Fear and Information Technology Implementation January 02, 2013, by Peter Mirus in Information Technology, Internal Communications

Fear plays a major role in frustrating implementation of new information technology solutions. Often this fear is referred to as “change resistance,” but executive teams and information technology leaders must be careful to examine the cause of that resistance—to accept and come to grips with fears and associated emotional needs.

While some solution users won’t accept a particular change out of purely intellectual, reasoned principle, most of those labeled as “change resistant” are actually afraid—whether or not they are cognizant of their fear, and whether or not they can intellectualize that feeling and convey it to others.

To be afraid is not shameful—all people have fears and over the course of our lifetimes we must grapple with those fears to grow both personally and professionally. Significant changes in how we perform our work have the ability to impact our overall quality of life, including our relationships with others. Often when we are faced with such a scenario, it becomes a perceived potential threat—and the “fight or flight” mechanism starts to engage.

Attempting to address an emotional feeling or need with either a purely intellectual response or no response at all is a failure in either capability or responsibility. This can lead to failed IT solution implementations or adversely impact both the immediate and long-term ROI for the solution. Rather than ignoring the emotional component, you can proactively dispel fear and help solution users to embrace the change that will inevitably occur.

This opportunity begins with the information technology needs assessment, well prior to solution selection and implementation. Mature, outcome-oriented information technology project leaders use this opportunity not only to define current state and target state (performing gap analysis and developing a summary of functional requirements) but also to identify emotional needs, including needs that are the result of fears regarding the current solution as well as the new solution and its implementation.

The value of collecting these impressions/insights is realized in the ability to create one or more value propositions for the new solution that impact the user on an emotional level. Moreover, you can create messaging strategies associated with the implementation process that anticipate and address potential fear-based objections and emotional needs. The value propositions and messaging need to be used early and often so as to quiet the fight or flight response before it becomes engaged, opening the door to productive interaction with and around the solution as implementation moves forward.

Designing the most successful information technology implementations includes both understanding and addressing fears and emotional needs. This strategy accepts the reality that a large portion of the corporate team will first make a judgment regarding the solution based on emotion (whether hope or fear) and then shift their intellectual thinking to justify the emotion. It also more fully considers the whole person, leading to superior results.