The adoption of new technology within enterprises has historically been a challenge. It isn’t unique to the digital workplace or tools like enterprise collaboration systems. Successfully introducing more complexity or a new way of working into people’s lives will require some effort, regardless of the specific technology.
Organizations make a mistake when they see the way users adopt consumer tools and think that by dropping in social enterprise tools the company will have an enterprise version of Facebook and mass adoption will ensue. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Even if you have the best set of tools on the market and the best strategy to make them fit your organization’s exact needs, you can’t ignore the change management issues.
Successful change management and good user adoption of a new system starts with realizing that there’s a process for change management, and that approaching it in a mindful and intentional way can improve results. The first step is putting the technical implementation in the proper business context, tied to a strategy and infused with the proper sense of urgency. Without this users will not know why they should care.
The first question users will have during any kind of transition is what they get out of it. In order to address this, try to build a case for the tool or system from the beginning of the implementation process. These means involving some group of users from the start to build a coalition and tweak the solution to more exactly meet their needs. This often takes the form of a pilot program, where the new tool is rolled out first to a specific division or group. It’s a good test bed, and has the added bonus of creating a group of users who appreciate the tool and know how to use it effectively. They’ll act as champions and guides for the tool when it is provided to a wider audience. At the same time, don’t overdo it. A pilot program shouldn’t take a year, and testing that drags on and creates project bloat is a symptom of poor change management.
User adoption will be best when a tool solves a specific need. Define a user experience and use case, such as building an extranet to collaborate with clients. There’s an easily identifiable issue: lackluster communication with clients. The upside of solving it is pretty clear — improving communication with customers will improve customer satisfaction. So put the tool in place for a specific client or project and establish some metrics for success, such as response times. If the project works, use those metrics to demonstrate the value of the tool to a broader group of users, rather than just assuring them that the tool has value.
Try to make the new tool as frictionless as possible. For example, for a SharePoint solution consider the process of implementing a formalized information design that incorporates taxonomy and metadata. People who were comfortable with their folders now have to tag documents, and tagging documents can feel tedious. But user adoption is vital — if users aren’t tagging and storing documents appropriately then findability will suffer along with usability. Although there are no strict rules, it’s best to stick to requiring users to fill out no more than three to five metadata fields for any given document. Automatic classification tools that suggest metadata based on a scan of documents can ease some of this burden on users, and also provide some of the consistency necessary for great findability.
Taking a company’s culture into account is also a good idea when crafting a change management strategy. Many technical solutions require having a process in place and the discipline to adhere to it. If an organization doesn’t have much maturity around project management, injecting a great task management tool into that environment isn’t likely to make much impact. It’s not necessary for every user to be at a high level of maturity for these tools to work, but it’s important to understand whether the organization and its culture are ready.
One of the biggest challenges is creating a sense of urgency for an internal initiative or technology implementation. To get employees on board, they need to understand why a certain initiative is being undertaken. Too often, changes are thrust upon them without a business case that establishes the overall context, leading employees to push back and resist the change.
Another problem is not building user feedback into the change management process. Without feedback mechanisms in place, companies don’t gain a good understanding of how changes are being received and pass over issues that end up adversely affecting user adoption later on.
Most companies look at change management as a training issue: They have a new solution and need to make sure people know how to use it. Execution is obviously important; some communication, effort and materials should be more solution-focused, so that employees understand why they are using the solution in a certain way.
From the beginning of project brainstorming to completion, it’s important to figure out how to engage users, and keep representative users involved going forward. User involvement, feedback mechanisms, piloting, testing and learning before you roll out to the whole organization are all good ways to help companies achieve their goals.
Whether you’re rolling out a corporate intranet or a whole new CRM system, the same change management principles are going to apply across the board. Instead of developing a different approach for each project, it makes sense to be consistent and reuse the methods that work.
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