User Adoption: It's the Benefits, Stupid

Ann All
Slide Show

The State of Communications and Collaboration

Companies are still wrestling with how to get the most value out of their investments.

A recurring theme on this blog is how companies will surely and sorely regret underestimating the importance of people and processes in successful technology initiatives. It's the subtext of many of my posts.


Plenty of really smart people share this opinion. Writing on Social Shazza, Sharon Bellamy shares a tidbit from a recent presentation by collaboration expert Michael Sampson: Difficulties with technology represent just 10 percent of any kind of user adoption hurdle. The other 90 percent are due to poor project management, lack of collaboration and user engagement. Bellamy comes up with a kind of brilliant take on this: "Your users don't resist change - they resist being told they HAVE to change." (I'd love to see this on a plaque in the executive office suite.)


I totally agree with this. While a small fraction of users will resist change of any kind, just because they can, most folks welcome change that will make their jobs easier. If you can illustrate how technology changes will improve the lives of their employees, that gets you three-quarters of the way to user adoption. Providing adequate training in most cases will take you the rest of the way there.


I offered some tips on this last summer, sharing Prevoyance Group President Patrick Gray's opinion that companies should emphasize benefits to individual users if they want employees to actually use solutions and adapt to change. Unfortunately, wrote Gray in a TechRepublic column, traditional change management efforts "treat the community as a gelatinous mass, to be slowly coalesced and pushed in a single direction." Too often this approach results in unhappy users taking an adversarial position and resisting change, he pointed out. (And I've seen it myself.)


I found some more great advice on getting folks to use new technology in a CMS Wire piece authored by Susan Yee. While the article focuses specifically on Microsoft SharePoint, most of Yee's suggestions apply just as well to any technology initiative. I love the headline describing Yee's five-point plan: Vision, Resistance, Whining, Babysitting and Ultimate Success.


Echoing Gray, Yee says companies must identify some "inarguable" benefits that SharePoint offers users. Her example: "If we all do this the same way, then when you are on vacation, we won't have to call you, otherwise, we will bug you to death and you might as well be in the office." And a second and somewhat more altruistic one: "It costs $3 per person for every five minutes of fruitless searching. If we all follow the new rules, we can help our company be more competitive and successful."


Repetition of these benefits can be used to break down resistance, she suggests. While some IT pros tend to scoff at low-tech communications tools like posters, others have found they can be quite effective in reinforcing a message. In my post about an IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) initiative at Cook Children's Health System in Ft. Worth, Texas, I quoted Tina R. Jones, the service delivery manager for the system's IT department, who told me "good, old posters" helped get the ITIL message across, especially when "strategically placed" for maximum exposure in the break room, at the printer and in the bathroom.


In addition to coming up with strong user benefits and quashing any resistance by reminding folks of them often, Yee also recommends:

  • Calling out whining when it happens
  • Checking often to see if a solution is getting used and following up with folks to find out why when it isn't
  • Not giving up when adoption efforts seem to stall


A few months ago, I shared a scary statistic from a Forrester Research report: A whopping 70 percent of process initiatives fail because of poor business change management. Forrester analysts Connie Moore and Claire Schooley also found the biggest gotchas in business change management are failure to communicate up and down the organization throughout the duration of the initiative and tackling too much change at once. It's no coincidence that communication is the key to making Yee's advice work.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 25, 2011 2:53 PM Craig Willis Craig Willis  says:

I don't completely agree with the argument that the technology is only 10% of the issue and it's this sentence here that highlights this:

"Providing adequate training in most cases will take you the rest of the way there."

Usability plays a large part in adoption. Systems too often meet technical requirements but fall way short of being easy to use. And it's training that is expected to fill the gap. The harder it is to use the more training is provided and at some point users reach a limit to the amount of training they can take.

The problem is that route cause analysis is rarely performed on successful projects so important aspects that contributed to that success are missed. Plus people never complain about good usability, it's almost invisible, so it rarely gets recognized as important enough.

Then a successful project gets held up as a model and everyone says we'll do it that way next time. They see the more visible aspects such as an expensive training or communication initiative and focus on that.

All these things are important but usability is starting to become much more important than it has been traditionally. Especially since the rise of ubiquitous social networks and smart devices that are examples of easy to use systems that have become so familiar in our personal lives.


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