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Lab Automation & Change Management: Why Your People Have to be Part of the Solution

There is a tendency to talk up all things lab automation and to highlight its simplicity in addition to the many concrete benefits it does actually deliver against.

What is not so much spoken about is the change that it inevitably brings.  It’s not to say that change is bad, and indeed any changes that, for example, remove boring, repetitive tasks and replace them with challenging, exciting and value-adding activities can only be a plus.

It is critical however, to understand the impact of change on your team.  A failure to do so can have unwanted consequences.  Automation solutions rarely, if ever, fail because the system is poor or because it is not suitable for the lab itself.  More often than not, solutions fail because the people involved have not been brought along in the journey.  They are ignored and not taken into account.  That is a dangerous strategy considering they are needed to ensure a proper roll-out and subsequently, that the implementation is actually a success.

Understanding the Impact of Change is Necessary

 The impact of not appreciating how change impacts your team can have unnecessary consequences.  This is true even if your solution is actually going to help your team! 

A poor plan or a disregard for the impact of change, can hurt you in so many different ways including but not limited to:

  • Productivity
  • Goodwill
  • Efficiency
  • Recruitment 
  • Retention
  • Onboarding costs

Perhaps it is best summed up as follows: the average cost to replace a team member is 1.5 times their annual compensation.  Put another way, if the annual compensation of someone leaving as a result of the change is $60k then it is going to cost you $90k to replace them.

As such, appreciating and accepting that change has to be carefully managed and planned for, is necessary.  

Why do People Resist Change?

It’s important first to understand why people may resist change.  Whilst the reason may be unique to each individual there are typically three reasons for resistance:

  1. Disruption – we are creatures of habit.  When change sweeps in, it disrupts our patterns of behavior and our way of operating even if those ways were poor.  We ask, “why do I have to do things differently?” and from there, we start to resist change.
  2. Fear – simply put, we get scared.  We question our abilities, our skill set and whether they will be enough to cope with the change.    We ask questions such as, “What if I don’t like the new way of doing things?”  As humans, we like comfort and familiarity.  Fear works opposite to that, creating anxiety and self-doubt which in turn, lead to resistance.
  3. Fatigue – in that we simply get fed up with all the changes happening!  There is an old saying that change is constant.  We can only absorb a certain amount of change and without a logic and indeed a cadence to it, we once more, show signs of resistance.

Tell-Tale Signs of Resistance

What then are the signs of resistance?  How do you know if your team is not accepting of the changes your lab automation solution will inevitably bring?

These are not always easy to notice and just like the reasons as to why people resist in the first place, the signs of resistance can also be fairly unique to your team.  

There are typically two “buckets” of signs of resistance:

  • Outward – being observable behaviors.  For example, are people more or less engaged?  Are people involving themselves in discussions?  Are excuses being made? Is execution of a plan being delayed unnecessarily?  Are people complaining more often? The list can go on but the idea is to look for changes in outward behaviors.
  • Inward – these are far more difficult to notice.  Does your team feel more stressed?  Is there an increase in anxiety? Is their choice of words changing?  Again, these are harder to notice but there are tell-tale signs that you can pick up on and that will help you gauge how your team is dealing with the change.

Managing Complex Change Model

Clearly managing change is not easy.  It can be downright messy and if left unchecked, it can undo a lot of good work and lead to unnecessary upheavals and costs.  

There is a simple model to use that can help in this regard.

Managing Complex Change – McLysaght Consulting

The model simply highlights the need for 5 core elements in order to affect change more readily and productively versus not having them in place.

If any of the 5 elements are missing then there is an emotional, mental and organizational reaction in response.  Take for example, a lack of a vision (defining where you want to go).  If that is missing, there is confusion and with that disengagement can swiftly follow.

If we don’t train the staff on how to use the automated solution and ensure they have the necessary skills then anxiety tends to creep in, which we highlighted as being a significant reason to resist change.

People also need to know what’s in it for them (incentives).  How is this going to help me? Keep in mind that this may not be the same for everyone and what is important and meaningful for one may be different for another.

Resources are critical too.  Think here along the lines of training, available tools, enough people and so forth.  A lack of resources usually results in frustration and especially so if there is a willingness to support the change initiative. 

Whilst the vision outlines the destination, an action plan breaks it down further with milestones, responsibilities and clear lines of communication.  It can all quickly break down if you start moving in one direction only to have to stop, regroup and move in another direction because no action plan was created upfront.

Ownership is Critical

Managing change is not easy.  It is complex and fraught with challenges. Recognizing as much is a good first step as is appreciating that change is not always welcome even with the best intentions.

Your lab automation solution has to take your people into account.  Without them, even the best solutions in the world are primed to fail.  With them, you can enjoy and reap the benefits of automation and ensure you get a return on your investment..  

If you are interested to learn more in terms of how we can help with managing change, please get in touch.  

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