The Change Process and IT

The issue of change has come out again, particularly with a re-visit of Michael Stephens’s Phrases I Hope I Never Hear Again , by the Krafty Librarian. T. Scott has also chimed in.

Broadly, the point here is that IT departments say “no” for seemingly ridiculous reasons, most of them related to a refusal to allow change. The broad question is whether or not these represent psychological barriers or “real” barriers. As T. Scott explains:

It is, I suppose, a natural human tendency to look at the people or situations we see obstructing us and paint them as ignorant, behind the times, just not “with it.” If it weren’t for them and their bad, old-fashioned attitudes, we could really get something done! But it’s just not that simple.

And the Krafty Librarian takes an interest in what happens after the IT department says “no.”

What has this gotten me? Well my IT people know who I am and they know that I am a technology forward kind of person. As one person said in regards to the intranet page as well as other major technology hurdles/barriers that are shared among the four hospitals, “you are the only one of the librarians to bring these problems up, and make us aware of them.” I harbor no illusions that despite this compliment there isn’t also a dart board with my picture on it covered in tiny holes, but I do have some small victories to count from my battles.

These all remind me of the change process, and at the heart of all this is not a technology problem, but a communication problem. For instance, one of my colleagues has problems using Firefox on his computer. Originally, I thought it was one body responsible for the problem; then i discovered it was another body entirely. All of the sudden, I realized getting this person’s situation to change would require a long list of phone calls that frankly, I was not willing to make. The colleague manages without Firefox, so he doesn’t bother to get the problem fixed. Except he asks me for an easy way to set up an RSS feed, and I say “Firefox” every time (I like to encourage the use of live bookmarks, rather than aggregators).

Then you might ask me why, if I was director, I wouldn’t immediately start to use a blog for communication? Well, it’s quite simple. I would not use a tool for communication if I didn’t have a reasonable assurance that people would read it. A blog can be a regular thing, or it can be like that internal newsletter that everyone just discards without reading. Email is not that much a time-waster, actually — and everyone — from senior management team to shelver — reads it. Unlike blogs, emails in the org are short and sweet, like the way Guy Kawasaki describes them.

My focus may be on the external, rather than internal issues for the library. For example, I might want to focus my attentions on the library board, city funding, local partners and etc. and these people, in my world anyway, do not blog or even read blogs.

And, not because it’s hard, but because it’s new — people will want training to read a blog. Not everyone, but enough to make a proposal to start a blog a headache.

Then, of course, I’d be trapped into using taxpayer or my own time — about an hour or more weekly — waxing philosophic on whatever library.

Well, actually, most of this is not true. If I was director, I would start a blog. But I wouldn’t expect major increases in productivity because of it. I would expect to have to email and blog at the same time (and hopefully would find a way to automate this process). I would be a little bit wary that the blog would be seen by few to no-one, even if I told everyone that they had to read it. I would expect the change process to commence.

And the change process always begins with confusion. People will say “what is going on here?” What is this guy trying to do?

Then there is fear. And conflict. From some (usually most). People will feel outdated and in need of training. With my training budget, they would’t get training, so they’ll fear a lay-off or that proficiencies acquired by the new technology will result in layoffs down the road.

Others will feel exhilarated because they thrive on change. They’ll be ready to dive in head-first, sometimes without considering the consequences of the change.

Or maybe not. The point is that change is hard, and problems with a “culture of no” are ingrained throughout an organization, and most often not the fault of a director or any particular department. In fact, those who are absolutely against a culture of no, feed that culture in my opinion. Like the difference between using a “shock and awe” sort of attack to completely obliterate a dam, versus using tiny, well-targeted explosion to set a crack and let nature take its course. Simply telling people they are out-dated or backward is not going to move things forward. Much better to explain the course and encourage people to start walking.

It is a difficult thing to take one’s own thoughts and opinions and bridge them somehow into the thinking of an organization. I never cease to be amazed at the things that get accomplished simply by introducing a concept and how, in other ways, things I work hard at making happen never seem to catch on quite the way I wish.

But most of all, the seeds of change fall in the wake of good planning and tonnes of documents and reports.

You can’t change the direction of water, only the basin in which it sits. Sometimes the water will make its own basin to travel.


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