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As You Move to the Cloud, Don’t Leave Your People on the Ground (Part 1 of 2)

With every technology change, there will be a variety of responses from the people in your organization. Understanding the personality and response types will help you retain and protect your staff.

Plenty of articles have been written about issues associated with a successful migration to the cloud, including topics such as choosing the right cloud vendor, reading the fine print in a cloud provider service agreement, validating cloud security, investing in automation, and decommissioning the old system, among other such crucial aspects to assure a successful migration.

For Further Reading:

The Great Resignation: 10 Lessons for Data Teams

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One key facet of cloud migration that receives less attention is the “people side” of disruptive technology changes. Paying attention to how the individuals impacted by the change respond is important to addressing concerns and ensuring a smooth transition to the new system. A migration strategy that meticulously factors in all the technology issues but omits the people issues is setting the stage for failure because it is the people (users) who will need to implement, support, and use the system.

The Unique Case of Cloud Migration

Migrating data and applications to the cloud is a unique kind of technology change that is unlike a brand-new system implementation on premises. Because the systems to be migrated will be familiar to users to some degree, managers are often very careful about technical aspects of the projects but overlook potential people issues that could derail the process.

For example, a team or a business unit (or even the entire company) could be migrating from the installed version of Microsoft Office to Microsoft Office 365 as software-as-a-service (SaaS). Although a simple change, research suggests that the “status quo bias” -- that is, the preference for things to be as they are -- would predict that some users will resist the new system. Given this, managers overseeing cloud migration should understand that a seemingly simple migration could be a major change in the eyes of the users -- with implications for their performance and job security.

Technology Change = Technology Uncertainty

Any change will cause anxiety in your staff and stakeholders because of the uncertainty it brings. A rich body of research has examined these effects, ranging from the effect of uncertainty about the future on saving decisions and price uncertainty on consumer choice to limited foresight and uncertain technological learning on technology adoption, among others. Managers need to anticipate this and dedicate significant time and resources to helping stakeholders cope with the uncertainty.

When preparing for a cloud migration, or any other technology change, there are several initial steps to mitigate the uncertainty -- such as choosing a reputed cloud vendor, thoroughly studying the contract before signing, and employing experts to lead the migration. However, even seemingly small changes, such as moving from an installed version to a cloud-based version of the same software, can introduce uncertainties in the minds of the users such as:

  • Will I be able to adjust to the new system quickly?
  • Will the new system allow me to perform my job as well as I have been in the past?
  • Will the new system hamper my career growth if I have trouble adjusting to it?

Other uncertainties relate to potential changes in the power dynamics in the workplace that this new technology might introduce. For example, a senior employee may have to seek the help and assistance from juniors or even peers in other units, while those people may be competing for career progression. Network structures could change, where members at the periphery of a network could move to the center (because of their expertise with the new system), threatening the identity, power, and status of existing central members.

Silent Resistance

Although “user resistance” conjures images of noisy, irate employees, research has shown that “silence” on critical issues is a more widespread response in workplaces. This could be due to the ramifications for one’s career growth, workplace relationships, and even job security. Against the backdrop of pandemic-accelerated technology change and the persistent undercurrent of economic and job insecurity, paying attention to silent behavior is more important now than ever.

As managers, we are quick to respond to overt reactions, such as protest or pushback, but we often miss the quiet subversion. For example, a cloud migration might be a technical success, but it could cost the company in other ways. For example, an employee might not share new product ideas or not bring forth crucial issues that could affect the growth or even the existence of the company. Sustained silence could also lead to “quiet quitting” -- doing only the minimum required work and nothing more. Although the team may meet their milestones and complete their projects, you may have significant loss of productivity, focus, and morale.

In the rush to migrate to the cloud for the potential cost savings or to keep up with industry trends, companies should not lose sight of the implications that such a change holds for employees. A successful cloud migration is much more than just a series of technical, security, and compliance tasks. It may have long-term impacts on the people in any department that is affected. A situation where the migration follows the best practices and is declared a success, but after which employees do not use the system or feel identified with the firm, is winning the battle and losing the war.

In Part 2 of this discussion, we will explore how managers can anticipate and engage in pre-emptive behaviors that maximize the expression of ideas and feelings by employees, which could, in turn, minimize the resistance to the project, leading to success.

About the Authors

Stan Pugsley is an independent data warehouse and analytics consultant based in Salt Lake City, UT. He is also an Assistant Professor of Information Systems at the University of Utah Eccles School of Business. You can reach the author via email.

SankaraSubramanian Srinivasan, Ph.D. is a professor at the David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah. He has 14 years of teaching experience at U.S. business schools. His research focuses on the behavioral aspects of technology adoption and use, with an emphasis on the healthcare domain. Prior to grad school, Sankar worked for Zoho Corp.

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