Motivating management and colleagues to embrace change

Paul Boag

To create better user experiences or encourage digital adoption, we need to bring change. But getting colleagues to change is hard. Here are four things you need to be doing right now.

When I ask in-house teams what their biggest barrier is, they say people. Whether management or colleagues, people can be a big hinderance to our work. That is because our job involves challenging the status quo.

The fields of digital and user experience are new. They are not embedded in organisational culture. In fact most organisational thinking hinders the adoption of these disciplines. This puts us in a tricky position.

Change management is not a skillset most UX and digital professionals have. We are not skilled in negotiating with colleagues or implementing new approaches. Instead we retreat into our digital teams and do what we can in isolation. Often we end up building what our colleagues will find acceptable. Not what is right. But we can do better.

Next time you work on a project that needs others to get on-board, don’t give up and compromise too early. Instead use these four simple techniques to see if you can get buy-in from colleagues.

It begins by keeping people informed.

1. Keep them informed

When we worry that colleagues might undermine a project we have a tendency to exclude them. But this is the worst thing we can do.

It makes people feel ignored. This makes them resentful and more likely to block your project when they learn about it. Also, people rarely respond well to surprises. They will almost always get upset if you force something upon them. This is especially true when they don’t have the rationale about why you made a certain decision.

Instead keep stakeholders informed throughout the whole process from day one. Don’t rely on them to read a blog or view a development site. That just isn’t going to happen. Instead go to them. If possible speak to them individually. If not, email the with updates. That way you are sure nothing is going to come as a surprise. That they understand the decisions behind your project.

Send stakeholders regular email updates to keep them informed about progress.
Send stakeholders regular email updates to keep them informed about progress.

By informing stakeholders in this way you have a good chance of getting quality feedback. At the least you will flush out any issues early when it is still inexpensive to deal with them.

2. Take time to inspire them

But it is not enough to just inform people about change. You need to inspire them about the changes too.

People don’t like to change. Change takes effort. Change can be dangerous. Even if the change is a good thing for the organisation, you will find people hesitant to embrace it. This is because of how it will impact them. That is why you must excite them about the change.

A good starting point is to consider how the change will benefit them as individuals. How will it help your manager meet his or her targets? How will it make the job of your colleagues easier? It may take some creative thinking. But appealing to somebody's self interest is always a good way to inspire them.

Use a tool like Invision to create a prototype to inspire management and colleagues.
Use a tool like Invision to create a prototype to inspire management and colleagues.

Another way to inspire is to show people something ‘sexy’. People respond better to seeing something rather than you telling them about it. You will struggle to get somebody to agree to the cost and time of building a new digital service. Instead create a prototype that shows off the great experience and looks impressive. You will find that much more effective at winning people over.

3. Work hard to educate

Even a prototype won’t inspire if people don’t understand why it is better. That is why education is such a key part of our role. We get frustrated when people don’t understand the benefits of user experience or digital. But why should they? They are not design or digital experts? We are and so it is our job to educate them.

If we want to get them on-board with change, we need to explain why that change is important. We need to put as much effort into educating them as we do in building digital services.

For example, do you take the time to explain your design approach? Or do you just send them a design comp and ask for their thoughts? If you do the latter they are bound to come back with uninformed personal opinion.

But be careful. It is easy for people to feel patronised if you try to educate them. I find one of the best ways to educate without patronising is to ask stakeholders the right questions. Ask them questions about user needs and business objectives. This will focus them on the right things, rather than their personal agenda.

When they suggest something that you feel will cause problems, don’t argue. Instead ask them how they would address the perceived problem. This is less confrontational and gently educates them about the challenges with their approach.

A workshop is a way of educating people without patronising them.
A workshop is a way of educating people without patronising them.

Finally, consider running a workshop. These workshops can be under the guise of designing the digital service. But it is also an opportunity to educate them into what goes into creating a great digital service. For example, I have written before about customer journey mapping workshops. Workshops that get people thinking about user needs. I have also written about homepage workshops. These improve stakeholders understanding of what goes into a good homepage.

4. Get them involved

Workshops also have the added benefit of getting stakeholders involved in the development process. It is important to do this throughout the project from the beginning.

Make it clear you value their opinion and want their involvement. Gather their feedback and take it seriously. They will be able to tell if you are just paying lip service to their ideas.

Then when you start development, emphasise where you have taken their ideas on board. When you make a decision against stakeholder feedback, make sure you address it. Explain why you were ‘forced’ to take a different approach. Make it clear that you valued their feedback and only reluctantly took another approach.

Involving stakeholders in this way won’t just educate them. It will also give them a sense of ownership. The more they contribute, the more they will feel the service is theirs as much as yours.

People tend to not criticise work they have helped create themselves. But more than that, they also defend it to others. The more people involved in the creation of a digital service, the more likely others are to accept it. This is because more people will be defending and promoting it.

A lot of work, but worth it

I am aware that the above techniques take time and effort. It may feel easier to hide away and build what you know is right. But at the end of the day this is a bad idea.

For a start you will alienate colleagues. They will feel excluded and angry. You will damage your long term working relationship with them. That will make all future projects that much harder.

But most of all it won’t make the current project any faster. You will have to deal with their last minute objections and roadblocks. This means in the end you would have been better engaging people from the start.

That said, getting colleagues to embrace change is never easy. No clever set of techniques is going to change that. That is because changing people is hard. It is easier to change our own attitudes. We need to stop seeing ourselves as implementors and start seeing ourselves as educators. That way stakeholders stop being roadblocks in our eyes. Instead they become students who we need to educate.