Confessions of a recovering change inflicter

If you make your living in IT, compared to most people you’re a god or goddess. As techies, even dilettante techies like me, our technical knowledge is so far beyond that of typical Homo Sapiens, we’re almost an alien, and often hostile, race.This observation – while mostly meant to be tongue in cheek – is unfortunately an accurate description of typical IT behaviour as we deal with the technically challenged. As techies we often have less empathy and sympathy for non-technical folks than we have for mosquitoes and other buzzing insects.
You can find the anecdotal data to support these opinions on any online forum where techies gather to lament the daily ineptitudes of end users. If you prefer your data hard and your numbers crunchy, the Athabasca University survey project known as the “Canada IT Issues Study” (Google it) will satisfy your addiction to raw data.
Begun in 2000, the annual survey polls more than 11,000 IT professionals, and the results back up the remarks I’ve made. We’re not really very good at making our users – those that pay our salaries – feel comfortable with the systems we create and the change we mindlessly inflict.
While the survey is only a snapshot, I’ve travelled enough to state confidently that IT attitudes towards users and change management are the same the world over. We don’t focus our efforts on managing the change we inflict. We’re technically savvy and revel in our arcane and elite knowledge to the detriment of those we’re mandated to assist.
At the root of this mismanagement of change is that to us, technical knowledge is second nature, while to our users, it is literally an alien language. The change management problems we encounter aren’t directly generated by this knowledge gap, but by how IT practitioners chose to address this inequity of understanding.
Based on my own growth towards understanding, called change management, here are some of the mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned over three decades in this industry.
Ignorance: I assumed that everyone I spoke to understood “technology” as well as I did. I didn’t notice when the person I was talking to stopped listening
Incivility: Browse the forums I mentioned earlier and you’ll find an over-abundance of disrespect directed at those who don’t “get” technology.
Irreverence: When I did become aware of the gap, I didn’t pay it the respect it deserved. I figured if the user tried harder, or if I spoke louder and slower, they’d get it.
Indifference: Later I became aware of the gap, but considered it to be their problem, not mine.
Infallibility: Technically there’s usually a right way and a wrong way to solve a problem. It took me far too long to recognize that business considerations, usability issues, cost factors and even aesthetics are all equally, if not more, important than technical considerations.
Infuriated: I worked hard to upgrade a user’s system to the latest version of their primary application. It increases their capability ten-fold. I expected gratitude from them for making their lives easier. What do I get? Complaints and whining.
Incompetence: Finally I became not only aware of the gap, but I recognized that as the person who designed the new system, I was also the person best positioned to get people to embrace it. There was one small problem. I had no clue how to get people to move willingly from an old way of doing things, to a new, improved and better way. That’s when my job became interesting.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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