The Secret to Successfully Integrating New Technology: Change Management

How a tool for helping individuals deal with the five stages of grief can be used by leaders to facilitate their teams’ acceptance and adoption of new technology.


The practice of dentistry looks completely different today than it did 20 years ago thanks to advancements in technology. While technology is meant (at least in theory) to make our lives simpler, easier, and more effective, we all know how daunting and challenging it can be to get our team members excited about new technology, and even harder to change their workflows and gain necessary adoption to see the return on investment.

The companies that sell us the technology, software and fancy toys are always trying to assure us that onboarding is simple and easy: “Training and adoption are not a problem,” they’ll say. “You will be up and running in no time and will see a massive return on the investment. It’s going to be great, your team will love it.”

The reality is, implementation of any type of new technology or software often takes ten times longer and is ten times harder than any salesperson- son will admit. I’m not blaming sales professionals, they just don’t live in the complexity of the day-to-day dental environment, and can’t truly see all of the hurdles we might face when it comes to getting new tech to agree with existing tech, technical (or lack of) expertise in our existing team, availability from our team to work with the vendor partner, and the greatest obstacle of all – the willingness and readiness of our team to embrace change.

Since this issue of DEO Magazine is all about tech, I thought it would be pertinent to discuss the most important part of selecting and implementing technology in your business – managing change.

Organizations frequently find themselves at the crossroads of change, often driven by the adoption of new technologies. Navi- gating these transitions successfully requires not only a robust implementation strategy but also a deep understanding of the human aspect of change. The Kubler-Ross Change Curve, originally developed to describe the stages of grief, has been adapted to explain how individuals and teams react to change in various contexts, including the introduction of new technology. In this article, we explore how leaders can leverage the Kubler-Ross Change Curve to facilitate teams’ acceptance and adoption of new technology.

Understanding the Kubler-Ross Change Curve

The Kubler-Ross Change Curve encompasses five stages that individuals typically progress through when confronted with change: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These stages are not necessarily linear; individuals may move back and forth between them as they come to terms with the change. When applied to technology adoption, these stages provide insights into the emotional responses that teams may exhibit, and how leaders can address them effectively.

Denial – Acknowledging the Status Quo
In the Denial stage, individuals and teams may resist the idea of adopting new technology, clinging to familiarity and the comfort of existing processes. To help teams overcome this initial resistance, leaders should communicate the rationale behind the change, emphasizing the benefits it brings to both individual members and the organization as a whole. Open and transparent communication about the necessity of the technology shift can dispel doubts and encourage an open-minded approach.

Anger – Expressing Frustration
As teams move from Denial to Anger, they might exhibit resistance and frustration, feeling overwhelmed by the challenges associated with learning and adapting to new technology.

Bargaining – Seeking Middle Ground
The Bargaining stage involves an attempt to find a compromise between the past and the present. Team members might try to negotiate for the use of old processes alongside the new technology.

Depression – Confronting Realities
During the Depression stage, teams may experience a dip in morale as they grapple with the challenges of adapting to the new technology.

Acceptance – Embracing the Change
The final stage, Acceptance, marks the point where teams come to terms with the new technology and begin to see its value.

There are a few things to keep in mind regarding the change curve. First, this is a natural process that human beings experience when change is required of them. Don’t feel frustrated or angry at your team. Believe it or not, they are not trying to push your buttons or poke holes in your plans. This is a natural pro- cess that everyone feels to different depths and duration. Give the team space and be patient.

Second, as a leader or a decision maker, you have likely already processed the change and are in the acceptance phase before the team even knows the decision or change is coming.

Third, the number of changes required at any given time will compound on the team. It’s one thing to change the practice management software; it’s a lot harder if you are changing the PMS, adding a new phone service, implementing clinical AI, or training on a new process. Leaders have the responsibility to appropriately assess and determine how much change a team can take.

Finally, we are all hard-wired differently and have various levels of tolerance and love (or hate) for change. You may have a doctor/owner who is an entrepreneur that is comfortable with risk and is constantly finding new ways to innovate. The dental team is primarily composed of individuals who find security in consistency and sameness. You need to understand the makeup of the team to know how to appropriately support them.

Successful strategies

Overcoming the challenges associated with the stages of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve requires a thoughtful and proactive approach. Here are some strategies that leaders can implement to guide teams through each stage:

Denial – Acknowledging the Status Quo

Clear Communication: Pro- vide clear and comprehensive information about the reasons for the technology change. Explain how it aligns with the organization’s goals and how it will benefit both individuals and the team as a whole.

Visualize the Future: Paint a vivid picture of what the future will look like with the new technology in place. Show- casing success stories from other teams or organizations that have successfully adopted similar technologies can help in dispelling doubts.

Inclusive Decision-Making: Involve team members in the decision-making process. Allow them to provide input and share their concerns. This fosters a sense of ownership and empowers them to be a part of the change.

Anger – Expressing Frustration

Active Listening: Provide a safe space for team members to express their frustrations. Listen actively and be empathetic to their concerns without dismissing them. Acknowledge their feelings and validate their emotions.

Address Concerns: Address specific concerns head-on. Pro- vide explanations and solutions for challenges they are facing, and demonstrate a willingness to address any gaps in support or resources.

Training and Support: Offer comprehensive training sessions and resources to help team mem- bers build confidence in using the new technology. Provide access to tutorials, workshops, and expert assistance to alleviate feelings of frustration stemming from lack of knowledge.

Bargaining – Seeking Middle Ground

Open Dialogue: Encourage open discussions about the advantages and limitations of blending old processes with the new technol- ogy. Facilitate conversations that explore potential synergies while also highlighting the potential drawbacks of such an approach.

Highlight Efficiency Gains: Show- case how fully embracing the new technology can lead to greater effi- ciency, reduced errors, and improved outcomes compared to using a hybrid approach. Highlight the benefits of a streamlined workflow.

Negotiate Gradual Transition: While advocating for complete adoption, offer a gradual tran- sition plan that allows teams to ease into using the new tech- nology. This can help reduce the sense of disruption and facilitate a smoother adjustment.

Depression – Confronting Realities

Celebrate Progress: Acknowledge and celebrate small wins achieved through the use of the new technology. Recognize indi- vidual and team achievements, and highlight how their efforts are contributing to the larger picture.

Provide Emotional Support: Offer emotional support to team members who may be feeling overwhelmed or demotivated. Share stories of overcoming challenges and emphasize that the learning curve is a natural part of the process.

Continuous Learning: Emphasize the importance of continuous learning and growth. Offer opportunities for skill develop- ment and improvement, such as advanced training sessions or mentorship programs.

Acceptance – Embracing Change

Showcase Success: Continue to share success stories and exam- ples of positive outcomes result- ing from the new technology. These stories can inspire others and reinforce the benefits of embracing change.

Create Champions: Identify and highlight individuals who have fully embraced the new tech- nology and are experiencing its benefits. These “champions” can serve as role models and mentors for others.

Feedback and Improvement: Maintain an open feedback loop. Encourage team members to pro- vide feedback on the technology’s functionality and user experi- ence. Act on their suggestions to demonstrate that the organiza- tion values their input.

Change is an inevitable part of technological advancement, and successfully integrating new technology into a dental organization requires addressing not just logistical challenges but also the emotional responses of the teams involved. By recognizing and addressing the stages of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, leaders can create a supportive environment that enables teams to navigate through resistance, frustration, and uncertainty, ultimately reaching a state of acceptance and enthusiasm for the new technology. This holistic approach to change management sets the stage for a smoother transition, improved adoption rates, and enhanced over- all organizational resilience in the face of technological innovation.