully trained welfare recipients in the arcane craft of psychic hot-linery, officials apparently wanted to avoid criticism such as that leveled by “legitimate” psychics such as the manager of Abracadabra Productions Ltd, who described the program as “…totally a scam.”

Satire shrivels in the face of such reality.

The popular image of welfare recipients as lazy feeders off the public trough fades in the face of such clear evidence of willingness to work, and one presumes these same individuals, having mastered the art of prognostication, will easily follow the logical career progression from ordinary psychic predictor to Wall Street analyst.

Preconceptions are hard to let go, whether about psychics, welfare recipients, or end-users. Nonetheless, one of our most cherished preconceptions about end-users … that they obstinately reject new technology, tenaciously clinging to old ways of doing things, thwarting IT-driven progress … has to go.

If this image of the typical end-user ever was true, it is no longer, at least according to a recent study which polled 1,000 end-users and found that about 750 of them figured technology generally translates to personal benefit. Reinforcing this finding is a second recently-published study which reported that on the average, most employees use computers more than an hour a day.

Employees no longer fear information technology. That, apparently, is a fact, and it’s one that shouldn’t surprise us. Most adult Americans master the art of driving at an early age, prefer ATMs to live bank tellers, and hook up VCRs and DVD players without fear or hesitation. We live in a world in which information technology is as ubiquitous as oxygen. Ubiquity and fear rarely coexist for any length of time.

If we recognize that the age of computer-phobia is largely behind us, what should we do differently?

For one thing, we need to facilitate change differently.

Increasingly, IS recognizes that the job isn’t done when the software runs without crashing. Until the business puts new technology to use, preferably in the way originally envisioned, the entire effort is irrelevant.

Part of the process of making sure technology gets used is facilitating change. Many practitioners of this art start with two false assumptions, though: (1) Resistance to change is the province of end-user employees whose jobs will be directly affected; and (2) the major cause of change resistance is instinctual — people “naturally resist change”.

But it turns out end-users like new technology — they like change, or at least some forms of it. This challenges the basic assumptions many change management pundits use as a starting point for their process, usually described as “managing resistance to change”.

Here’s my experience: The biggest change resistors reside in the executive suite. In general, they have the biggest stake in the way things are now, have the least to gain, and have the most to lose when the company changes how it does business. Worse, many executive compensation systems reward exactly the wrong behaviors.

As to employee resistance to change … it’s very common, but it isn’t instinctual, in part because nothing about human behavior is purely instinctual — everything is a complex interplay between genes and environment.

Employees resist change for the simplest of reasons — in the absence of communication, they assume the worst and yell “BOHICA” because in their real-world experience, “corporate change” means layoffs or longer hours for them while executives receive the bonuses and accolades.

When employees resist change it’s because the information they have tells them they ought to.

What this means, then, is that facilitating change is easier than most of us thought. All you gotta do is to: (a) Make sure the average employee will benefit from it; (b) communicate a lot, so they understand how they’ll benefit; (c) involve them throughout the change so they can make sure they benefit from it; and (d) keep those change-resisting executives where they can’t sabotage the effort.

Nothing to it.