People Can’t Change, Only Technology

One topic I engage students on is change management as it relates to digital transformation. In my most recent discussion, instead of proposing arguments for and against a change, my students opted to pick at the flaws in the technology. Their arguments were that the tech was not perfect and needed improvement before it would be fit for use.


This got me thinking; could this be a cop-out - blaming the inmate object that cannot talk back? This was also a lightbulb moment for me because I realised that it’s easier to blame someone/something than build steps to change the people. 


Introducing anything new requires some shift or change by the intended users. 

Imagine the resistance when an electric blender launched, modernising the home and replacing the mortar and pestle. The excuses women of the era would range from the quality of the blend, the taste of the stew or the limited use because of the lack of electricity. 


One certainty is that we (humans) seldom take responsibility for their reluctance to change. We seldom say, “I don’t know”, “I can’t” or “I need help”. And this is worse when you are presenting something like an unknown technology in an organisation.


My lightbulb moment was that my students were berating the technology, rather than proposing approaches to imbibe change as a practice. 


A student shared an example of her struggle when her firm licensed Microsoft Teams. During this deployment, the organisation factored onboarding activities like training and support, but there was little interest from my student. Unknown to us all, Covid-19, lockdowns and work from home (WFH) protocols would make the same MS-Teams invaluable to her. In the space of 3 months, a tool she felt she had no use for became important. 


Technology adoption is one of the biggest winners of the coronavirus pandemic. However, exogenous factors will not always induce reform. We will require internal systems that over time ingrain change as a part of the organisational culture. 


Working in the financial inclusion ecosystem, we use human-centred design (HCD) approaches to create customer segments or personas from demographic, behavioural and psychometric characteristics. We can adapt such insights of personas or segments to build change strategies for employees in organisations. Let me explain.


Demographic: individual demographics give away some of our preferences. Data like age, gender, socio-economic status, education, marital status enable generic profiling, addressing the “who” but incapable of telling the “how” or “why”.


Behavioural: as individuals, we have distinct traits or habits from our upbringing or learned through life’s pursuits. And we have different behaviours or habits around particular aspects of life. How we act varies depending on the context - towards money or finances, education and work.


Psychometrics: this aspect is the most interesting but yet most difficult to codify as it represents the “why”. Psychometrics dimensions reveal why humans behave as they do, including personality traits like self-control, self-efficacy, openness, trust, optimism, conscientiousness and dependability.


Combining these and building segments or persons, providing deep insights about people - who they are, what they do and why they want they do. So what does this have to do with change?


Digital transformation or technology-induced change causes people to use technological tools and work activities. Because people are not robots or carbon copies of each other, what motivates A to develop differs from what motivates B. If we are to sell the transformation, we must define the unique selling points. The possibility of identifying selling points for each individual in an organisation is slim and somewhat unrealistic. Hence, applying segmentation techniques to internal employee demographic, behavioural and psychometric data can help. The net result would be a handful of employee segments that are more manageable for developing change approaches that engage and promote the technology. 

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