When it comes to getting people to adopt new technology, show, don’t tell

By Richard Castle, Commtractor, strategic communications and change consultant who helps leaders and teams get the most out of their communications to make effective change, improve business performance and drive cultural change.

“They don’t seem to be as excited about the service…as we would like,” began an email that summarised the results of a feedback survey of pilot users for a new digital workplace solutions that wrapped up Office 365, clouds services and legacy applications into one secure and seamless service.

The comment was an honest assessment but one that raised eyebrows throughout the project team. When had we agreed that excitement was a deliverable? Hadn’t we agreed there were other, more important states of mind to aim for, like awareness, confidence, and readiness to engage with the coming changes to workplace tools and applications?

When you are introducing a new desktop ecosystem such as Microsoft Office 365, Google G Suite or one of the new unified end point management systems from the likes of VMware, IBM and Citrix, it’s perhaps understandable to be awed by the genuine game-changing potential these integrated tools. You can genuinely connect disparate teams, cut down the email trails, host and distribute video content with ease. Only don’t tell people to get excited or even imply that they should be excited.  Try and resist the temptation to leave a scented candle under everyone’s chair to announce the introduction of a new Yammer tenancy.

So what is the answer? Show them how life can be easier

Show them how they can achieve their individual and team goals by making the best use of the new tools available to them.

When it comes to technology, cynicism abounds. Gen Xers and Baby Boomers have heard it all before, and can still see no difference between Office 2016 and Office 1916, apart from better slide animation in PowerPoint. And Millennials and Gen Yers and Zers just expect the latest and greatest systems to be available in the workplace anyway, otherwise they will go elsewhere or won’t even accept your job offer. How many people have you come across who said, “Yeah, we introduced SharePoint, but it died.”

Problems begin when you prioritise technology over people

Networking and telecoms giant Cisco Systems maintains that before you do any major technological transformation, you must do your people-related change management first. A lot of Cisco’s new networking infrastructure is software defined and easier to maintain and manage. The brutal reality is, their systems often require a lot less people to support them, and are built to take advantage of labour-saving automation. You can do more with less people and you have the potential to significantly simplify processes and procedures. Cisco’s advice is spot on but how many organisations take the more straightforward option of rolling out the technology first and then working out how it affects their business?

Connect the dots between technology benefits and team performance

If you tell a manager that Yammer or Teams is going to improve internal communications and collaboration, it’s not uncommon to get a response along the lines of, “I don’t do Facebook and I certainly don’t want it for work”.  Bless.

But, ask the same manager what their team’s goals are for the coming year, the improvements to work practise they want to make, and the pain points they want to overcome, and then show how one or a combination of new tools and apps could help achieve half of goals, then you begin a useful conversation.

Continue this conversation throughout an organisation and you begin to build a picture of how people and teams can improve their efficiency and performance with technology, even before a pilot group is up and running.

By putting people first and showing them how technology can support their needs, you get three outputs: a degree of interest and enthusiasm to trial this new technology; a set of requirements that should inform your governance model; and a heat map of training requirements for individuals and their teams.

Establish good governance and clear expectations

Opinion is somewhat divided about the quality of Microsoft guidance about setting up Office 365. It seems like it changes with every service patch release – harsh I know but fair. But one thing Microsoft is clear on, and this is good advice, is sort out your governance model before you train your teams. Be clear on what people can and can’t do, who will have access and so forth.  Keep is strict but keep it simple.

Microsoft says that to build a flourishing Yammer community quickly, don’t restrict how people set up groups in Yammer, don’t make group formation subject to approval or restrict the use of private groups. For some organisations that would seem common sense while others might balk at such a laissez fair approach.  Be clear about what people want to do and give them the freedom to act accordingly.

Showing people how they can use these tools is not about training. The showing part, done correctly, will guide you on how people and teams should be trained. Let’s be honest, no one has the budget to properly train people in all aspects of Office 365. And if you have that kind of money the opportunity cost is quite high as well.

Obtaining return on investment means investing in change adoption solutions

You can only hope to realise your investment in these new ecosystems if you fully understand upfront the real drivers for change and improvement among teams and then help them utilise these new tools. It’s certainly more work than just running pilot group, appointing champions, and putting people in training. It’s showing people you care about what they are trying to achieve and helping them adapt their practices through new technology to achieve those goals.

Now that could be exciting.

Summary points

  • Do your people and change management first
  • Work with teams to understand their business drivers and show them how new technology can make the biggest impact of team performance. Then use your findings to:
  1. Inform your governance model
  2. Develop an adoption strategy for teams, and
  3. Develop of tailored and cost-effective training schedule.

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