Educating the 'old school'

Getting employees who are set in their ways to embrace technology is difficult. Here's how Leslie Allebach did it.

February 20, 2020
Jimmy Miller

Leslie Allebach came into the Lawn & Landscape Technology Conference with two goals: to keep attendees awake during her presentation, and to give listeners tips for enacting technological change at their company.

She acknowledges there will be pushback from some of the employees, many of whom are “old school” and comfortable in their current workflow. Allebach encouraged attendees to be patient with these folks – often times, they’re the ones you want to avoid upsetting.

“Old school employees are usually the ones who’ve invested a lot in the company,” Allebach said. “Sometimes, we just need to listen to them, even if we don’t agree.”

During her presentation, she encouraged listeners to show kindness and understanding to employees who are frustrated when you’re installing new tech. Compiling a list of benefits for a software change and showing the financial benefits is all about educating the employees.

Allebach said cash flow improves because software speeds up the payment cycle. It also makes the company more efficient and gives them time to do things that they want to do, but didn’t previously have the time.  

“Can you be successful and stay old school? Absolutely,” Allebach said. “Can you maximize your success without technology? I don’t know.”

Of course, a software in particular might just not be right for the company. Leadership should be receptive to criticism of the technology so that they don’t invest long-term in something that slows down work. Allebach suggests asking employees to gives management a trial period.

“When you come to them and you say, ‘Can you please give me six months? If we really hate it, we can revisit it,’” she said. “Nine times out of 10, I think you’ll find that they get used to it and they’ll stay with it. (But) don’t be too proud to say, ‘this isn’t working.’”

STEPS TO ASSIST OLD SCHOOL. Leslie’s boss just so happens to be her husband, and he hates change – so she’s had plenty of experience of convincing folks how to embrace change. But over time, he found himself eventually admitting, “I can find things so much easier with this program.”

Here’s how she got to that point with her technology:

Learn the program and then introduce it. She had three or four people who took advantage of all the tutorials, did all the training, and that was extremely beneficial. They created sample customers and sample accounts. “We were very, very familiar with the program before we even introduced it to everybody else.”

Provide the employees thorough training. “This takes the fear and mystery out of the process. Remind them that every program will have its limitations. It might not work quite the work the way it worked in the past.”

Be very patient. “I learned this one the hard way.” Allebach said she would respond to my family’s frustration with frustration back. “Don’t follow my example on that. You want to be kind and not respond with frustration.”

Invest in products to make the change easier, and clearly communicate your expectations. “In our case, we expected our on-the-field employees to use the app accurately and regularly.” This was a big change because they were previously doing paper routes. Hold meetings to get specific with them and write down those expectations. Make them easily accessible by sending the expectations out over email or posting them clearly throughout the company.

Praise and encourage often. “Words of praise have a powerful effect. You want to say words that are truthful, words you really mean.”

Offer assistance without criticism. “We had one guy who really, really struggled. You will probably have these employees. You need to remain firm in your expectations, yet you need to remain kind as you communicate with them.”

Ensure the company has tech support. You want to let people have somewhere to go if there’s a problem. Give out the phone numbers and email for the software company’s tech support line.

Use the change to build unity. “Laugh at your mistakes and don’t take it too seriously.” Allebach said it’s okay to make some mistakes along the way, and embracing these mistakes instead of making it feel like a cutthroat environment makes employees more willing to embrace the technology happily.

Show your appreciation by actions. Hand out gift cards to people who have put in extra hours to work on this team. At The Greenskeeper, Allebach said they sometimes fill a cooler with some cold drinks or ice cream bars to show the guys they appreciated the efforts to make the change. “You want your place to be a place where they feel appreciated. You never want to take your employees for granted. After all, would you be where you are without them?”

You want to plan your changes very, very carefully. Overwhelming amount of possible technologies. You want to evaluate your company and ask, “What is going to be the best improvement to make?”