Chris LapingChris Laping outlined three reasons why people push back against change…and what you can do about it…in a keynote presentation at the Midsize Enterprise Summit Spring 2018 conference in Orlando.

The concept of launching a transformation within an organization is a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario when it comes to answering the question, “What comes first, the people or the technology?”

Chris Laping had to answer that question for himself when he spent eight years as senior vice president, business transformation and chief information officer with Red Robin.

What he discovered not only helped him at Red Robin, but gave him the inspiration to write a book and start his own company called People Before Things.

It also brought him back to the Midsize Enterprise Summit conference, where he spoke at a keynote presentation during the Spring 2018 event in Orlando.

“If we want to launch a transformation in our organizations, we can only do that by first honoring the human experience, the people, and recognizing how they can dramatically change the outcomes of any implementation,” Laping told attendees.

He shared a story of how his family went on a vacation years ago to Walt Disney World and the excitement he felt the first time he rode the Rock and Rollercoaster. When they made another trip to Disney World and went on the ride again, “I knew what was coming and it took my breath away.”

Laping said the rollercoaster story is relevant to IT leaders. “I think the rollercoaster is a good example of why change leadership is so important. We are driving and pushing a lot of change. People get with a technology change and it takes their breath away. It’s just like the rollercoaster where you know what’s coming and it takes your breath away. People know six months ahead of time a technology is coming and it still takes their breath away.”

Why change and innovation take our breath away

Laping cited a Gallup statistic that 70 percent of change initiatives fail while Forbes published a story last year that five in six companies that try digital transformation fail. Indeed, the U.S. economy loses up to $150 billion per year on failed IT projects, according to Gallup.

“When I first read stats like that, I go ‘Come on. Those numbers have to be cooked. Those are ridiculous.’”

Yet, 88 percent of the companies on the first Fortune 500 list in 1955 aren’t on the list today and in the period from 1999 to 2009, one-half of the Fortune 500 list turned over.

“I was obsessed with ‘Why is my project successful sometimes and other times it failed?’ I struggled getting buy-in from the organizations I worked with and the end users I served. In 14 years of being a CIO, I was obsessed with this. Why do I win sometimes and I do the exact same thing a second time and I don’t win?”

The two things you need to succeed

Laping said that when he worked full-time in IT, he needed only two things to be successful: “I needed attention and I needed investment. I needed attention from the execs who supported me that they would come to meetings and show it and go out and help drive change in the organization. The investment I needed, I always felt I lacked the resources I needed to succeed. That was all a product of buy-in. I learned over time, I better do something about this. If opportunity doesn’t knock, I better open the door.”

Laping then advised attendees to name the characteristics of winning teams they have been a part of, and they listed: teamwork, passion, communication, collaboration, vulnerability, vision, motivation and fun.

“Failure rarely occurs because project teams aren’t smart enough,” he said. “Rather, projects tend to fail because of people-related issues that cause them to not be healthy enough.

“When I asked you what winning was, nobody said it’s because of DevOps. Nobody said it’s because we figured out the bridge between Agile and Waterfall. You all said things that are related to the people side of the equation. If we all know that to be true. If we know that’s what winning is, why don’t we talk about it more?”

The reason organizations don’t talk about people-related stuff is simple, yet it’s not easy.

“It’s difficult. The people stuff is so messy and complicated. We want to work with other people, but then we show up to work and we can’t stand to look at their stupid face sometimes. It takes time. When you add rework, that takes time. It’s a reputational black eye.”

Why people resist change

Laping says there are seven reasons why people push back against change. He listed the first three during his keynote presentation due to time constraints, but in introducing them, he said, “If we, as leaders, address the seven reasons, it doesn’t have to be that expensive, complicated or time-consuming.”

Alignment. “True alignment comes from the power of rallying a team to the WHY,” Laping said.

He grabbed an audience volunteer and asked him to join Laping on an imaginary road trip to Fort Lauderdale. They discussed what to bring on the trip, what music to listen to, and then tasked three other attendees who have the map to figure out the best travel route. One said the fastest, another said a sight-seeing route, and the third person couldn’t decide.

“What happened here happens every day in organizations around the world. Every day, leaders get aligned to what they are going to do. The filter around, are we aligned with someone else, is that we share the same why. That why becomes a powerful motivator to get people in the organization onboard with what we are trying to do. People are purpose-driven, and when we know why something is important, that is powerful and that provides clarity on what we are trying to do.

“When the leaders aren’t on the same page, we are trying to make sense of requirements coming at us in different directions. If we are going to make a big difference, it’s aligning around the why.”

Design. “Leaders need to recognize that declaring ‘This new thing needs to be intuitive and easy to use’ will never enable a better outcome,” Laping said.

Capacity. “Even when people are aligned to a cause, time constraints have a huge impact on their willingness to get involved.”

Taking it a step further, Laping said, “Even when people are aligned to the why, if they don’t have the time of day to help, they’re not going to help. What we can do as leaders is create an air traffic control system that understands all the things going on in the organization that affect people.

“In IT, most of the things people are trying to accomplish, they need our help doing. We can keep a calendar of when things will hit to help and influence, but if opportunity doesn’t knock, we have to open the door.”

Finally, the ultimate goal for all leaders should be to inspire loyalty among their staff. “If you want customers to love your brand, it starts with your team members loving your brand. If they like us, they will attract customers that like us. If they hate us, they will never come back.”

Laping closed with a positive message. “You can do this. Your people need you to do this. You need you to do this. Your organizations need you to do this. I know you can.”