Overcoming the Fear of Technological Change: A guide for SMBs

Technology change is not “a necessary evil”; it’s a necessary evolution. SMBs are limited by scale, meaning they have to adopt technology differently to maximize ROI. Being intentional during software procurement not only helps ensure success but reduces staff anxiety.

3 years ago   •   6 min read

By Audry Torrence
Overcoming fear takes bold steps

When a business changes the way it incorporates technology - whether establishing a new use for familiar technology; adding new technology into a familiar process; inventing or innovating its own technology - fear of change grips a company’s staff. Avoiding this widespread panic comes from being intentional when undergoing technology change and communicating this change to your team.

Intentionality leads to better outcomes. That sounds so...obvious. But getting intentional when evaluating and communicating change is especially important. When you identify and incorporate your own and your company’s priorities in making and communicating decisions, the result is better outcomes and greater cohesion.

Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) have had many opportunities to decide how they adopt technology. In the insurance industry, data mining was an emerging concept in the 1990s. The rise of predictive analytics systems followed, especially for underwriting, claims, and loss control. New technology tools for data storage, workflow, communications, and distribution were brought to market as well. Recent technology decisions have grown to include artificial intelligence, machine learning, and recommender systems.

brown handled axe on log
Technology does not have to be a double-edged sword

Technology as a Tool or a Threat

When a team is told “new technology is coming,” “artificial intelligence will help your process,” “machine learning will bring you targeted prospects,” what happens?

When employees hear about a technology change in their workplace, their reaction is often fearfully defensive: “I’m getting automated out of a job. This is bad news.” A person’s internal acceptance of change is not binary; it’s an evolving mixture of emotions and logic, an exercise in evaluating business needs against personal impact. Employees’ responses to change might range from fear to curiosity to a welcoming embrace, but with more information about the reason behind the change, it is more likely to be positive.

Technology is a tool, not a threat. These three questions can help you evaluate and communicate changes in technology at your organization:

  1. How much technology is too much for your organization’s comfort? Admittedly, this is an odd question. We will deep dive into this a bit further on. But for now, let’s look at its opposite:
  2. How much technology is too little for your organization’s continuity? This question is easier. This is the minimum level of technology required by an organization for it to remain viable in the marketplace.
  3. How much technology is optimal for your organization’s success? This question is complex and incorporates questions 1 and 2 above. An accurate measurable answer requires a needs analysis, a technology product analysis, a competitive intelligence workup, an economic trends forecast, the internal endeavor of defining “success,” and key values of the business.
man on front of vending machines at nighttime
Too many choices can be overwhelming

Technology Choices and Company Culture

The first question about technology and comfort acknowledges an organization’s fear of change. The second question, about technological adequacy and business continuity, addresses the organization’s fear of being left behind.

The third question, about attaining organizational success through technological optimization, may sound hypothetical. For SMB owners, how practical is optimization when the resources needed to undertake an examination of available technology are daunting? Some key questions to consider are:

  • External choices: How will I identify soon-to-be-necessary technology? (What do I buy?)
  • Internal choices: How will my business adapt to the array of emerging technology? (What do I do?)
  • Combination: How will my business choose and use?

Optimization, or the perfectly harmonious deployment of technological assets to achieve maximum ROI, requires a potentially overwhelming investment of time and resources for a small business. Paralysis of analysis from overchoice is possible; it’s just easier to do nothing. Many business owners do not comfortably understand technology. The resources required to conduct an exhaustive technology assessment and evaluation are often prioritized over other uses.

The effort (time and money) to launch a technology evaluation is often not worth the return because of SMB scale: the time recaptured or money saved/revenue generated is not enough to warrant the upfront investment of those same resources. Small businesses operate in the realm of the practical. The goal might not be perfection or even excellence; it might be “good enough”. One-hundred percent theoretically perfect optimization of technology may not be a realistic goal for an SMB. But inaction is not an option, either. To help provide a roadmap for you, make sure to check out the 'The Ultimate Guide of Building a Tech-enabled Sales Team.'

This is the sign you've been looking for neon signage
Good enough can help SMBs have a healthy relationship with technology

A Case for “Good Enough,” with Intentionality

Technology is not an add-on; it is how business is done. What is the tipping point in identifying the right allocation of resources to provide better technology capabilities? With a nod to Stephen Covey, beginning with the end in mind is a good place to start on the path to intentional decision making.

Most businesses share these basic goals:

  1. Be profitable.
  2. Attract and retain good staff.
  3. Establish strong relationships with customers, suppliers, vendors, community.

If you are continuously operating in the “Good Enough” space for goals 1 through 3, then your business is doing well. Now you are facing technology decisions. How to augment your technology? Begin with the end in mind: your technology decisions should all support improvement in items 1 through 3.

On a spectrum ranging from “This Doesn’t Work” at one end to “This Works Perfectly” at the other, the “Good Enough” range might be a viable option for a healthy business. However, Good Enough comes in two varieties and one is toxic:

  1. A Good Enough result arises from apathy, entropy, or chaos. This is the mindset of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
  2. A Good Enough result arises from the intentionality of allocating your available resources and understanding the result. This is the mindset of understanding the costs, risks, and rewards of choosing an A-minus outcome instead of an A-plus. If A-minus is affordable and A-plus is not, then a well-reasoned A-minus wins.

Be aware of which version of Good Enough you are dancing with, especially regarding technology decisions. Partner with intentionality, not with apathy.

woman using gray building binoculars
Curiosity is the best way to stay ahead of the technology curve

Fear is one manifestation of apprehension about the future. Curiosity is another.

Is your company providing technology as a resource to benefit your team, or wielding technology as a cudgel to threaten your team? The distinction should be clearly articulated: technology is a tool, not a threat. How you message this to your various team members matters.

Employees will react to change in varying ways, ranging from “I feel threatened” to “I love this idea.” So will every constituency your business touches: customers, suppliers, vendors, the community, the competitive landscape.

Be intentional in your messaging to reduce the fear response. Walkthrough the iterations of what happens when you apply automation to your processes. How deep will you go? How broad?

toddler's standing in front of beige concrete stair
Small steps help SMBs continually move forward

A Purpose Driven Implementation

When considering any technology change, apply the question “what happens” to every function within your organization. Get granular. Think of this exercise as similar to asking “The 5 Whys” but backward, working proactively before problems arise:

  • Technological change + Finance (accounting, budget, FP&A, investment)
  • Technological change + Sales (appointments with carriers, the addition of customers)
  • Technological change + Human Resources (hiring, retention, succession planning, benefits administration)
  • Technological change + Marketing (advertising, social media, branding)
  • Technological change + Reporting (regulatory, compliance, legal)
  • Technological change + Operations (audit, quality control, customer service)
  • Technological change + Underwriting (analytics, communication with brokers, internal workflow)
  • Technological change + Claims (FNOL, reserving, customer service, communication with TPA’s and attorneys)

Some functions might derive more benefit from automation, for example, than others. Some department leaders might need to see successful automation in other functions before welcoming it into theirs. Technology strategy often takes a back seat until the car breaks down due to neglect and the back seat falls through the floorboard and jolts its occupants awake. Technology change is not “a necessary evil”; it’s a necessary evolution.

Special thank you to the author of the article, Audry Torrence, who is an Executive Vice President at Stephens Rickard Ltd., an executive search and recruiting firm serving the property and casualty insurance industry. She is passionate about contributing to the industry and can be reached at audry@stephensrickard.com or through LinkedIn and Twitter.

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