We are the Champions!

Posted by Ross Coundon on September 3, 2012

A number of years ago I was working on a mobile workforce management project for an energy utility company in the Netherlands. As with many utilities the mobile engineers within this company were at the more experienced ends of their career. Many didn’t own a PC at home, had never needed to use one at work and had worked with their trusted paper and pens for many years but their company had realised that it was time to modernise. The drive to cut costs, increase efficiency whilst maintaining the company’s great record on safety was high on the management agenda. In order to achieve these goals my company had been commissioned to design and implement a Mobile Workforce Management (MWFM) solution utilising Windows Mobile ruggedized PDAs.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, the hardest and most important thing to get right with any project is handling the change’s effect on the people involved. The point of doing a project is to introduce change over a defined period of time but the effect of that change continues to be felt well beyond the life of the project.

In this project the biggest difficulty was in getting the engineers to use a PDA. As I mentioned, the vast majority were not PC savvy let alone knowledgeable about mobile devices. Some were very vocal with their opinions that the project was a waste of time and money, that there was nothing wrong with the way they currently worked and that they would simply refuse to use the devices in order to make sure the project failed. This can be a very difficult, entrenched and destructive attitude to overcome because the most vocal employees are often those that carry the most influence. I’ve seen projects that take an approach that sidelines these dissenters and focusses on building a groundswell of positivity across the rest of the workforce. This can be an effective approach but will depend on the level of influence of the dissenters and on the strength of character of the users that are relied upon to adopt the technology.

We decided to take a different approach. Instead of sidelining the dissenters they became the primary focus for all our efforts. They became champions for the solution. Involving them in all aspects of the project – analysis, design, prototyping feedback, day-in-the-life of studies, testing, rollout and train-the-trainer sessions had the effect of fostering buy-in as well as providing the project team with invaluable information about how the business really functions. This took an enormous amount of effort but in my view was entirely worth it because the fence-sitters and other less vocal detractors will take notice of the increasing positivity and be inclined to change their position. Having a dissenting employee trained by someone who they respect and previously held a similar view to themselves is immensely powerful in turning around a negative position into a one of positivity. We saw the effect snowball as positive reinforcement occurred across the majority of the workforce and the solution was eventually embraced by almost all the engineers and dispatchers (with the best will in the world there will always be a minority who will resist the change, that’s just human nature)

This was an amazingly rewarding experience for all those on the project team as a difficult implementation was turned into a successful solution with a very high rate of user adoption.

Don’t shy away from tackling negativity in any aspect of your business or project, turning this sentiment around is a powerful means to drive positive change.