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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Marketing IT In-House: Respect Routines

Respect a BI user's routine if you want to successfully change it.

Marketing seeks to change thought and behavior, overcoming resistance by assuring customers that they'll get what they want. "Come to our hospital when you have a heart attack. Our surgical staff was voted among the top 50 in the nation."

Marketers believe people like change that they can choose, while technologists frequently explain resistance to BI by repeating the "common wisdom" that holds that "People don't like change." BI leaders are just as likely to put the blame on bad communication between IT and users.

It's only natural that users who care about their enterprise would resist change when they don't see an acceptable rationale for it. During my long study of boredom and interest in corporate environments, I have observed that people often resist change even when they admit that their routine is boring. They find more meaning in defending against intrusions than they do in the routine itself.

I have also observed three prominent factors that give meaning to routine: distraction, good performance, and identity. If you are introducing changes in an organization, proceed with these factors in mind because the more meaningful the routine, the more vigorously people will defend it.

This article examines the three factors of meaning and then restate the conventional wisdom ("people don't like change"). I assume that user management and employees have the best interests of their enterprise in mind (otherwise, we'd have to talk about a thousand reasons for resistance).

First a word about culture, because so many technologists of different origins cross paths as employees, vendors, and customers.

Like It, Don't Like It -- Cultural Considerations

Culture shapes the way people respond to authority and to attempted change. Immigrants can be particularly hesitant to draw attention to themselves by resisting or suggesting change in the workplace, whereas in their home country they might speak out boldly. They might be shy about suggesting change because their society encourages a passive acceptance of things as they are.

An American bank manager in Singapore told me the nationals were overly compliant. He wanted his employees to think more independently and courageously. An American financial advisor in Russia said the men he dealt with were not accustomed to making bold decisions or expressing their opinions openly.

By contrast, a member of a U.S.-based organization enjoyed almost boundless freedom to speak her mind. She told a discussion group that she wanted things in the organization to stay the same. She shook her head and declared, "I don't like change."

I said, "You like change if you get to decide what the change will be."

She stopped shaking and began nodding. "I like it if I get to decide what it will be." She didn't have any better ideas. She didn't have any ideas at all. She just didn't want anybody forcing theirs on her.

With these cultural considerations in mind, remember that people tend to thrive in routines that are characterized by distraction, good performance, and identity. By "thrive" I mean they find satisfaction in being a part of the organization while fulfilling their responsibilities to it.


Ironically, this is the relief valve that helps us control our attention. I am talking about mild distraction that doesn't keep us from completing our tasks on time. It's common, for instance, for people to converse with coworkers while organizing paperwork, or to think about restructuring their home mortgage while pushing bread racks around the warehouse.

Distractions keep our minds from drifting too far from an awareness of what we're doing. In fact, I have demonstrated thousands of times in high-load learning activities that even a split-second distraction can increase performance significantly.

It is possible for a BI initiative to totally disrupt a routine by devouring so much attention that users have to continually make extra efforts to fulfill their job responsibilities while missing out on the casual distractions they enjoyed earlier. Routine is lost, and users resent that.

That's part of the reason companies that enjoy successful BI will often advise you to embed your changes into the routine where possible. They may say they do it because people don't like change, but their plan works because routine has its benefits and IT isn't picking an unnecessary fight.

If you destroy a routine by introducing too radical a change to the look of a report or dashboard, users will perceive it as what I call an "intolerable distraction" and they will probably not like or use it. Low usage will be the measure of your effectiveness.

However, if you build the report or dashboard so that users see only what they need to see, with options to select -- such as "More" or "Definitions of terminology" -- then you have honored their routine and made usage more probable. You have avoided an "intolerable distraction."

Good Performance

Good performance is the output of good corporate citizens who are in the rhythm of routine. As they accumulate experience, their performance becomes more automated and efficient, even in the presence of mild distractions.

If users have to give constant, additional concentration to implementing your changes, you have impaired the automation that is a feature of good performance. Performance is likely to decline and users will oppose the change.

For example, requiring truck drivers to use a unique password when confirming their deliveries can cause ferocious agitation if they already have to remember other passwords to meet security protocols. Drivers don't want to spend their time with the help desk again when they could be back on the road or enjoying a short conversation with the receiving department.

But if you provide an easy way for them to recover the password or to enter the information securely without a unique password, then you aren't interfering with their good performance. Honor their routine by discussing their needs and preferences and then test your changes and modify them accordingly.


Identity is a person's sense of who they are as individuals and as team members. For much of my life, I worked without any team awareness. I didn't care about my employers, either. I went to work absorbed in innovation, expecting everyone to give me the space to do what I pleased. As a result, I missed out on the enjoyment and accomplishments that later came with deep changes in my thinking.

People tend to identify themselves with what they do and what they belong to. Good employees establish a team identity in their shared experience (unlike my former self-centered mindset). Team identity is a powerful source of motivation that a smart IT department should recognize and utilize. Any disruption introduced into a team's routine risks being interpreted as a challenge to the team's identity. Without sufficient evidence to believe the change is good, the team will not appreciate the change.

For example, consider conscientious production workers who are doing their own quality control with your new BI tool that measures, records, and displays tolerances. They may become furious if the tool slows them down or requires additional vigilance to make sure it's working right. Your BI has become a challenge to the individuals and teams who pride themselves on performing an essential role in the enterprise.

However, if your BI tool maintains or improves their performance while increasing enjoyment, efficiency, or compliance, then you may have enhanced the users' identity as a valuable asset, and they might be more inclined to promote your effort.

Restating Conventional Wisdom

Marketing BI in-house means you are attempting to change something for the better with a genuine, user-centered business solution. Don't start a project with the idea that nobody wants it. Get inside your in-house customers' heads and find out what they do want. To help you do that, I have restated the old rumor -- "people don't like change" -- this way:

  • People don't like change when it becomes an overwhelming distraction

  • People don't like change when it increases conscious effort to the point of replacing the automation that is a feature of good performance

  • People don't like change when it threatens their identity as competent employees entrusted with important roles in the enterprise

If you have already tried and failed in a BI project or in a phase of it, do not conclude that it's because "people don't like change." Admit the shortcomings, tell the users precisely what went wrong and what you learned, and provide a proposal for change that preserves their routine wherever possible, with all the unmistakable benefits you can think of.

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