The change trap

5 common traps people fall into when implementing a new system

We humans really dislike changing our routine, even when we know it’s for the best. I remember upgrading my car, and even though the new one was far superior, I found myself annoyed at having to become familiar with the new ways of accessing the navigation, the Bluetooth, and in particular the reverse camera. Overnight I had transformed from one of those people who prided themselves on being able to reverse parallel park in busy traffic, to a complete numpty who would hit curbs and end up embarrassingly skewed or distant from the curb. I was angry and annoyed at the car manufacturer for months, even though the technology in my new car was way better, I knew how to better use the old system. I had gone from expert to novice and I didn’t like it. It took me weeks to get used to it, but now that I’m used to it, I love it and would never want to go back.

The same can be said when faced with any change, particularly when it comes to learning and implementing new technology. New technology usually means changing a process, a way of doing something that most likely interrupts a process that you had become an expert in. And when technology fails to work as it is supposed to our reactive emotional system kicks in and we find it hard to keep a lid on it. We have a job to do, and it feels like this is making things harder - even if it is a better way.

This is a common experience when facing change in our professional lives, and underscores the importance of managing the change carefully if you are overseeing the deployment and uptake of a new technology across a cohort of people. Change management is rarely given the attention it needs, but it often doesn’t take much to keep things on track, you just need to be aware of what traps to look out for, and what to do about them. Below are the five big traps we see people falling prey to when managing change:

1. The fear of nagging trap. The amount of communication about a change is always, always underestimated. Group-wide emails, team meetings, feedback sessions, individual conversations, posters and notices, reminders, text messages to check in with how things are going, and of course, more emails. Fear of saying the same thing too many times makes us err on the side of less communication, but the communicator is always much more aware of how many times they’ve said something than the audience is. People are more likely to forget your communication than you are.


People have an aversion to over-communicating because we don’t enjoy being nagged, and who wants to be labelled a nagger? But when you are implementing something new, there is one thing much worse than nagging, and that is ambiguity. People need to know exactly what is happening, when, and how it is going to impact their work. And then they need to be told again. And again. The effort in over-communicating will be rewarded many times over with fewer hassles and greater adoption in the future.

2. The energy vampire trap. There are always going to be people who are negative about change - don’t fight or be defensive about the new action you are trying to drive, just let them have their voice and move on. Paying it too much attention will just fan the flames of negativity and drain your energy. The key is to make sure they know they are heard, and you respect their view, without having it suck the life and energy out of the rest of the team. It can be hard to hold these energy vampires lightly and graciously, particularly if failure is not an option, but doing this well so you give maximum energy to the areas that need it most is essential.

The group actually needs to know that there are some ‘Negative Nellies’ in the team, it means they don’t have to think through all of the potential negative side effects – someone else is doing that for them. It’s an essential function of the group. Give the nay-sayers a platform without resistance, and they will eventually serve their group function and quieten down.

3. The speed trap. Wanting to go too fast, or expecting everyone to get on board straight away is a recipe for disappointment. People get scared and panic when they feel things are changing too quickly, it feels dangerous. Allow them some time to get used to a new idea before implementing it. Start early and go slow. People need time to get comfortable with the idea of the change before they will embrace the change - and then be gracious if a few people are slow to come around. They will, it just takes some time. Of course, go too slow and you’ll lose momentum. Finding the right speed for your team is key, which will change depending on the size of the change being promoted.

This is especially important when advocating for change with people who are experienced and respected practitioners. They have more to lose, and therefore more likely to need more convincing that the new change will be good for them.


4. The dictator trap. It’s easy when you’re busy, and just want people to adopt something new to fall into dictator mode. This is definitely one way to approach things, but usually just results in people complying for a bit, and then dropping off once they feel you’re no longer watching them. A better way is to keep checking in with them, and ask what might be blocking them from doing the new ‘thing’ and if there is anything you can do to help remove those blockers. Eventually, the excuses will stop and people will be more likely to stick with the new behaviour because they’ve run out of reasons not to.



5. The high five trap. This is when you mistake people's enthusiasm for something new as an indication that they are ‘on the bus’ and therefore need less support during change. Sometimes people can feign excitement in order to avoid being monitored, and other times people get excited by the idea of it, then get distracted by life’s business and just forget to do it. Of course, some people will be genuinely excited and genuinely ‘on the bus’, but it can be hard to tell those apart from the others. The best thing to do is to get these enthusiastic individuals to be part of the change team. They become your change champions. Use the excitement or you will lose it.



Hopefully, these five things help you best prepare your people for change. May all your change endeavours be successful!

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This was well exemplified recently by a head of school that was rolling out the Switch4School program to their primary school classrooms. It had been a few months since kick-off, and they noticed that a significant number of teachers had stopped using the check-in feature each day. Instead of writing an edict reinforcing the importance of gathering the data, she went around to each of the teachers individually and asked what the blockers may have been, and explored how to remove them. This led to discovering a technical issue with the school's firewall, which we could work with the school to address. Now more than 95% of the teachers are regularly checking-in with the app. The Head of School monitors the weekly reports as a guide to offer support, rather than enforce compliance.