I remember when we upgraded from Micros 4700 posting machines in the front office of my hotel to an IBM System 36. Back in the late 1980s, the PC was just coming into widespread use in hotels but networks and programs were almost nonexistent. The System 36 was the size of a bathtub.
In those days, we did not have email; we had Merlin. Merlin was an email type of system but only for people within our company. I still remember my Merlin code, LUN0007. We had just installed a back-office GL and AP system that was PC-based and not on a network. All the GL files and data were on the one PC in the accountant’s office and the AP data was on another PC. At month-end we needed to take the AP data on a disc from one machine to the other. Accounts receivable was an out service. We input data and when we were done the data disc came out of the machine, the courier picked it up and a day later we reviewed the paperwork to see if our fingers made all the right moves.
Payroll was the “one write” system where you used a peg board and carbon paper paychecks. We hand wrote each check and simultaneously recorded the details – en masse – via the carbon paper. When we finished we totaled each column of pay and deductions to balance the payroll sheet. Completing approximately 30 of these sheets equaled the hotel bi-weekly payroll. Adding them all up was a pay period journal entry. Talk about complicated and tedious.
I also remember every time we upgraded systems just how stressful it was for most people. I vividly remember our accountant Walter keeping a complete manual general ledger while the “system” ran parallel books. He was not asked to keep the manual books but he did so because he did not trust the PC. He is also the same guy who welcomed hockey legend Jean Beliveau in his office for a friendly visit on a regular basis. He was an incredible individual with great knowledge and a wonderful sense of humor.
I remember asking him why he kept the paper ledgers and he smiled, took a big puff of his cigarette and said, “One day it will all stop working and I’ll still have the score.” I have often thought about his comment in that moment. He was near retirement and the thought of change was so frightening he was willing to double his work to try and compensate. Not only did he double his work but, by not trusting the technology, he did not see that it would allow him to do other things.
That is always the driver or the road block. It is the driver if we believe our lives and our personal well being are going to improve. It is the road block if we are afraid of our own redundancy and self-worth. He really believed the GL and the PC were against him. Why could it not have waited another three years until he was retired before it had to be installed?
Where is the lesson in all of this?
I believe Walter suffered in this situation because of a lack of leadership. His leadership, yes, but much greater leadership was missing. It is always what is missing when it comes to change, with technology and the way we embrace the human aspect of change management. What did Walter need in that scenario to successfully navigate the PC’s GL system and go from paper to automation?
People need to think that change is at least partly their idea. Who asked Walter what he thought and what he would like to do, or what he needed? Quite literally the box arrived, a few days later a technician, and the following week the PC was alive and blinking on a desk in his office. Nobody asked Walter for his thoughts. The decision was made to automate the GL and he was going to change how he worked. It was that simple. But wait a minute; he had over four decades of knowledge and skills.
Why didn’t anyone stop to make sure he was part of the technology change? He could have liked the idea if it was his idea to start with. How can we get people to like the things we need to change? Answer: Get them to think it is their idea to start with.
How do you do that? You can accomplish this most of the time by putting more effort up front before the box arrives. What would Walter have had to experience to get him excited about the new system? What would it have cost and where is the ROI on that?
A few years later I experienced a similar event in a completely different way. We were replacing System 36 and moving to a PC-based network (LAN) system with new modules for the GL, AP, AR and income. To get us ready for the change we were sent to Florida for a week of training and I must tell you I was scared before I spent that week in Tampa. I was scared because I did not know what this new system was all about. I could navigate the old system and – as mechanical as it was – I knew each piece and how it all came together.
By the end of the week in Tampa I could:
- See there was something emerging that I could work with.
- See that some thought had been put into this.
- Ask lots of questions and do much of the setup of the new system.
- Be part of the process.
Bingo! for change management and technology upgrades.
Get your people involved from the get-go.
That is the battle cry when embracing technology change in hospitality.
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