Working with the Gatekeepers
I’m just back from a conference where I had good conversations about technology on campus. I heard a comment from a number of people, a sentiment that I’ve heard before: How can I deal with the technology resistance on my campus? Technology does great things, it creates great expectations, and often, it creates great anxiety. We want the best of technology, but have to get past the gatekeepers, real and imagined, before it can become reality.
Gatekeepers are seen as the naysayers of a project, those who use their position or influence to confound an important advancement. Not all gatekeepers are Luddites bent on disrupting progress. There are legitimate gatekeepers who see that the money, time, space and support are in place so that a project is successful. The President, Treasurer, Provost, Faculty, Staff, and Students can all wear the mantle of good or bad gatekeeper, depending on your point of view. Change is always challenging, but is made worse by imaging motives and consequences. Ken Eisold says “Employees are more likely to hang on to the fear, uncertainty, resentment and other emotions that big changes bring if it seems to them that management has no clue about how they feel.”
Here are a few points when considering change for technology at your school:
- Check your perspective. Everyone has a piece of software or hardware that they want, and anyone who gets in the way is holding us back. We have spoken and unspoken assumptions on behalf of everyone else, especially students. Having a broad view and getting facts from trusted sources could prove you right or wrong, but either way, you’ll win.
- Ripple Effect. Technology connects us in many ways. Like a spider web, when you pluck one strand at a college, the ripple is felt everywhere. Your technology needs will have an impact on other offices. Consult before you insult when it comes to making recommendations or demands. What’s good for you may only be good for you.
- Silos. Other offices are silos, not yours. You’re open to change and experimentation and those in their silo are holding you back. Silos are a problem when communication is shut down, but they serve an important function of making clear boundaries around jobs and protecting sensitive information and processes. Everyone in a silo should climb down and meet their neighbors. Karen Gross writes “if we are going to find solutions, we are more likely to do it together than apart.”
- Competing Goods. There is no end to the technology wish list on campuses. Not everything can be done now, or at all. Sometimes the tech solution wins, sometimes it doesn’t. Always ask: Is my want, like other wants on campus, a want or a need?
There are other strategies for taking on resistance to technology. Technology is resisted because it is new, not always easy, and very quickly separates those who have from those who don’t. If you’re feeling stymied by the gatekeepers at your school, don’t give up the fight, keep perspective, knock down your own silo before taking on others, and teach, teach, teach. You understand the need and the powerful outcomes, communicate that effectively and the gates could open.