Most people don’t want to change. And why would they? What they’ve done to this point has been successful: they’re still here! Most people want stability in their day-to-day life, not the risks of trying new things all the time. So when you’re changing how you think about and build software, you need to make changing seem like the safest choice over staying the same.
There are some - perhaps even many! - who will change how they’re working because they can clearly see that they’ll get better at doing their job and that the software they make are better. Indeed, most individual staff members are up for change if they believe it’s what management actually wants them to do and that they’ll be rewarded. Oddly, management, and even executives, are the ones who seem reluctant to change. That reculcance can come from the fear of failure (and the resulting corporate punishment), discomfort with the new way of working, but also just disbelief that change actually needs to happen.
If you’ve tried to get people to change based on growth mindset thinking but they’re still resistant, here are some urgency-based motivations that may work. These motivations also serve as a sort of gauge for your organization’s actual need to change. If you find yourself having to put a lot of work into justifying each of these urgencies, maybe everything is OK and there actually is less need to change.
New, fierce Competitors
One type of urgency that was very popular in the 2010’s, is the threat of “tech companies” entering existing industries and markets. In the past, there were banking and insurance companies, AirBnB, Uber, and Tesla - BOO! Retail faced this threat from “tech companies” at the start of the 21st century. Competition wasn’t always direct, it can also be from tech companies getting in between you and your customers. For example, one summer several years ago, Google experimented with a search engine for car insurance which spooked many companies in that business.
It turned out that many of the threatened companies survived and are still here. I don’t believe this is because the threat of tech companies was false, but because many companies took that threat seriously and used it to lay the foundations for changing how they built software. As evidence of this, many companies and government organizations were able to quickly retool their businesses with software during the COVID years. The work was hard, but it was not impossible. Indeed, many of the successful companies have become the fierce competitors themselves.
The tactic here to deal with reluctance to change is to find competitive threats and use that as urgency to change. What’s important is to show that the competitor is using its prowess at software to gain business advantage. Remember to not only look at “tech companies,” but also “traditional” competitors who have recently transformed their software capabilities.
An aging technology stack can also provide urgency. A major database or ERP system you rely on is about to become obsolete and therefore support costs are going to go way up. You might be losing the skills to keep the mainframe applications up to date. You’ve got this inevitable almost end date that you’re going to encounter, that you can’t really get around. And it’s obvious what the urgency is. Whenever there’s a modernization program afoot, you have the chance to introduce change and new ways of working.
And, of course, as we’ve seen way too much of recently, you also have total, external factors that really have nothing to do with your business, whether it’s things like COVID, weird, economic ebbs and flows, and global crises. New laws and regulations are a frequent type of urgency as well. For example, health care standard in the US is driving a lot of modernization in the healthcare sector, while open banking regulations in the European Union have driven many modernization programs.
These are not always pleasant urgencies to deal with, but they may provide you an option for motivating people to change.
Ensure You Always Have Urgency
Whatever it is, you should always have a few “urgencies” ready to use for people who don’t want to change. In fact, it’s probably always a good idea to keep the organization in a state of mild urgency. As one CEO put it, you want to always run your organization in the yellow. If everything is green, then people get too relaxed and too easily slide into decadence. If it’s always red, then people get exhausted and demoralized - not to mention that because you’re in red, crisis mode all the time, things are in a failing state! But by keeping the organizations’ mental state right in the middle, yellow, you have just enough urgency to keep people motivated to find better ways to work.
So whether or not you have an urgency that’s real or not you definitely need to come up with one, maybe even manufacturer one that allows you to run in the yellow instead of in the green and that area of complacency.
Keeping some “urgencies” always on-hand is, admitly, a cynical way of managing. Indeed, if you find yourself only using these types of urgencies to motivate people, you likely have a poor, even caustic corporate culture that needs to be addressed.