Here is something they don’t tell you before you start a small business:

  1. It’s easy to get one employee to make a change in how they do something–or use something–if they are doing or using it as an individual.
  2. However, when you attempt to get two or more employees to change how they do something together, the challenge of having a smooth adoption gets exponentially more difficult–even when you can clearly demonstrate how the change is going to be superior to the status quo.

In fact, there’s even a mathematical formula that will graph the degree of difficulty changing something can become as the list grows of people you are asking to change. Below is a “visualization” of how the degree of difficulty grows geometrically (or exponentially) with the addition of each new employee.

exponential_revolt_


Here is the 21 second audio version of the chart above.

When it comes to changes related to the way people work together, no one is an island, especially the owner

Here’s a personal example. I’m a big fan of Evernote, the Swiss Army Knife of collecting and organizing the firehose of information we’re constantly being blasted with these days. I use the service so much, I’m happy to pay for features included in the  premium version ($45/year). As the company owner, I should be a shoo-in to require everyone at the company to start using Evernote’s collaborative version, Evernote Business ($10 per month, per user).

So why is Evernote Business not going to be in our company’s toolset for the foreseeable future? Here’s why.

The hidden costs of dictating ‘group’ change from the top-down

If I were starting our company* today (rather than 23 years ago), it would be a no-brainer to use Evernote Business. However, when a company reaches a certain point where it’s no longer a “startup” and employees start celebrating double-digit anniversaries, there are sound reasons not to upend systems and approaches that work.

Software that works wonderfully at managing how people work as an individual can become frustrating to use when applied to a group. Simple things like the way someone names folders or uses keywords or tags (see also: capitalizing keywords) can turn an efficient and natural on-the-fly personal organizational tool into a frustrating platform filled with company rules, regulations and requirements.

The Client Factor

We’ve also discovered that no matter how great a new collaborative platform can be, when you’re working with clients in large corporations, the awesomeness of software like Evernote can be of little use. When your client’s desktop computer is managed by a corporate IT department that manages thousands of desktop computers, the challenge of changing anything related to the software or web services used by employees is an impossible dream for most small businesses. Microsoft Word, PDFs and email will still be the collaborative platform for much of corporate America long after our grandchildren are commuting to work in flying cars.

A better way to make change happen

Sticking with collaborative software platforms as the stand-in for any type of change in office policy , process or workflow, remember this:

“You don’t hire people because they are great users of Evernote, Basecamp or Google Apps, you hire them because they are great designers, developers or sellers.”

When you are in the position to dictate change, make sure the problems solving are worth the problems you’ll create. If you are convinced the change is worth it, don’t “dictate” it, “foster” it. Look for ways to focus on the outcome of change, not the process of change.

If the change is software related, first make the software available to those who want to use it. If the software is as good as you think it is, a group of internal evangelists will develop naturally and they’ll soon start making the case for why it should be adopted.

Remember this:

“Change that solves demonstrable problems, especially if the idea for the change comes from the bottom-up, not from the top-down, is change that works for everyone.”

Never make the change a battleground for showing employees that you are in charge. (You’ll lose.) Make change an ongoing effort to prove that the customer is in charge…and anything you can do to improve your company’s ability to bring value to your customers is for the common good of all involved.

 


 

*The company I’m referring to is Hammock, Inc., a specialized marketing service company that develops customer media and content programs. The website and related services of SmallBusiness.com are projects of Hammock, Inc.