Overcoming Fear as a Barrier to Change

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15 June 2009
Craig Weber
At Celent, we often find ourselves helping insurance carriers implement a process of change, whether it’s selecting a new policy administration system, process reengineering, or restructuring the IT organization. Change means more than just a new technology or a new process; it also requires a shift in corporate culture. Even when the IT-side of a change goes well, the people-side of a change can fail. No matter how good a new system is, the project isn’t a success if employees can’t or won’t use it. There are many reasons employees resist change. Annoyance (“learning a new system is difficult and distracts me from my real job”) and skepticism (“the last new system failed so why trust this one”) are two problems. But the biggest barrier--and the most difficult to overcome--is fear. New technology and new efficient processes mean employees fear that their jobs will become redundant and eliminated. And when employees are afraid they will fight change as hard as possible. I recently spoke with the leadership at an insurance carrier who boasted they had not laid anyone off in the history of the company. My initial impulse was to assume this meant they were putting loyalty above creating an efficient business. In the US, it’s sometimes taken for granted that thriving as a corporation means some routine layoffs as operational efficiencies change. But this company instead invested a great deal of time and effort to retrain employees rather than letting them go. Far from being a barrier to change, this corporate attitude succeeded in taking fear out of the equation. Even in a difficult economic time, employees at this company understand that new systems and new processes don’t mean layoffs. While annoyance and skepticism might still be around (and, in fact, might be increased by entrenched training and memories of previous unsuccessful projects), there is less fear. Employees can look at change as an opportunity to gain new skills; end-users can provide feedback and participate in training without worrying that they are making themselves obsolete. And support and participation from end-users is the often overlooked critical change factor that determines a project’s success. I was happy to see this challenge to common wisdom providing such positive results. While not every company will be willing to dedicate itself to this extreme employee loyalty, there is an excellent lesson for everyone. It is often assumed that to remain nimble and efficient, new technologies and processes much go hand in hand with staff reductions or replacements. But, at least for one carrier, a long-standing culture of stability has allowed them to overcome fear and embrace change.

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