As information technology leaders, our job is to make change happen. Whether we facilitate organizational change with our systems or enact wholesale shifts in the technology used by our companies, change is our business and business is good.
The ways we perform our jobs, like Agile, DevOps, and microservices, have brought huge improvements to our companies. We build software faster, we release it faster, we rearchitect faster. That has led to an increase in our companies’ performance because we can deliver the service our customers demand better and faster.
But, we sometimes hit roadblocks caused by our colleagues. All of us have heard, “We’ve always done it this way” to stop proposed change. Inherency is a powerful, albeit false, premise. To state that change is somehow wrong because we’ve simply haven’t done it in the past is ignorant and negligent. To combat this, IT leaders must rely on soft skills to convince people a course of action is the right thing to do.
Detailing data, enforcing the benefit to the company, and appealing to the personal goals of those unconvinced is the best way to turn naysayers to strong advocates.
Detailing data: The facts don’t lie
My number one go-to line in presentations is, “Don’t believe me, believe the data.” When proposing change, I describe the problem and show data proving its intensity. I will then follow with anecdotal accounts that describe the problem in more personal terms.
For example, at Datical, I often describe the business problems created when companies fail to automate database schema and logic updates. I follow with studies that show the problem is large and growing. Finally, I tell a story of a Datical customer and the challenges they faced.
Simply describing the problem and an anecdote is lazy. You are signaling to your audience that you are not willing to put in the work to see if the problem is systemic or an aberration. Why would the unconvinced believe one single story? The anecdote becomes the target of debate. “Is it representative of the whole? Was the individual making other poor choices?” This is not the debate you want.
By using data, sticking to the facts, and only coloring them with the anecdote, you create a strong case for your proposal. You shift your burden of proof from you to the data source.
Enforcing the benefit to the company: It’s the profit, stupid
One observation I’ve made after 20 years in software is that new technology often enters development simply due to curiosity. I’ve seen not-ready-for-prime-time technology adopted simply because a developer wants to “try it out”. Is your proposed change based on your personal curiosity? Of course not. But humans are skeptics by nature; and skepticism is found no more intensely than in technology. They’re smart people!
After detailing the problem with data, you must describe the end state’s benefit to the company. Notice that this is like the previous step in that it separates the proposed change from the advocate. “Robert wants us to adopt DevOps so he can sell us software!” is the last thing I want my audience to say. Instead, I want them to say, “Look at the benefit this change can provide the company.”
[Read more from Robert Reeves in Selling the Human Condition.]
Again – mirroring the previous step – use data. Show benefits that other companies (It's even better when it’s a competitor!) have experienced due to this change. Empirical data is a powerful ally to convince the unconvinced and make certain that your proposal is not simply a way to sate your personal curiosity.
Appealing to personal goals: Eat your vegetables; they’re good for you
The final step is to appeal to the human. “What’s in it for me?” is a rational, human response to any proposal. There are two very simple approaches to this; I recommend using them both.
“What’s good for your business is good for your job.”
Relying on the benefit to the business, you are implying that this change will make the individual’s job more stable since the company will be improving. Everyone likes being on a winning team and we all have responsibilities to ourselves and to our families. We certainly like to win, but we NEED to provide for ourselves and for our families. Detail the benefit to the company and tie that benefit to the unconvinced to meet these two needs.
“Change brings opportunity.”
My personal experience has taught me that those who argue inherency are afraid of the impact of change to their jobs. You must describe to the unconvinced how this change will allow them to grow their skillset, take on new and more interesting responsibilities, and become more valuable to the company. Describe a future where these things can happen for the unconvinced and you will find a strong advocate for your proposal.
Using data, describing organizational benefit, appealing to personal needs: These are the three steps to take to convince the unconvinced. After all, information technology is tool to help people. Start first by helping the people understand the benefits and you will have a new advocate.
As Chief Technology Officer, Robert Reeves advocates for Datical’s customers and provides technical architecture leadership. Prior to co-founding Datical, Robert was a Director at the Austin Technology Incubator. At ATI, he provided real world entrepreneurial expertise to ATI member companies to aid in market validation, product development and fundraising efforts. Robert cofounded Phurnace Software in 2005. He invented and created the flagship product, Phurnace Deliver, which provides middleware infrastructure management to multiple Fortune 500 companies.