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People: a critical element of new technology implementation.

People: A Critical Element of New Technology Implementation

The effective management of people is critical to the successful implementation and use of new technical systems. Unfortunately, the "human" resource receives only cursory or after-the-fact attention when technological decisions are considered. Not only must managers recognize the importance of the people, but they must be convinced that new technology and change will be advantageous to them. Even before the initial introduction of new technology, managers must learn to anticipate and lessen employee resistance to change. While it is impossible to eliminate all resistance, managers can ease the fear of change and encourage acceptance through appropriate implementation plans and educational programs.

As technology assumes an ever-larger role in an organization's global success, managers must remember the human dimensions that underlie successful technological implementation. Two of an organization's most valuable and complex resources are its people and its technological systems. Managers must successfully blend these two assets to develop a highly competitive and efficient operation. Subordinating or ignoring people in systems implementation may prove fatal to the system.

Businesses are experiencing a technological renaissance. To retain or to recapture a competitive edge, many organizations have been forced into exploring new technologies on a widespread basis. This trend can be attributed to changing environmental forces that have accelerated the rate at which new technologies have been adopted.

Because organizations must be competitive to survive in a global marketplace, most have realized that new technologies are necessary. As competition has increased, organizations have either had to adopt enhanced technologies or be forced to operate less effectively and efficiently than other companies offering similar products and services. Some proactive organizations install new systems before their competition does. This differentiation measure is often effective in separating an organization from its close rivals.

Cost controls also force companies to adopt new technologies at a faster rate. Although the initial capital outlay for new systems can be substantial, economic pressures to control production costs demand these new technologies. In periods of slower economic growth, organizations that have been able to obtain lower production costs will be able to maintain their profit margins. In addition, global competition forces domestic organizations to keep their costs in line with international rivals.

The interaction of people is required to coordinate duties and to solve problems associated with organizational changes. This process is one in which two systems, people and technology, are interdependent. Both systems function optimally when they are designed to fit the demands of both areas as well as the internal work environment.

Understanding the mechanics and operational specification of a new procedure will be time-consuming and often difficult to understand, but usually this is a very short-term problem. However, adapting people to the new technology is a long-term issue. Change must be handled properly if new technology is to be successful. However, the decision to implement a new system is frequently made by top management and later, line managers and employees are informed of the decision. Also, while training is usually provided to help employees learn how to use the system, managers may pay little attention to the human impact of technology.

When new technology is introduced, the people systems are thrown out of balance. Patterns that have been understood are altered. The role of an individual employee, previously clear-cut, may suddenly be in doubt. For the two systems to be effectively combined, a new equilibrium must be obtained. This will not occur without the concerted efforts of all those involved in the process. Since technology is dynamic, managers must prepare workers for this changing environment.

In addition to the desired increases in productivity and efficiency, successful technology implementation will require a greater interdependence of activities; new educational and training demands; and greater dependence on people. The large capital investment typically required for major technological system changes places an added organizational urgency on the success of these systems. But because so much capital and effort is expended on technological systems, little effort or capital remains for the people system.

Productivity levels are almost always adversely affected by human resources problems brought about by poorly implemented technology. Thus, managers must consider and plan to avoid potential problems that may arise when new technological systems are being introduced. There are a number of consequences from the decision to implement new technology. Resistance to change is the predominant problem associated with systems implementation. Such resistance to technologically innovative systems can generally be attributed to: fear of change; fear of failure; fear of job loss; resentment; and doubt. These fears are a major obstacle for managers to overcome because many times managers also possess some of the same fears. The implementation of any system will involve change.

Even though it may be a change for the better, change involved much employee uncertainty. Most people are afraid of moving from what is safe and known into what is unknown. Often when something new is suggested, people resist the change by focusing their energy on various reasons why the new idea will not work. Even a modified improvement usually translates into fear. People become accustomed to operating in a pattern.

Many people feel they will not be capable of learning a new procedure, and this can lead to insecurity about their own ability. Much of this fear comes from a lack of hands-on experience. Other fears are due to a lack of understanding and explanation about the change. People feel that implementation of technological systems will affect them in an adverse way, such as the loss of their job or a loss of their present status. These fears are heightened by the fact most new systems are designed or purchased to increase productivity and efficiency. There are two sides to this dilemma. The implementation of new technology may in fact result in the need for fewer jobs. On the other hand, if the organization does not implement new technology, it cannot be competitive.

People have often experienced technological decisions that were not successful. Because they doubt the benefits of the new system, its lack of success can become a detrimental self-fulfilling prophesy. Others find it difficult to have faith in a new system that has not been proven. Many new ideas are conceived by upper management or staff specialists who then dictate the implementation to middle management and workers without asking for their input. The users of the new system do not supply their expertise until after the system has been designed or purchased. In addition, this top-down or authoritarian style of decision-making removes employees' sense of involvement, ownership, and pride in work.

Resistance to the new technological system by the human resources system results in a lack of balance that hampers organizational functioning. By recognizing these key causes of employee resistance, management can work to overcome them. By selecting appropriate solutions or mechanisms, it is possible to avoid most human resistance to change. Activities by management can aid in achieving this meshing of people and of technological systems.

* Top Management Leadership--Top management must reinforce its commitment to the new system. They should stress the fact that people are essential to the successful implementation of the system. If employees believe top management fully supports a new project or technology, they will be more likely to cooperate with the implementation. This is especially true when they realize that the success and sometimes survival of the organization and their own security depends on the new procedure.

* Line Accountability for Change--All employees from the factory floor through the top management level need to be completely involved and committed to designing the system and making the system work. Line accountability in this process is critical. Line managers should commit to keeping workers up-to-date about their progress as well as making sure employees have the necessary experience to provide valuable input to the design of the system. Employees can often suggest ideas from their experience that design engineers and technicians have not considered. Involvement can also give employees a greater sense of responsibility and pride in the project. It becomes "our" system rather than "their" system. Both worker, and organization will benefit.

* Total Immersion for People--Giving decision-making responsibility to lower levels within the organization gives people a greater sense of responsibility and pride in their work. It also motivates them to want the system to be successful. To reinforce this commitment, top management should include and communicate the new systems' success in the organization's goals and mission. Employees should be rewarded according to these new goals.

* Complete Organizational Coverage--Coordinating the various implementation factors throughout the total organization is crucial to success. Training practices associated with new technology include much longer lead times, joint sessions for workers and managers, programs designed to develop basic knowledge as well as specific skills, and a commitment to continuous training.

* Continuous Reinforcement--Managers must respect their human resources and encourage their development. Company-paid training, either on-the-job or through tuition reimbursement, encourages workers to participate in technical training to expand their knowledge and skills. Cross-training among different technical skills is another valuable training technique to promote flexibility and coordination. Such coordination must involve not only the training of employees on the new system, but also retraining displaced employees, providing out-placement activities, and establishing consistent policies on job information and job security. Policies that govern employment security must be as favorable as the company's competitive circumstances permit and initial layoffs should not result from increased productivity. Employees must understand that new technology can preserve or increase the organization's competitiveness. This means it can also preserve jobs. This will help strengthen people commitment and skills.

Future layoffs can be avoided or reduced through attrition, early retirement incentives, and guaranteed retraining programs.

* Enthusiasm--As employees become knowledgeable in new technological systems, they also become more highly skilled, and thus more marketable. New technology can create opportunities for previously unskilled workers and will move employees away from physical efforts and toward mental efforts. This change can create a more rewarding and challenging work environment. Management support can be demonstrated through personal contact, regular feedback mechanisms, meetings, and public recognition of accomplishments. A participative approach to problem solving and work team structures encourage better multidimensional communication among employees.

* Education--Job rotation, joint department meetings, and regular updates in company communication media can help to keep employees informed. Because employees need much information and reinforcement during the early stages of organizational change, multiple communication mechanisms should be used simultaneously. Managers must also allow employees time to establish informal communication channels that will ultimately speed the success of the change.

The relationship between people and technology must be successfully blended to achieve a competitive advantage.

Since both systems are necessary, organizations and top-management must structure the systems to work in harmony. New technology should be introduced gradually. It does take time to develop the practices and procedures to encourage the human resource management practices necessary to facilitate technological change.

Lawrence P. Ettkin is professor of management at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Marilyn M. Helms is assistant professor of management at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Paula J. Haynes is assistant professor of marketing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ettkin, Lawrence P.; Helms, Marilyn M.; Haynes, Paula J.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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