Adoption of technology: Don’t whiff on this

Adoption of technology

One of the biggest shifts in work in the past 20 years has been the need for some plan around adoption of technology. Time was that IT were the weird dudes in the corner you only talked to about resetting passwords and whatnot. Now IT drives a lot of business, and there are so, so many vocabulary issues around that, I could write a book. IT tends to think in terms of “sprints” and “scrums” and “stand-ups” and “backlogs” and “bugs,” and most other departments don’t use these words — but when they have an issue, they need to know what these words mean or that issue ain’t getting fixed.

That was a bit of a tangent, because what I want to discuss is adoption of technology and how to do it effectively. First, a quick story. Last place I worked wanted to shift over to Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Nothing wrong with that; ’tis a good product. They also wanted to have the discussions about shifting over at the highest levels. Again, nothing specifically wrong with that — the highest levels need to approve big spends. (That’s a good chunk of what they do, in fact.) Dynamics gets bought. If you are familiar with how all this works, it means you gotta take Yammer too. Yammer is owned by Microsoft nowadays.

So we start getting emails about Yammer. The first one says it’s “Facebook for work.” (It’s not.) The second one says “It’s a thing you should use to share updates between teams.” (OK.) The third one complains that not enough people are using Yammer. Next we get an email with a link to a survey about how we feel about Yammer. Finally someone in the middle says semi-reliably that we don’t need to worry about this thing. Just use Dynamics.

The email thread took about two weeks. Eventually Yammer was a wasteland of some vacation photos (odd) and some client high-fives (OK). It was never used for anything remotely business-facing, even though it could have been. I used to share updates on there and get classified as “the Yammer guy.” (In hindsight, there are much worse things I could have been called.)

Did not using Yammer cause revenue erosion? Good Lord no. So in the grand scheme, to those executives, it doesn’t matter in the least that their adoption of technology was a total farce and a whiff. They cared about Dynamics, and people were using that — although, about nine months later, the CEO ended up unhappy with that and wanted to pivot. (These are fickle times we live in.)

But if you whiff on adoption of technology enough, you’ve got issues for yourself. And they can get costly.

A nice quote on adoption of technology

This comes from an article called “How To (Finally) Solve Your Team’s Most Annoying Tech Problems,” which seems like a noble goal. For the abject scale of tech — how many people in offices are using it — it always amazes me how bad so many people are at it, from stuff like MS Word to way more complicated things. Here’s a good quote:

While there may be many tools that each department can manage for their direct use, there will always be systems that everyone in the organization needs to access and use. And many of those systems are only as good as their level of adoption. In my organization’s research on how nonprofits use technology, for example, staff consistently say that they have the tools they need but don’t know how to use them to be most effective.

The money line in there is “many of those systems are only as good as their level of adoption.” Indeed.

The psychology of all this

The No. 1 skill of a new tech rollout in your company isn’t the quality of the product, IMHO. (Plus, you don’t control that; the maker of the product would control that.) The No. 1 skill, rather, is how you communicate what the goals are — and how you manage the gap between “your idea on how this would be used” and “how people are actually using it.”

Remember: change is hard. At work, it’s much, much harder. Why? People have set beliefs, set ways of working, and any change can signal that some bigger, more ominous change is coming. Honestly, when you install a very powerful CRM, that often does make middle managers less relevant. Now the execs can see “their numbers” in an app on the line at Starbucks. Who needs Mikey Middle Man anymore? Mikey might be out to pasture. That’s terrifying for Mikey, and it’s even more terrifying if no one really communicated with him about the adoption of technology here.

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With work, we often ignore psychology in favor of “seemingly logical process.” Usually it’s folly.

How could we get better at adoption of technology?

From that same article linked above:

Invite staff into the whole process. Regardless of their team affiliation or experience, a diverse group of employees from across your organization can often evaluate your current systems and choose new ones more effectively than a room full of IT managers. This way your decisions about technology actually reflect realities of the organization—and the needs of the people who’ll use it. By the time the tool is rolled out, you’ll already have a team of advocates ready to champion it and show others the ropes.

This is almost painful in how logical it is. Unfortunately, most companies would never be able to follow it. Why? It’s important to a lot of executives to “own” things at their level, hence withholding info down a chain. Usually the reason tech rollouts flop in a company is because the people who actually use the stuff all day — which executives do not — weren’t consulted about how this thing might impact their workflow. In short: no communication, and negative empathy. That usually leads to adoption of technology being a flippin’ train wreck.

The notion of throwing technology at problems

A lot of companies do this. We tend to deify tech as “saving” us or making us more productive. In reality, this doesn’t always work. One good example would be “ideation software.” It usually fails to get good ideas from people, and it routes them to managers who have no idea what a good idea is anyway. Another example is “employee engagement software.” You solve people issues, i.e. people hating their jobs/bosses, by dealing with people. When you try to solve those issues in some web portal, it usually creates more detachment. Detachment is the antonym of “engagement,” so … not sure who thought this one through, right? Sometimes you need to solve a people issue by working with people.

Technology isn’t always our friend, and it’s definitely not our friend when we handle the adoption of technology all wrong. Your take?

Ted Bauer