Bringing new technology and tools into your organization can increase productivity, boost sales, and help you make better, faster decisions. But getting every employee on board is often a challenge. What can you do to increase early and rapid adoption? How can you incentivize and reward employees who use it? And should you reprimand those who don’t?
What the Experts Say
According to a study by MIT Sloan Management Review and Capgemini Consulting, the vast majority of managers believe that “achieving digital transformation is critical” to their organizations. However, 63% said the pace of technological change in their workplaces is too slow, primarily due to a “lack of urgency” and poor communication about the strategic benefits of new tools. “Employees need to understand why [the new technology] is an improvement from what they had before,” says Didier Bonnet, coauthor of Leading Digital and Global Practice Leader at Capgemini Consulting, who worked on the research and coauthored the study. “The job of a manager is to help people cross the bridge — to get them comfortable with the technology, to get them using it, and to help them understand how it makes their lives better.”
Leaders should expect to face luddites, people who aren’t naturally tech-savvy, and naysayers whose knee-jerk reaction is to oppose new things. “There are always some people who have their routines, and they just don’t want to change,” says Michael C. Mankins, a partner in Bain & Company’s San Francisco office and the leader of the firm’s organization practice in the Americas. “That [attitude] persists as long as the organization permits it.” Here are some ideas for encouraging the adoption of a new technology.
Choose technology wisely
When you’re shopping around for a new technology — be it a customer relationship management (CRM) program or software to better manage employee timesheets — bear your team’s interests in mind. Functionality is critical, but so is user-friendliness. “If your goal is a high adoption rate within the organization, make sure you’re choosing the most approachable, most intuitive system possible,” says Mankins. Technologies that require multi-day training programs and hefty user manuals are a surefire recipe for employee bellyaching and a stalled adoption. Bonnet suggests running “comparative pilots” of various technologies to ensure you’re choosing the right one. “Encourage your team to do trials, get feedback from users, and learn from that before you take the jump,” he says.
State your case
Persuading your team to adopt a new technology requires putting forth a “compelling vision for what the technology is and what it’s going to do,” says Bonnet. First, you must demonstrate the new service offers “economic and rational benefits for the organization and the individual,” says Mankins. Perhaps it will help the company quantify its marketing efforts; maybe it will enable employees to track customer data more easily. Help employees understand what’s in it for them, he adds. Will it enable salespeople to meet their quotas faster — which gives them the opportunity to make more money? Or increase productivity in a way that reduces weekend work? The best argument for a new technology is “that it will make your life better,” Mankins explains.
Because “familiarity with and interest in digital technology varies widely” among employees, your training efforts should reflect those differences, says Bonnet. Some employees might prefer an online training session; others might need a bit more handholding and support in the form of a personal coach. “You don’t want to send people who are tech-savvy on a course because that’s a waste of time,” he says. “Instead, ask your team members what kind of training they’re most comfortable with.” During the instruction phase, it’s important that you “lead by example,” he adds. “Show that you are investing time in learning the new system. Show your humility and empathize with your team” about the challenges you’re all facing.
Get influencers onboard
In the early stages of the launch, focus on getting “a network of champions” fully invested in the new technology, so they can “coach others on how to use the tools to their benefit,” says Bonnet. This “group of evangelists” should “replicate the organization” and include your star performers. “Don’t just pick the geeks – those who are most interested in technology,” says Bonnet. “You want people who are able to work horizontally across the organization and who have good communication and networking skills.” “It’s most important not that early adopters adopt, but that influencers adopt,” Mankins emphasizes. “Getting those folks on board early is critical.”
Make it routine
As soon as reasonably possible, try to “institutionalize” the new technology and “show employees that you are transitioning from the old way of working to the new one,” says Bonnet. Make the technology “part of the routine of the way the place works,” adds Mankins. If, for instance, you’ve recently introduced a new sales-tracking technology, start asking for weekly updates on the numbers. Of course, employees could still use provide the information without using the new system, but it would be more cumbersome and time-consuming. The goal, says Mankins, is to “implicitly raise the cost of not using the new technology.”
Highlight quick wins
Once employees begin to use the technology more and more, draw attention to the positive impact it’s having on your organization. “Publicizing quick wins helps build a case for change” and encourages further adoption, says Mankins. Emphasize individual gains, too. “Say, ‘Ted uses this technology and he’s been able to retire his quota in 10 months rather than a year,’” says Mankins. Depending on the size and scale of the rollout, you might consider enlisting help in getting the word out about the early successes. “Leverage [your company’s] marketing department to communicate and disseminate that message.”
Make it fun
“Rewarding the behavior you want to see is much more effective than penalizing the behavior you don’t want to see,” says Mankins. You’ll need to know “which employees are adopting the technology and which kind of rewards means the most to them.” Is it compensation, perks, recognition, or the ability to innovate faster? Bonnet suggests experimenting with gamification to “make it fun and create a bit of buzz around the technology and motivate and engage people.” Employees might accumulate points, gain financial incentives, or achieve new levels of “status.”
If you’re still having a hard time getting your team on board, consider instituting penalties for non-use. “It depends on how damaging it is to the organization to have resistors,” says Bonnet. “At a certain point, [lack of adoption] becomes an issue of productivity and the bottom line.” Let’s say, for instance, members of your sales team are especially resistant to the new technology. Mankins suggests telling them that only data entered into the new system will count toward their quota.” He adds that, although penalties like these can be effective, they should be used as a last resort. “They’re a blunt instrument,” he explains, “and they reinforce the notion that the new technology is a hassle.”
Principles to Remember
- Win hearts and minds by emphasizing how the new technology benefits the organization and makes employees’ lives easier
- Encourage adoption by rewarding employees in ways that are most meaningful to them
- Build the new technology into the routines and rhythms of the workday as soon as possible
- Pick a technology that’s more complicated than it needs to be; for a swift adoption, select a system that’s approachable and intuitive
- Overlook the importance of getting your most influential employees on board early in the process; they will help you bring around others
- Leap to punish employees who don’t use the technology; penalties should be a last resort if incentives and rewards aren’t working
Case Study #1: Focus on communication and training
Jill Mizrachy, a senior director at Booz Allen Hamilton and a senior associate in learning development at the firm, acknowledges that it’s a challenge to introduce new technologies to employees. “Folks are more and more dispersed,” she says, “and we have younger people who’ve grown up with the internet as well as older team members who are less comfortable with new technology.”
When Booz Allen began rolling out its new cloud-based computer system (internally known as “The Zone”), Jill knew that high-quality communication and training would be critical.
She first enlisted the help of a colleague in communications to assist her with messaging. “We wanted to explain what’s changing, what’s in it for them, and we wanted to create a ‘cool factor,’” she explains. “The biggest questions we get from people are, ‘How does this affect me?’ and ‘How will it change the way I work?’”
Before the launch, Jill also ran early sessions with a variety of senior employees from different departments, and geographies. They became a “cadre of ambassadors,” who could help get other employees comfortable with the new technology.
During launch week, the group stood in the lobbies of their respective offices to greet employees and hand out pamphlets with links to the new system and tips on how to use it.
Employees were able to choose from a variety of training options, including regularly scheduled live demonstrations of the new system, online recordings of those live demonstrations and an interactive social media tool where they could pose questions to an expert in real time.
So far, employee adoption of The Zone is proceeding at a steady pace. “This is Phase One and there’s more to come,” Jill says. “There’s a lot of excitement about it.”
Case Study #2: Gamify adoption to make it fun and engaging
A few years ago, William Vanderbloemen, the founder and CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group — which specializes in executive recruitment for large and mid-sized churches — wanted to implement a new technology that would help his organization improve sales.
Bearing in mind his employees’ technological know-how, he researched his options then spent a few months test-driving them. He finally settled on Hubspot, the inbound marketing software that helps businesses generate sales leads through the creation of website content. “When I saw how intuitive it was and how seamlessly it interfaced with Salesforce [his firm’s CRM platform], I was sold,” he explains. “I wanted to sell others, too.”
His first priorities involved laying out “a vision for the future” and providing an explanation for how the new technology would improve the business. “I told [my team] that the days of cold calling and door-to-door salesmen were dead. I told them that there was a seismic shift happening in communication and marketing and that we had an opportunity to be on the front end,” he says.
With only five employees at the time, he decided against a formal training program. Instead, his team members learned how to use it by shadowing him. “They learned by osmosis,” he says. “I wanted to lead by example and show them that I was involved and that we were in this together.”
As the organization grew and began hiring more people who needed to use Hubspot, William instituted a contest to encourage fast adoption. The employee who generated the most internet traffic from a single piece of online content over a month-long period won two first-class airline tickets anywhere in the U.S. “It was a way to make it fun for people and also a way for us to unearth the folks we didn’t know were experts,” he says. “Now I have those people teaching others how to do it.”