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How to Increase Team Buy-In for a New Project Management System

by: John Coburn
How to Increase Team Buy-In for a New Project Management System

Employee resistance to change is a widespread problem faced by companies of all sizes. Such resistance takes many forms, including chronic quarrels, sullen hostility, a steady decline in output, low morale, and retention issues. 

Rolling out a fresh project management system is a significant undertaking that can be ripe for both criticism and employee dissatisfaction. Even if that system streamlines team communication, increases productivity, and makes everyone’s life easier, people will always encounter problems when switching systems.

Even the best project management software comes with a learning curve. There will be trade-offs, and employees will express their frustration in a variety of ways — and for a wide array of reasons. 

Are leadership teams, therefore, forever saddled with the challenging task of “forcing” change upon their resistant teams?

Not necessarily.

People don’t fear change — they fear the unknown. 

Employees are likely competent using your existing platform and consciously, or subconsciously, fear that any change will hurt their job performance (or worse, lead to job loss). They may believe there’s nothing wrong with the old system, and they may not understand the need for a new one.

No matter the cause, it’s the management team’s job to quell any fears — to inspire confidence and to drive the change the company needs to thrive and survive. 

Show the naysayers that change is necessary and a step in the right direction. As American journalist Mignon McLaughlin, said, “Every day of our lives, we are on the verge of making those slight changes that would make all the difference.” 

Help them see the light.

Open Up About The Buying Process

Poor communication naturally creates unnecessary resistance to change. If employees don’t feel like they’re part of the decision-making process or if they feel they’re being intentionally left in the dark, they’ll act out by becoming indifferent or downright resisting the change.

On the flip side, if you bring them into the buying progress early on and ask for their input, they’re more likely to feel invested in the system’s success. That sense of ownership is invaluable to eradicating resistance and creating a team that’s actively looking for solutions, versus finding problems with every detail of the change.

Opening up about the buying process could be as simple as presenting challenges the company is looking to overcome and asking for input. It could also involve a short survey asking what’s important to everyone when it comes to selecting a project management system and what’s less of a priority.

Be mindful that using this approach could have consequences if you give the team too much of a voice. If specific individuals or groups advocated for Option B and Option A ends up being selected, then you could quickly alienate an entire subset of people.

If bringing the team into the buying process isn’t feasible, then consider sharing the “why” behind the new project management system purchase — lay out why you started shopping in the first place. Identify the problems you’re seeking to solve and what solving them would do to help the organization be more productive, more profitable, or both. Tell them about the other software solutions you looked into and why they fell short. 

Show them the time, sweat, effort, and agony that went into finding the perfect system. Showing them, you’ve done your due diligence and building a case for why you made the best possible decision will create confidence and drive engagement. Rolling out a new system and telling people to get to work without any explanation will do the exact opposite.

Shrink the Change and Guide Them

guide-your-team-to-success

In their bestselling book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath talk extensively about the wonderful idea of “shrinking the change” to make it feel less daunting and easier to digest. As Chip writes: 

“One way to motivate a switch is to shrink the change, which makes people feel “big” relative to the challenge.” 

Give your team the confidence they need to believe in themselves, trust the new system, and find a path forward. One such technique from Switch is the idea of the “Five Minute Room Rescue,” which tackles the common challenge of having a messy room and not knowing how to start tidying it up (or feeling too demotivated get started). 

To push past your doubts, insecurities, or laziness, you set a timer for five minutes and see how much you can accomplish in that short sprint. Naturally, in five minutes, you’ll find you were able to make some worthwhile progress and likely feel motivated to keep going.

Learning a new system is a lot like cleaning a room. You’re not sure where to start, and you may be frustrated that you have to do it in the first place. If your team isn’t sold on the idea of a new system in the first place, confidence quickly erodes, and employees that are highly invested in their current practices will begin to rebel. It’s up to you to shrink that change and make it feel doable.

Help define their role’s tasks in the new system. Show them what reports and workflows will satisfy their needs. Provide them the necessary training to be successful. Break down what seems like a complex system and a steep learning curve to bite-sized chunks that they can easily accomplish.

In a Harvard Business Review article, former NFL coach, Bill Parcells said, “When you set small, visible goals and people achieve them, they start to get into their heads that they can succeed. They break the habit of losing and begin to get into the habit of winning.” That’s what shrinking the change is all about. 

Spread Positivity and Anticipate Problems

Getting buy-in from the team isn’t just about getting them involved and making it easier ― it’s about positive reinforcement. There are going to be tough days. Days where the system feels inferior or slow, since people are faster at doing things the old way. It’s those times that you’ve got to stay strong and committed. If you let your team see you sweat or waiver, they’ll lose whatever confidence they had in the new system.

Former UK Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, famously said, “Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.”

When things go wrongand they will go wrongkeep a level head. Show the team relentless positivity. Remain excited, and get others to rally around the positives of the system. Other leaders will be critical when resistance is high. Get them celebrating little wins and sharing success stories. That united front will put people at ease, quell feelings of uncertainty, and instill trust in the new system. Bonus points if you can enlist promoters on the team so that reinforcement doesn’t just come from management, but from peers as well.

Anticipate bottlenecks and slowdowns, and plan for them. Bring on extra hands where needed. Carve out time in team meetings or over company-provided lunch to train. Create a feedback loop so that you can collect data on what’s working and what’s not. Those insights into employee adoption and compliance to the new workflows will help you identify knowledge gaps and manage any resistance that may be occurring.

Formally addressing the resistance throughout the lifecycle of the project ensures everyone is on the same page. It moves merely managing the change and being reactive to being proactive so you can mobilize support and address objections at a regular cadence. It can also be helpful to use data and hard facts to provide transparency and simultaneously demonstrate the new system’s overall effectiveness.

What You Can Do Right Now

  • Communicate all the reasons for the system change. Share the why, what, and how behind the decision to bring on a new system. Develop a communication plan that clearly defines what’s in it for them. Speak to each role in the company and what benefits the new system will provide.
  • Shrink the change through training and enablement. Provide the team any necessary training resources and define the workflow in the new system to clear up any confusion. 
  • Seek out your team’s feedback on the new system. Listen first and talk second by letting your employees initiate the conversation. Give them the floor to voice their opinions and make them feel heard. Doing so will boost morale, alleviate frustrations and give you a much-needed pulse so you can confidently handle objections.
  • Schedule time to celebrate success. Counter negative sentiment by regularly sharing success stories and hard data supporting the effectiveness and profitability the new solution brings. 

Ultimately, your team will fall to the level of their training and match your level of enthusiasm. Stay positive and be relentless about gathering feedback and implementing training solutions. Even the most resistant team members will come around, making the transition easier for everyone involved.

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