Chasing hankos: How to handle those who struggle to accept change


Typically objections to new know-how are rooted in a human drawback reasonably than a technical one. Discover the foundation of the problem, and deal with with care.

Picture: iStock/TokioMarineLife

Transferring previous a paper-based society appears simple in our more and more fashionable world. However in Japan, paper continues to be the medium of alternative.

A current Wall Road Journal article described the search of Taro Kono, Japan’s newly appointed minister of “administrative reform,” in eliminating the dependency on paper in any respect ranges of Japanese authorities. Intriguingly, the fondness for paper apparently exists in any respect ranges of Japanese society, and manifests itself in a rustic perceived as extremely technologically superior, having among the globe’s largest customers of that blast from the technological previous: The fax machine. 

Apparently a significant driver of the love of all issues paper is the hanko, a round wood or plastic stick to an engraved image carved into the top. To render a transaction official, whether or not that transaction is a enterprise contract or a wedding certificates, the taking part events should affix their respective hankos.

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Even to an outsider to Japanese tradition, there is a sure romance to imprinting a seal on a doc reasonably than mashing the “signal right here” button in a DocuSign on-line contract, and in line with a small enterprise proprietor interviewed within the article, paper offers the last word type of crude workflow administration: If the stack of paper is massive, there’s a lot of work to do. The negatives to a paper-based society are apparent, and whereas a 2,000-year-old custom appears a bit amusing, when coping with contracts or interacting with numerous governments, paper and bodily objects nonetheless are much more the rule reasonably than the exception.

Discovering the non-public hanko

For a lot of IT leaders, tales like this resonate, and maybe even have direct parallels to efforts to streamline or take away paper-based processes. Even when your newest change efforts focus extra on synthetic intelligence (AI) than fax machines, someplace within the course of there’s possible a metaphorical hanko: An extended-standing and romanticized exercise that is extra of a human drawback than a technical one. People are a humorous species in that we frequently contemplate ourselves rational actors who will coldly and impartially consider a set of decisions, calculate and assign advantages and downsides to every alternative, after which choose the choice with the very best profit and lowest disadvantage. Many years of financial principle are constructed round this “rational financial actor” principle that possible could not be farther from the reality.

Anybody who’s carried out a brand new system or course of, or requested his or her colleagues to undertake some behavioral change that had a transparent economically helpful final result, has seen that the “rational financial actor” shortly turns right into a self-centered, unpredictable, and wholly irrational pressure of nature. Typically, this irrational habits is concentrated on a metaphorical hanko, whether or not it is technological, ritualistic or behavioral, or a perceived problem in abandoning the outdated methods.

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As technologists it is tempting to attempt to attraction to our imaginary rational financial actor reasonably than doing the usually tough job of discovering the hanko that is likely to be hiding behind an excuse, or a observe of legacy know-how that customers appear to be unreasonably keen on, just like the fax machine in Japan. Every time somebody makes use of a phrase like “We have all the time completed it that means,” or, “This can be a change administration drawback,” then you definately’re possible getting near your hanko.

Simply because the Japanese hanko has an emotional element, so, too, may the hankos that you just come throughout when attempting to drive change in your group. Whereas it appears superficially foolish that folks in your group may really feel an emotional attachment to a bit of software program or {hardware}, contemplate for a second that maybe they invested months or years of their lives implementing that software, or efficiently main the challenge that turned on a brand new piece of {hardware} was the deciding think about a long-desired promotion. If somebody constructed a profession sustaining a COBOL system, asking them to change to a extra fashionable structure, which makes all of the sense on the planet from a rational technical perspective, might be akin to asking them to desert an outdated pal and require simply as a lot care and emotional help.

Subsequent time you discover sudden resistance or seemingly irrational objections to a change initiative you are contemplating or operating, begin to search for the hanko. It might be hiding out of sight, or maybe a deeper rationalization behind a seemingly apparent one. Simply as eliminating fax machines may look like a purely technical drawback when you’re a Japanese minister accountable for streamlining authorities, so, too, may upgrading techniques or switching to a vastly superior software. Nonetheless, once you understand fax machines have been instruments to generate paper, to facilitate a 2,000-year-old course of that represents a sacred settlement between events in one thing as private as a wedding, the magnitude of the problem turns into clear. So, too, should you determine the proverbial hanko to understand the challenges you is likely to be going through in an in any other case easy know-how challenge.

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