Resistance to change: The real Enterprise 2.0 barrier

Resistance to change: The real Enterprise 2.0 barrier

Summary: Large organizations continue to embrace Enterprise 2.0 as a viable addition to their business process toolbox, however resistance to change remains a challenge.

TOPICS: Enterprise 2.0

Large organizations continue to embrace Enterprise 2.0 as a viable addition to the corporate business process toolbox. As evidence, look no farther than the rapid growth of The 2.0 Adoption Council, which was founded this past June and currently boasts more than 100 member organizations, each of which has more than 10,000 employees.

Despite clear interest from the enterprise, discussion persists around obstacles to large-scale adoption of Enterprise 2.0 approaches, tools, and methods.

ZDNet's Joe McKendrick summarized key obstacles in blog post at Fast Forward:

Resistance to change 52%
Difficulty in measuring ROI 42%
Integrating with existing technologies 41%
Security concerns 32%
Budget 25%
Product knowledge 23%
Tools not enterprise ready 22%

It should not surprise us that the top issue is resistance to change. Readers of this blog know that business projects of every kind suffer from issues related to poor communication, conflicting agendas across information silos, and related organizational causes of failure.

A recent study from The 2.0 Adoption Council also describes resistance to change as the significant barrier. This compelling slide clearly summarizes that message:

In a fascinating blog post, independent analyst, Gil Yehuda, describes reluctance to share information inside German organizations:

The union leaders are not so keen on having E2.0 tools since it can result in eroding their power and give more power to the workers that the union represents. Managers in small companies can also form owner-councils. This can help them negotiate with the workers’ councils — and may also be threatened by the shift in power too. In other words — there are decision makers on both sides that are threatened by E2.0.

In a related post, Gil states that German adoption of Enterprise 2.0 is high, despite this resistance. He quotes ZDNet blogger (and my colleague in the Pragmatic Enterprise 2.0 initiative), Dion Hinchcliffe, as saying: "Germany is the #2 marketplace for E2.0."

I asked Dion to clarify this assertion:

Germany is one of the top countries actively engaging in Enterprise 2.0 and appears to be 2nd after the U.S. based on some early data points such as informal sampling of top social software vendors."

MIT professor Andrew McAfee, who coined the phrase Enterprise 2.0, addresses the resistance issue from a different perspective. He discusses organizational resistance to change in a blog post on prediction markets (which offer a method for aggregating intelligence based on wisdom of crowds theories). Andy questions why companies sometimes resist adopting prediction markets:

So what is the real stumbling block? Is it that companies don’t really want the most accurate information about future events to come out and be widely known?

On the surface, the answer seems obvious: "Of course, everyone wants accurate information."

Digging deeper, we come across an interesting paradox. In theory, most folks applaud information sharing and transparency as worthy goals. In practice, however, some people are reluctant to release information, feeling that doing so may threaten their own personal standing or advantage.

I asked The 2.0 Adoption Council's founder, Susan Scrupski, to comment on the statistics quoted above. I also requested her thoughts on the notion that fear is the real inhibitor to Enterprise 2.0 adoption:

Fear has an irrational connotation when we discuss it in business terms. Relative to 2.0 adoption, it seems there is a more rational emphasis on Uncertainty and Doubt. Those in power are reluctant to change because they've learned to master the devil they know. Those without power (and now discovering new freedom in having a voice) are cautious because it's not clear what the career ramifications of their assertiveness will yield.

Separately, it's worth noting a recent meme that questioned the legitimacy of Enterprise 2.0 as a basic value proposition, labeling the whole thing a "crock." That's just not a question we need to take seriously at this stage. If you are interested, Andy McAfee describes a half-dozen valuable use cases in a blog post.


The 2.0 Adoption Council's growth makes clear that Enterprise 2.0 has evolved from an amorphous set of activities and goals into a valuable corporate focus point. Despite enthusiasm, however, we must recognize that Enterprise 2.0 adoption is subject to the same issues and obstacles as any other business transformation initiative.

The fundamental challenge to rapid diffusion of Enterprise 2.0 in large companies and the government is fear of change. As with all business activities, the human element remains a basic driver of success and failure. Enterprise 2.0 practitioners, consultants, early adopters, and observers should recognize the reality of these obstacles and plan accordingly.

In general, fighting human nature is an uphill battle that eventually results in failure. Instead, work gently with stakeholders to help them experience first-hand the benefits of Enterprise 2.0. Success is the most powerful form of organizational transformation and evolution.

Topic: Enterprise 2.0

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  • Vive Le Resistance!

    Michael - Resistance to Change, Immunity to Change - there is a lot of activity on the "real work" (beyond tech and into enacting and leveraging change agents) of Enterprise 2.0 lately... great that we're all surfacing these issues in increasingly large forums.

    For a bit more flavor on the Resistance is Real slide you've quoted (which we [Information Architected] provided as part of our keynote on the early 2.0 Adoption Council Findings, the full slide deck (appreciate the reference to the slideshare copy) and our intro video to the keynote can be found at:

    We're doing some work on cultural physics - how to start a collaboration wave that can sustain itself without destroying the sanity of everyone involved, from knowledge workers to managers and executives.

    Stay tuned for further detail in the whitepaper we are preparing in partnership with Susan and the 2.0 Adoption Council.

  • Not facing reality

    The problem with a lot of these "new-fangled" ideas is that their ideals aren't realistic. Look at Obama's "change" mantra. Young folks expected all sorts of instantaneous massive improvements. You know what, "Heard it all before ... check out George McGovern's rhetoric when [b][i]he[/i][/b] ran for President."

    All these methodologies to improved "openness, transparency and accountability" (among other things) don't face the fact that another word for such terms is [b][i]blame[/i][/b]. The more OTA there is, the slower things go and the less things get done. Because everyone realizes that a group, department or individual is much more likely to catch hell for what they [b][i]did[/i][/b] do than for what they [b][i]didn't[/i][/b] do.

    A lot of these "Enterprise 2.0" concepts are based on the idea the workers are expendable commodities. Hire someone for a few weeks as a temp worker, then terminate the contract with the temp agency. Nice "don't have to get your hands dirty" management style. The company doesn't have to lay off anyone and the temp agency just says "the contract was canceled." For large amounts of work, farm out most of the routine work to low paid third-world workers, wherever it's cheapest at the moment. By the time the main economy tanks because you keep shutting down jobs, the upper managers will be at some other company in some other industry. The same basic thing happened in the Savings & Loan industry in the late '70's-80's, the dot com boom and bust, and then the sub-prime industry and derivatives now.

    All these people should stop trying to figure out new ways to do things and should get back to basics of making and selling good products.
  • nail on the head


    You hit the nail on the head:

    <b>Digging deeper, we come across an interesting paradox. In theory, most folks applaud information sharing and transparency as worthy goals. In practice, however, some people are reluctant to release information, feeling that doing so may threaten their own personal standing or advantage.</b>

    In my experience, larger, more bureaucratic organizations tend to be comprised of people who fear the very openness and transparency that Enterprise 2.0 can offer. Collaboration and information sharing may erode the power of key internal players.

    I actually talked to a friend of mine who started a job at a government agency recently and the level of distrust over even "Enterprise 1.0" things such as voice mail and email just blew my mind. While this may be an extreme example, as you point out, resistance to change can be quite the inhibitor. Of course, senior managers either cause this directly--or enable it indirectly--through their actions or inactions.
  • Your resistance to change - or my failure to create buy-in?

    Failure to create buy-in - is that ?resistance??
    Enterprise 2.0 projects that don't meet the interests and needs of the users will hit a wall. Labeling and treating such a situation as "resistance" can make it even worse.

    For a recent big tech project at a bank, the implementation proposals from consultants all contained a section about "addressing resistance". After hearing a few of these proposals, the executive in charge of the sales force got up and asserted ?when my people don?t hit their sales targets, I would not let them get away with talk about ?resistance from prospects?. I?d tell them to go back and listen to the customer needs and retool their products and sales approaches.?

    What happens when you label these problems ?resistance?? Essentially, you attribute the problem to the other side (the employees). Such thinking is in danger to reduce the people to ?targets? that need to be handled so that they can ?overcome the problem?. At the same time, the evangelist aim at keeping their gospel unchanged, - the problem is with the ?resisting target audience?.

    How about engaging the employees early on, to design a solution that pays respect to their needs and pains? Their motivations and attitudes are not as mysterious or ?irrational? as they may appear to an outsider. (see It?s about active listening and skilled facilitation of participative design processes. We have seen such approaches empowering both the employees and the Enterprise 2.0 champions.