From soccer balls to content strategy: the kick of change resistance

Alan Pringle / OpinionLeave a Comment

Your content strategy can learn a lot from soccer ball manufacturing plants in Sialkot, Pakistan.

The town produces 40 percent of the world’s soccer balls, and it’s now in fierce competition with other Asian companies eating away at Sialkot’s dominance in the soccer ball market.

soccer ball being kicked

Yes, a soccer post just before the World Cup (flickr: Michael Johnson)

When economists offered the plants technology to decrease the amount of wasted synthetic leather, they thought the plants would jump on the chance to adopt the innovation and save money.

Wrong!

 

“I told the owner that it’s not going to work,” says Mohammed Iqlal Urfnana, a worker at one of the soccer ball firms. He is a cutter, meaning he operates a die-press to cut out the hexagons and pentagons that are sewn together to make a soccer ball. Like many workers, Urfnana didn’t like the new die. “For us cutters, this means lower daily wages.”

That’s because Urfnana, like most cutters in Sialkot, is paid by the piece. Learning how to use the new die would slow him down, so he would make fewer pieces and therefore less money. While it was in the factory’s interest to save money by cutting the fake leather more efficiently, it was not in the worker’s interest.

Change resistance has a long, storied history of wrecking innovation in the workplace—whether it be in soccer ball manufacturing or in the creation and distribution of content. Workers become accustomed to The Way Things Are (TWTA), and talk of higher corporate profits isn’t an enticement for those doing the work to change TWTA.

In the case of the soccer balls plants, the economists offered a bonus for workers who learned about the new die. That incentive realigned the workers’ self-interest (money) with the company’s goals to reduce wasted leather. With the bonuses in place, about half of the plants implemented the new die system.

Despite the fact that money talks (and quite loudly), I’m not recommending paying content creators bonuses to learn about the tools and processes for a new content strategy. Staffers in tech comm, marketing, and support departments aren’t usually paid on a per-topic or per-paragraph basis, so that model doesn’t make sense.

However, there are other ways to gain support for new processes. Employees are often concerned about productivity loss when changing tools —reduced productivity usually means late nights at the office to meet deadlines. Simple gestures (ordering in food during those long workdays, for example) can make a huge difference in workers’ perceptions. It’s also unfair to hold employees accountable for hitting productivity benchmarks during process change, so give content creators time to adjust to new systems before calculating metrics and using them in performance evaluations.

Further mitigate change resistance by pinpointing and communicating the value of change for all the different groups affected by proposed process modifications. For example, if there is manual drudgery that everyone in a particular department hates, ensure the new process automates those tasks. Making unpleasant things go away is powerful force in gaining support. You should also offer training and establish strong communication channels for addressing inevitable pushback.

Forcing process change from the top just doesn’t work. You must align the company’s goals with workers’ self-interest. Otherwise, your strategy will end up in tatters—like scraps of synthetic leather swept from the floors of soccer ball factories.

 

About the Author

Alan Pringle

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Content strategy consulting. Publishing (electronic and print). Eating (preferably pastries and chocolate). COO at Scriptorium.

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