When I interviewed for my current position as the IT Manager for a small business with less than 100 users, I was asked very specifially how I would handle difficult employees.  Sensing a potential problem I clarified the question asking if they had experienced problems with employees not embracing new technology well.  “That’s putting it mildly,” was the response.  I was then able to describe some past situations where I successfully managed new technology rollouts.

I think we computer people sometimes overlook how dramatically it can and does affect our co-workers when we put new hardware or software into place.  Even something as simple as replacing or upgrading a multi-function printer / scanner / FAX unit can have traumatic effects on the poor executive secretary who only knows that she has to learn to use a new piece of software that is different from the one she used to use.  To us, it is just simple point and click.

How often do we step back and think about it from the user’s point of view?  This executive secretary spends her whole day scanning contracts, revising proposals and printing photos of aircraft.  She is under a tremendous amount of pressure from her boss, the CEO to get these tasks done in a timely manner.  You and I may think of a ‘timely manner’ as being sometime today, but in her case he may literally be standing over her with clients in his office.  She needs it done now.

For the computer guy to come in at lunch and swap out her multifunction unit without hanging around to show her how it is different is just asking for trouble.  And yet we do it all the time.  All we care about is if it talks on the USB and if the software installed OK.  Is holding her hand while she figures out how to use it part of our job?  You bet it is!  You may have gone on to some other task but you can be sure you will have a frustrated phone call in just a few minutes.

My point is that we sometimes overlook this extremely critical soft skill of being able to help people manage change.  When we upgrade to a new accounting system we build into the contract x number of hours for training and initial support during the first week.  That’s a major change and we know it’s going to need special attention.  In a small organization like mine, I am the trainer on all the new stuff I put into place, no mater how insignificant it seems to me.

What do you think?  Are soft skills like change management just as important as knowing how to subnet properly?