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Most, if not all of us, have heard of Pavlov’s theory of classical conditioning. Pavlov used dogs to demonstrate stimuli and their responses. Here is a brief recap on what Pavlov found: there is a neutral stimulus (bell) which, by itself, will not stimulate a response—in this case, salvation. There is also a non-neutral/unconditioned stimulus (food) which will produce an unconditioned response (salivation). However, when you pair the neutral stimulus along with the unconditioned stimulus together, the dog will eventually learn to associate the two. After some time, the neutral stimulus alone will produce the same response as the unconditioned response (A.K.A. a dog drooling when they hear the bell).

While I am not here to talk about dog training, let’s associate this with a human element throughout organizations. When employees are introduced to their roles and responsibilities, it usually takes them some time to learn. They may learn that they have a procedure to follow on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. After time, these duties become part of a conditioned response.

However, when a company is trying to stay competitive, it may be time for a digital transformation or new ERP software. No matter what, this change causes disruption. If there is one thing most people do not like in their jobs—or even in their lives—it is change. You have been conditioned over a period of time to know what it is you are supposed to do. Even if this new software is going to make your life easier, it is still going to require changing the way you do your job and that can easily create resistance or, even worse, fear.

This is when you must do a mix of classical conditioning and counterconditioning. I know that this sounds strange, but you must countercondition your employees out of their old work habits and then classically condition them into their new ones. Sounds difficult? Well, it is.

The only way to alleviate these fears and to teach them their new duties is undergoing an organizational change management (OCM) initiative. The idea of OCM is to assess employees’ concerns, effectively communicate to alleviate those concerns, increase system usage via training on the new software, and, most importantly to a lot companies, maximize your ROI. While this can be a solid undertaking if you have never done this before, it can be done with the right help. This is not a job to simply assign to your HR. It must be done with extreme caution to not enhance the negative emotions employees are already experiencing. Somethings can’t be done overnight and this is one of them. It is going to be a process of training employees and allowing them to ask all of their questions to address everyone’s fears. This is a delicate process and is honestly a 100-percent necessity in all organizations going through a new initiative. Employees aren’t going to change simply because they are asked to.

You can’t expect to get a new puppy and have them to know all their tricks right away. It’s the same thing with humans. It takes time and training. Take a hint from Pavlov and get yourself some OCM.

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