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What’s stopping companies from learning and innovating?

The proliferation of technology has sparked an era of acceleration, with the digital world now permeating our everyday lives. It’s not uncommon to see people using various tech devices at the same time, all day every day. Technology has changed many aspects about how we interact with each other, learn new things, work and generally spend our time.

It’s like we’ve all hopped on a speedy conveyor belt to innovation and the future.

Yet, while we’ve embraced technology on an individual level, companies and other types of organisations are seemingly stuck in the past when it comes to using tech resources and digital-based approaches. It’s not that uncommon to see employees using outdated technology at work unfortunately.

Many organisations talk about innovation and want to find new and better solutions to old problems, but they fail to equip their teams with the means to achieve these outcomes. They want out-of-the-box ideas, but at the same time they try to keep employees in their boxes as much as possible. Why do they do that? What’s stopping companies from learning and innovating?

Well, perhaps the biggest reason for this is what is known as resistance to change.

Why are companies resistant to change?

The short answer to this question is because companies are made up of people and people have an innate resistance to change. It’s hardwired in our brains. We simply cannot help it.

Let’s think of an open plan office where employees come to work and sit at the same work station day after day — because their PCs are rarely moved. At one point the management decides to replace the PC stations with more powerful laptops. Where do you think employees will sit after they will have received portable devices? Will they change their desks every day? Working on a laptop surely enables that. But most probably they will continue to sit at the already familiar desk space they had when they were tied down to their old PCs.

Perhaps fixed computers were the main reason employees worked from the same desk day after day, but other factors were involved as well. For example, a plant, a family photo, being close to a colleague that does the same work, being in a great spot AC-wise, having more natural light, or having a wall behind the desk — these small details will become at least as important as the portability of the work computer in the decision making process of each employee when choosing their work desks.

People’s innate resistance to change applies in all sort of circumstances, in all aspects of life. Anything that has the potential to shake up the status quo — on an individual level or a team level at work — will be received with a raised eyebrow, a concerned look and a step back, even by those who know that change is good.

Serious decisions that can impact employee productivity and company success demand, besides the traditional resources, a plan that tackles people’s resistance to change. Employees will have no interest in learning how to be better performers and will continue to do things in the established way unless it fails repeatedly. Therefore their resistance to change needs to be addressed head on. But since we’re talking about a very subjective thing, in various organisational cultures, this is always easier said than done.

Implementing new technologies to keep up with the ever-changing and demanding business environment is often the best example. Opting for a new customer relationship management (CRM) process, changing the internal learning management system or integrating new technology into the HR system can impact a company’s bottom line. While all employees may be aware of the benefits these changes can bring, very few of them will jump in the new boat enthusiastically. With time, they’ll adapt, but some will always need more time than others to do so.

This is where managers play a key role in overcoming the resistance to change. Their teams will follow suit, no matter their stance regarding change. If managers embrace new technologies, share their enthusiasm and focus on the positive parts of getting a new or updated CRM, LMS or HR system, employees in their departments will be more willing to go through the often complicated process of implementing any new technology. On the other hand, if managers are disengaged in this process and show no sign of support, the rest of their team will have no motivation to overcome their resistance to change on their own.

Of course, being resistant to change may be useful from time to time. There’s no need to implement all new technologies just because they’re new. But if companies are not willing to change at all, then they might miss the wave of the new technological revolution and find it hard to get on the path to success in the future.

Why should companies embrace the technological revolution?

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will revolutionize the job market, forcing companies to buy more and more brain power and less and less physical force from their employees. The conveyor belt has brought speed into the industrial processes and the mobile phone has brought speed in the way we communicate and handle information. Immersive technologies and AI will revolutionize once again how we interact at work and how we solve problems.

Innovation will only come out of human curiosity and the freedom to explore those knowledge areas that spark people’s interest. Continuous learning about the surrounding world — no matter if we’re talking about nature or about the workplace — is paramount to innovation. Michelangelo was certainly up to something when he said, at 80 years old, “I am still learning”.

Companies should embrace this new technological revolution not only if they want to be innovative, but if they want to survive in an ever more competitive business environment. Information is the currency of power nowadays, so it’s in organisations’ best interest to invest in the professional development of their employees. That’s the only way they’ll be able to take the best decision when it comes to being resistant to change or embracing it.

This post was originally published on June 9, 2017 on ITProPortal and was written by Graham Glass, Founder and CEO of CYPHER LEARNING.