The Battle for Businesses to Embrace or Resist New Technologies

JP Lessard
December 3, 2021
8 min read
man vs machine

Why are we wary of emerging technologies?

If you own or operate a business, chances are you’re familiar with the constant battle to embrace or resist new technologies.

We live in a world where new technology is emerging every day. As individuals, we have a little wiggle room when it comes to our readiness to upgrade to the latest phone or subscribe to a new streaming service.

With businesses, however, embracing technology is more of a necessity than an option.

On a personal level, you can cling to that DVD collection as long as you want. Heck, hold on to those VHS tapes you never returned to Blockbuster. We’re not here to judge!

But for your business, keeping up with the times isn’t about preference, it’s survival.

Running a business requires getting everyone on board. Even if you’re ready to adopt new technology (and if you’re not now, you will be after this video), you’ll probably have some tech-averse employees holding you back from fully embracing it.

Even when something is designed to make our jobs easier, there’ll always be a few holdouts who don’t trust it.

There’s a lot more to this resistance than that old adage “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Innovation creates disruption, and, in turn, a perceived threat to employees’ sense of self and ability to do their job.

You have to innovate, but you can’t lose your best employees in the process.

Where do you begin?

As adaptable as humanity is, we are shockingly resistant to change. It seems that every new technology designed to improve our lives is met with equal amounts of resistance and enthusiasm. Many people feel genuinely threatened by these changes.

The perceived threat of technology is far from baseless: with every innovation, people lose a piece of their identities or lifestyles. But how can that happen? If we break our identities into 3 parts — the social (member of a group), the role (fulfilling a job), and person (one’s unique identity) — then a disruption to any one of these can cost an individual their sense of comfort.

The IT Identity Threat: A Conceptual Definition and Operational Measure found that self-esteem is measured on how those three identities work with the following values: worth, competence, and self-authenticity. When any one of these is affected by an outside change, professionals can react with fear that they will lose power, their lifestyle, or clients as a result.

Coupled with the fact that innovation does not happen in slow and steady increments, new technology can wreak havoc in the workplace. From open protests to intentional sabotage, employees have been recorded acting against these changes in very destructive manners.

When employees abandon new software, it impacts the productivity of the entire company. Worse still, resistance to implementation costs companies the value of their investment: both monetarily and progressively.

What happens when businesses decide to stop embracing new technologies?

However, when a business chooses to value complacency over advances in technology, it can no longer grow or succeed. A mistrust of trends in modern technology has shuttered the doors of numerous powerful companies, including household names like Blockbuster and Borders. 

Borders resisted following market trends for years. When it finally began reducing its music inventory, Borders stores were burdened with an abundance of expensive and useless space. With too many physical stores in a close radius, Borders accrued enormous debt before declaring bankruptcy and closing in 2011. 

Barnes & Noble outperformed Borders and managed to survive despite Amazon’s crippling competition. However, and despite market trends, in 2016 it redoubled its efforts on attracting people to its stores by reaching outside its expertise to create a poorly-received restaurant experience in its stores. Rather than continuing to innovate, Barnes and Noble chose to start focusing on the past. As a result, mounting debt caused the company to sell to Elliott Management earlier this year. Only the future will tell what is in store for this icon.

blockbuster vs netflix

Blockbuster, which cornered the video rental market in 2004, closed its doors in 2013. Its model involved punishing customers with hidden “late fees,” which resulted in high customer dissatisfaction. Soon, big-box store shopping became a symbol of inconvenience as Netflix offered instantaneous streaming.  

Netflix’s success can be attributed to listening to what their customers want, and always thinking in terms of the future, rather than relying on what is acceptable in the present. The company has continued to innovate by creating its own production company and filming its own original content in 4k, pushing the boundaries of modern filmmaking technology. Netflix has continued to change with the times by following the model of putting their customers first, while Blockbuster became archaic within the span of less than a decade.

Listening to customers is key

The biggest take-away here is that no matter how powerful your company is, refusing to adapt to different forms of technology can result in savvy companies sweeping away your customer base. Living in the past can leave your company in the dust.

Perhaps most poignant of all, you cannot rekindle the interest of your customers by belatedly chasing trends. That was Barnes & Noble’s biggest mistake and, though it outlasted one of its competitors, it never fully recovered its customer base. 

The success of any business depends on the satisfaction of its customers. If a business is not consistently adapting to the demands of its customer base, it is designed to fail. Allowing ego to stymie progress is the beginning of the end.

For a company to succeed, it has to be at the forefront of technological improvements. Assuming technology will not usher change is a mistake that can cost everything.

How can businesses mitigate employees’ fear of change?

If employees are resistant to change and customers are pushing for constant modernization, what is the solution? Looking back on The IT Identity Threat: A Conceptual Definition and Operational Measure, the solution is simple. To encourage the use of new technology and avoid resistance to it, the technology users’ identities have to be expanded.

The system is in the 4 R’s: Reframing, Recalculating, Rewarding, and Refocusing.

Recalculating is a means to measure that growth and value, the focus of which should be on “learning goals” rather than on “production goals.” 

Reframing is the communication tool used to show the positive aspects of a new system by reinforcing the opportunities for growth it will provide.

Rewarding these learning goals enhances the positive experience.

Finally, refocusing is a means by which to shift attention towards the positive fundamental changes of the new identities.

Rather than targeting an individual, if a business teaches a group of people how to utilize the new technology, their social identities shift and become linked. They can work to encourage each other, while the individuals who excel at the new system can take the lead in tutoring their teammates. This teamwork bolsters the confidence and competence to the leaders of the group, allowing their own identities to shift with the growth and spread of knowledge. Themes like generosity and diligence may leave a positive mark on this group as they continue to lift each other towards their learning goal.

This system is not enough for everyone, and business leaders may still find resistance with some individuals. In that case, patience and understanding will go a long way. Do not criticize people who do not immediately take to change, or else they will be even more reluctant to adapt in the future.

These individuals will benefit from being guided step-by-step in ways specifically tailored to them. They should be reminded of the various ways this new technology will improve their job and life directly. Unusual learning styles require alternative instructions, such as videos, verbal directions, and hands-on processes. 

Never forget that innovation causes a temporary disruption to all processes. Predict that the productivity of all employees will be disturbed, and create a system to handle this backlog.

Meet JP Lessard

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JP has been part of the Miles IT team since 2001 and has spent over 20 years collaborating, consulting, coaching, and looking for better ways to accomplish more through the successful combination of people and technology.

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