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February 17, 2012

You’ve got the new arts technology, make sure you have the behavior change

As an arts marketing and technology guy, I get asked about tech a lot. I help people choose online ticketing systems, new website content management systems, email marketing software — if it is online technology, I’ve probably helped an arts group choose and implement it. When I first started consulting, I thought my job would be to help people make the right choices, and then be on my way. But I’ve found over the years that this is only half of what’s needed to implement new technology.

Changing Technology means Changing Behavior

Say you’ve got a brand-new ticketing system. It can do all the things your old system could never do. You get it installed, and you get training from the company on how to use it. You’ve received a great start! But where I see staff at organizations fall short is when they apply their old behaviors to the new system, and don’t create new behaviors. The motivation and follow-through on behavior modification aren’t there.

Consider this example: You were using Excel to store patron information and pulling your hair out. You get a grant to get a new CRM system where you can track all the details of your patrons via the web. You can even check it and update it from home if you want to. You get everything installed, you get training on how to use the system, and then you’re set out on your own to make the magic happen. Fast forward three months. You have a stack of email signup cards sitting next to your desk that are three months old — you haven’t got those names into the system yet. You have a fundraising event coming up, and you need to send out a notice to your donor list. You had assigned your intern to update the email addresses in the CRM based on the bouncebacks from your email software, but he hasn’t done it yet because he just finally applied for a new system login/password (and doesn’t like the new system anyway), and you don’t have time to do it yourself. These are just a couple of examples of resistance to change that I see all the time.

Your system is ready to help you be awesome, but you and your organization haven’t taken the time to examine and modify your daily behaviors to be awesome.

Sticking with our online ticketing implementation example, the ticketing company is interested in getting you on board using their system, making sure you have an initial training, and then setting you lose. Everything after that is an expense to them in support costs, so there is no real financial motivation for them. Your E.D. expects you to be up and running, and with all the other hats you’re wearing, you try to go with the flow. But you’re not taking advantage of all the brand-new efficiencies your new system has given you, and this is hurting you.

The Psychology of Behavior Modification

As humans, we are complex animals, but our behavior patterns often solidify quickly. Our brains are built to automate tasks so we don’t have to think about them — you can see this yourself when you brush your teeth in the morning. Likely you always do it the same way, same hand, same number of brushes. If you alter the pattern, it just feels weird. Studies have shown that organizations and individuals actively resist change for a variety of reasons. On the individual side, some sources of change resistance include economic resistance (people may fear that they won’t be able to work with the new system and may lose their job), fear of the unknown resistance (people don’t want to do what they don’t understand), and just plain old habit. On the organizational side, organizations are designed to be stable, and have mechanisms and procedures intact to encourage stability; this “structural inertia” is at odds with any sort of change. So, there is a lot going against change.

A psychologist by the name of Kurt Lewin created a model for understanding and helping organizational and individual change. Lewin’s Three-Step Model says that organizations should follow these steps to be successful:

  1. Unfreezing — Getting people on board that the current status quo is not acceptable
  2. Movement — Identifying new behavior/systems that will be the new “normal,” communicating this, and adopting it as the new way of doing things
  3. Refreezing — Making the new system permanent, by creating incentives and rewards to solidify the new behavior

In working with my clients, I’ve found that if organizational technology change is approached as a whole process like Lewin describes, the chance of successful implementation skyrockets. People are on board with the reasons for the change, they help to make the choices to implement the change, and they see the rewards of proper implementation.

Arts Organization Technology Planning Steps

Let’s go back to our theatre company with the new ticketing system. Choosing the new system solved part of the problem, but now you can see that the behavior change didn’t happen with this organization. If we could turn back the clock on this implementation, as the change agent I’d have all members who would be using the new system get together and explore why the old system is not working. I’d work with the group to document who needs access to the new system when, and to do what. What are the daily operations the system will be used for? What are the dependencies of each person on the system and on the other people in the group? How is information supposed to flow in and out of the ticketing system, who is supposed to do this, and what do they need to do it? And for step 3, I’d assist the members in creating a 1) measurement system, so they can know when they are being successful and 2) an incentive/rewards system to encourage the behavior change to become permanent. People love a challenge, and this is the type of feeling you want to inspire with your staff when doing a major technology change.

Technology change can be daunting — it’s no wonder that arts organizations often resist it so much. But it needs to happen — we need to keep our technology systems up to date so we can be efficient and effective in helping our patrons to experience our art. When a holistic view is taken to organizational technology change, success is much more likely.

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Ron Evans is an arts marketing and consumer psychology researcher, and principal consultant at Arts Marketing Consultants in Sunnyvale, CA, USA. He helps arts audiences increase their understanding, appreciation, and frequency of attendance through innovative uses of technology.

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