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Getting Older Workers to Buy-in on New Technology

By Mary Lloyd

It's easy to blame older workers' willingness to learn new things when they don't use the technology you invested in, but that may not be the cause of the problem. Make sure they've been effectively trained, they know why the new approach is needed, and how they personally benefit from using the new tool. That will get everyone-not just the older workers-on board faster.

Deciding older workers simply can't--or won't--learn new technology is like assuming the car is defective because you're in the wrong gear. It's easy to assume their foot-dragging is due to their own shortcomings. Leaving it at that assures everyone loses. The technological improvements don't pack the punch they were supposed to. The departments affected by the change don't function as well because not everyone is doing it the same way. And sides are often drawn in terms of "who's right." What a waste.

To begin with, the idea that Baby Boomers as a whole want nothing to do with technology doesn't hold water. They are the second largest group of bloggers (after moms). Two out of three of them take photos with their cell phones. Sixty percent of them text. They've invaded Facebook and Twitter like a horde of locusts. It's not that they can't learn how to do things on the computer. The work place problem could easily stem from ineffective instruction, poor communication about the relevant goals, and/or the failure to tie the change to personal effectiveness.

Consider these things when you're trying to teach "old dogs new tricks":

Are you using the right instructor to teach them how to apply the new technology? When there is a failure to learn, look at the quality of the teacher. Most often, IT resources are the ones who design and offer the training needed to learn new hardware and software applications. Unless your company is remarkably unique, these people are probably not even speaking the same language as your older workers. Those who are comfortable with computers tend to rattle off terms in quick succession, "demonstrate" with a series of rapid key strokes, and assume everybody gets it. That is not teaching. It's geeks sharing with geeks. If you're not a geek, you have no idea what just happened.

Those who didn't use computers during their formative years are in roughly the same situation as American workers who did not speak English as children in terms of the learning challenge they face. The very first thing you need to do to get them to learn is offer the class in a way they can understand. Getting a young "techie" up in front of them to spout jargon is not enough. You need a trainer who understands that different students learn different ways and who creates examples, analogies, and practice exercises that meet the learning needs of the specific class he or she is instructing.

Honestly and clearly explain the reason for the change. Don't jump into the implementation without doing an effective job of explaining why it's needed to those who have to live with it. In the absence of good information, workers of every age manufacture their own reasons and most of those are negative-and very wrong. Talk about why the company needs this change, how important it is that everyone makes the change, and what you are doing to help people understand and use the new technology. Make those who have to use the new technology partners and they are more likely to step up to the challenge. (Conversely, "do it because I said so" stops working with most people before they are out of elementary school.) Be honest and complete in why you need the change. Debunk the falsehoods coming out of the rumor mill at the same time. And do all of this before you start training so that when they get to that, they are ready to learn.

Tie the change to improved personal effectiveness. There's an old saying in training: "They gotta wanna." That's the very first piece of any successful training effort-helping those who are taking the instruction to see the value of performing differently themselves. This isn't a case of telling someone to learn it "or else." And it's not usually a case of "you can make more money if you learn this."

When you need employees to learn new technology, focus on the fact that their contribution is valuable and needs to be fully integrated with what the rest of the company is doing. Virtually every tech improvement is meant to achieve better integration in some way. Most people want to be good at what they do. Helping them understand that their work is more valuable if they use the new system increases the value of the change in personal terms.

It's tempting to just give up and not worry about whether or not those who don't want to-or claim they can't (same thing)-do it the new way ever get in the boat. Think again about that. They have a ton of experience and a lot of customer service skill. You need them to be up to speed. It's more likely they will get there if you teach them well, show them why, and help them see their own role in the overall success of the transition.

And to be honest, that's true for every worker, no matter what age.