Learning and adjusting to shiny new toys

Yay! I got a shiny new toy!

This week, I bought a new stereo for my car - one that will allow me to plug in my iPod and my Kindle. It can also wirelessly connect to my Android phone to stream Pandora, and take phone calls, which is pretty nifty.



But, like many new electronics, it bordered on useless for a few days until I sat down, read the manual, and figured out how to make it work. In the meantime, I named it "Eddie," after the ship's computer in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," because the screen constantly and enthusiastically displayed all the neat things it could do ("Bluetooth Pandora Ready," "Sirius XM Ready," "Bluetooth Phone Call Ready," etc.), instead of showing me the time or whatnot. The manual helped me finally turn off that feature ("Demo mode"). But I'm still calling it Eddie.

Shiny new toys require learning and adjusting.

Too often, nonprofit staff members will get new "toys" foisted upon them, usually new measurement software, database software, CRM systems, or the like. They're told to use them, and sometimes offered training...but due to time and resource limitations, all too often the new toy gathers dust because it's just so much quicker and easier to use what you've always been using. Learning and changing routines take time and energy many of us lack, and even when the software is more intuitive than a Sony car stereo (grumble), it still takes a certain amount of mental energy to make the adjustment from what you've always done. Which is, unfortunately, a slippery slope leading to "How We Do Things Around Here" syndrome, which results in organizational stagnation.

So, what can you do about it?

This problem needs to be tackled twofold: On the managerial level and on the practitioner level.

Management needs to:

  • Understand that change is hard, and most nonprofit staff are already overworked.
  • Involve practitioners in the decision-making process for acquiring new software, not only so they have buy-in, but so you select the software that will best suit the organization's needs and staff's skill level.
  • Communicate the benefits of the change to the staff, specifically highlighting ways in which the software will help them work more efficiently.
  • Expect and allow for time spent learning and adjusting to a new tool.
  • Openly and regularly encourage the use of the new tool. This may come down to giving a deadline, at which time the old software or tool will be taken away, if necessary.
  • Ask software vendors if they can provide a "sandbox" environment for staff to play with, without fear of accidentally messing things up, and then encourage staff to do so (maybe even offer an incentive) before your new software is ready to go.

Practitioners need to:

  • Communicate clearly with management about the need for time to adjust to and learn the new tool.
  • Prioritize learning the new tool - even if it means taking 15-20 minutes a day to experiment with it (particularly if a sandbox option is offered).
  • Ask questions of fellow staff or, if needed, tech support to get up to speed on the new tool.
  • Think positive: remember that, hopefully, this tool will improve your organization's ability to achieve its mission, and once you learn it and start using it regularly, it'll become second nature. Change is hard, but once the transition is complete, it's decidedly less difficult.

What other advice would you offer people who are dealing with shiny new toys?