Even if you haven’t been watching the 2014 World Cup, you might have heard discussions about goal-line technology, disappearing aerosol spray and other recent changes to the world’s largest sporting event. These changes faced years of opposition before being implemented, mainly because soccer’s governing body, FIFA, can be incredibly averse to technology.

This stubbornness might sound familiar to anyone who’s tried to implement new technology in a business or organization. If you’re facing similar challenges with a change management initiative, here are five lessons from the World Cup you should keep in mind.

1. Test your tech with small pilot projects

This World Cup, referees are allowed to spray a line on the field that keeps players at the proper distance from the ball during free kicks. Though new to the World Cup, this low-tech invention has been used in various soccer tournaments and leagues since 2011. In that time, it has gained the support of referees all across the globe and, crucially, the approval of FIFA.

World Cup vanishing spray

Testing the aerosol spray in smaller scenarios resulted in large-scale change. Even if your goal is to implement technology across your entire organization, sometimes it’s better to start with a scaled down approach.

2. Make technology as user friendly as possible

The aerosol spray mentioned above has been successful because it is a simple solution to a common problem. The same concern could have been addressed a multitude of ways, but ultimately the winning idea needed to be easy for referees to use.

Goal-line technology has also been relatively frictionless for referees. When a goal is scored, several high speed cameras confirm the goal and send an alert to the referee’s watch within one second (this is necessary because the ball must cross the line completely to be considered a goal, which can be difficult to ascertain).

For some time, FIFA considered adding extra referees behind the goal to solve this problem, but this would still have resulted in disagreements and controversy. The new goal-line technology has shown to be foolproof and fail-proof—a worthy result for any new technology.

3. Recognize that technology is not the issue—it’s change

Soccer purists have long resisted adding technology to the sport for three main reasons:

  • Technology will ruin the purity and tradition of the game.
  • Technology will disrupt the continuous flow of the game.
  • Technology will undermine the authority of the referees.

In every instance, technology is a scapegoat—the perceived threat is actually change. For example, FIFA still does not allow video replay to review questionable calls (even though nearly every other professional sport does). This is the same organization that, 110 years after its establishment, just allowed the first ever water break during a World Cup. Change, whether it involves technology or basic hydration, meets stubborn opposition from FIFA.

Arjen Robben takes a water break

This water break is brought to you by Powerade. (AP photo)

Oddly enough, the reasoning of soccer purists feels very similar to what you might hear in the business world:

  • Technology will change the way we’ve always done things.
  • Technology will disrupt productivity when everyone has to be trained on a new system/procedure.
  • Technology will make human workers less valuable and maybe even take their jobs away.

When implementing change, make sure your first priority is addressing the concerns of your colleagues, not the technical requirements of the project. Without the support of your colleagues, projects find little traction.

4. Harness the power of pain points

Between the 2010 World Cup and the 2014 World Cup, goal-line technology became a major focus for FIFA. The explanation lies in a 2010 World Cup match between England and Germany, when an English goal was wrongfully disallowed by the referee. The game ended in Germany’s favor and England fans were devastated. FIFA did not consider goal-line technology in international competition until this incident.

Nothing shakes apathy like an extreme circumstance. A pain point that resonates with your organization can fuel successful change management and get your project the support it needs to move forward.

5. Communicate short- and long-term benefits

Shockingly, FIFA Chief Sepp Blatter has suggested during this World Cup that managers might one day be able to challenge referee calls. This would represent an immediate change to soccer if implemented, but it could also shift public sentiment toward the game over time. With rule-breaking players under more scrutiny, the integrity and reputation of soccer could improve.

Be clear about both the short-term and long-term effects of your technology project by calculating qualitative and quantitative ROI over multiple time periods. It’s also helpful to strategically pair the benefits with the audience. End users might care more about the short-term impact of new technology while C-level decision makers will want to understand how it contributes to the organization over the long run.

Got any opinions about the World Cup or change management? Think I’m completely bonkers about technology in soccer? Post a comment below.

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