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Overcoming Employee Resistance to Innovation

Overcoming Employee Resistance to Innovation

About two years ago, our training team arrived at a plant to teach plant-floor operators how to use our newly installed MES system to track and manage production data. On the first day of training, an older employee was handed a touchscreen tablet he would now use to perform quality checks. His hand was trembling as he first touched the screen. Our sales representative asked what was wrong, and the gentleman responded that he had only touched a computer once in his life.

Fear is a common response to change, and though fear of technology itself is declining according to The Chapman University Survey of American Fears, the fear of technology replacing people in the workforce is rebounding, with over a quarter of survey respondents ranking themselves as afraid or very afraid. Fear can lead employees to resist innovation efforts by either faking support for a project while doing no work to adopt it or by actively sabotaging change efforts.

Fear of Technology

Recently, CAT Squared asked our contacts in the food industry about strategies they use to garner employee support and deal with end-user resistance with IT projects. Their responses fell into five categories:

 

1) Including key players / decision makers

It’s important to include representatives from all key areas of your plant/organization when selecting an innovation. During a contract negotiation, our sales team encountered an instance where a company’s operations manager selected a system that met his requirements but didn’t include the director of quality assurance in the decision. The system selected wasn’t designed to manage quality data, so the company had to pay for an additional system to be integrated into the operations software. (This instance underscores the importance of performing a company-wide needs assessment, and engaging in a process-mapping exercise to develop a list of baseline criteria management can use to determine whether a potential solution will meet all of the company’s needs.)

Include key players in MES decision

 

2) Selecting internal implementation team

The success of any innovation hinges on leadership from the implementation team. A successful implementation team needs members who can fill the following key roles:

  1. Sponsor – This is typically a high-level individual with organizational wisdom who can navigate company politics and has the authority to ensure the project receives necessary resources.
  2. Champion –This individual will be the salesperson, diplomat, and problem solver for the innovation. It’s important to note this person doesn’t need to be a manager but must have the general respect of other employees. This can be an informal leader who other employees follow as an example.
  3. Project manager – Someone responsible for overseeing administrative details.
  4. Integrator – Someone with strong communication skills who manages conflicting priorities and ensures all departmental needs are addressed. Note that one person can play multiple roles.

When one of our customers chose move away from spreadsheets and develop a LIMS system to manage their laboratory data, the company selected their technical services superintendent to champion the development of the new system. When she initially began work on the project, she described the structure as “too rigid.” By the time she finished the project, she was excited about how LIMS could prevent costly errors and maintain consistency between facilities. By being engaged in the development from the beginning, our customer ensured the flow of data through the software aligned with real-world processes in the lab, and her enthusiasm for the system spread to other team members.

 

3) Promoting benefits of the new system

“From my 23 years of experience, you must show users how the new system will help them do their job more efficiently,” said Paul Wischmeier, IT director at Rose Acre Farms. “If they don’t deem it as efficient, then it’s a lost cause right away. From a management perspective, your team must have faith in the numbers they’re receiving from the new system.”

Many companies we spoke with described different strategies they used to garner buy-in from their employees when implementing new technology. Cargill Thailand hosted CMT / CAT Squared Modernization Day promoting the work Cargill Meats Thailand does with CAT Squared and SAP.

Of course, food is always a great social lubricant. Butterball hosted a series of lunch and learns. “It all starts at the grass-roots level to ensure buy-in,” said Randy Black, IT director at Butterball. Black believed in hands-on involvement during implementation and training. “When we rolled out the system we have now, I would literally setup office on the shipping dock and various production offices on a daily basis. I was rarely in my office.”

Promoting Benefits of New Technology

 

4) Incentivizing adoption

Bad data in, bad data out. Any system will only be as successful as the employees allow it to be. If employees don’t adopt standardized procedures and use the system properly, the reports generated from the system will be incomplete or meaningless. “Many of the things we are doing with the CAT Squared system saves time and money if done correctly,” said Brian Tormoehlen, inventory control systems manager for Rose Acre Farms. “With accurate inventory numbers, we can pinpoint inventories of product and material. This helps the sales department know exactly what materials are available to produce the product we need for customers and alerts the purchasing department when to order new material. If inventory numbers are correct, we can keep from overstocking material in the warehouses and keep overhead low. I would encourage implementing an incentive plan for users who can keep their numbers correct.”

When Peco installed scoreboards on their plant floor, employees started competing with each other to improve the yields on their lines. Management realized that by showing their hard-working staff the direct results of their personal contributions, they were empowering their team to perform at their highest ability. As a result, downgrade product percentages improved immediately by more than 1.5%.

Plant-floor scoreboard showing SPC Data

 

5) Training

“Repetitive, hands-on training is key,” said Wischmeier. “User manuals and tutorials are nice for documentation; however, hands-on, on-site training is always the best.”

An ERP study by Sayeed Salih, Ab Hussin and Halina Dahlan from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia revealed 55.8% of users indicated a lack of user training and education as the reason for resisting the change the new system. It’s important to remember that when it comes to technology, it’s all about the user.

“I’ll never forget the first time I went onsite with the training team,” said Mike Hurlbut, business development manager for CAT Squared. “This guy’s hand was trembling because he had only touched a computer once in his life. We stayed for a few days, and I ran into the guy before we left. I asked him how he felt after the training, and he gave me a big smile and a thumbs-up. The training made all the difference.”

 

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