Harvard Business Review: Convincing Employees to Use New Technology
HBR Blog Network: All of our companies are digital now – or quickly becoming that way writes Didier Bonnet in his blog for the Harvard Business Review Blog Network. “Almost any enterprise you can think of, no matter the industry or sector, is trying (or being pressured by competitors) to use new technology to harness the vast new oceans of data being generated by smartphones, sensors, digital cameras, GPS devices, and myriad other sources of information originating from customers and markets.
Yet how many millions of dollars have been spent on analytics technology, but with no parallel improvements – or even any changes – to the way decisions are made within a business? How many companies have deployed internal wikis and social networks with great fanfare only to see slow take-up or a huge slow down after a few months? Even among digital natives, adoption of things like enterprise digital tools often doesn’t live up to lofty expectations. “We’ve spent an awful lot of money on technology, but I still see people working in the old way,” complained the CFO of a large hospitality company. The result is often widely deployed internal applications that no one actually uses effectively. Why does this happen?
When these platforms are introduced, organizations too often focus only on deployment, not adoption. It’s remarkable how commonplace it is for leaders to lose sight of the true ROI of their digital investments: collaboration among actively engaged users, smarter decision making, increased sharing of best practices and, over time, sustained behavior change.
There are three related problems. First, CIOs and technical leaders too often take a limited “tech-implementation” view and measure success on deployment metrics like live sites or licenses. They consider business adoption someone else’s job, but in fact no one is made accountable for it. Second, platform vendors often oversell the promise of instant change through digital technology. They make their money by selling products and software, rarely by getting them used at scale. And finally, the bottom line: user adoption programs cost money.
The real return on digital transformation comes from embedding new work practices into the processes, work flows, and ultimately the culture of organizations. But even in cases where the value of adoption is understood, cost containment often takes over. Faced with limited budgets, companies focus on the most tangible part first – deploying the technology. Adoption is left for later, and often “later” never comes.
This drives negativism that can spread through the organization. Business users don’t see the value and fail to engage in the new digital platforms. The platforms are themselves blamed for the failure. Cynicism sets in. Every additional digital investment gets negatively scrutinized and the whole digital transformation program slows down.
When the process works, the benefits become obvious. Sometimes adopting a new technology can even become an irreversible movement. “We have started a ‘digital movement’ that affects all aspects of our company and requires all of our people to be engaged in the program. We will only win together,” explained Pernod Ricard’s CEO Pierre Pringuet.
Business adoption of digital tools has to be led. So what do you need to do?
Do fewer things better. Despite the myriad opportunities that exist to invest time, effort, and dollars into making your business more digital, you can’t do them all. Focus on the initiatives that you believe, once adopted by the business, will create real value — and that you believe you can actually finish. Prioritize those initiatives by both the size of the business impact and relative ease of execution. Put a time limit on execution and allocate the resource level it will take to succeed in that timeframe. And clearly communicate the value of adoption to your employees.
Plan and budget for adoption from the start. Plan for what it will take to realize the benefits beyond the technology deployment efforts. Take into account the people, process and structural changes. Budget for the communication, training and organizational development required to succeed. And ensure that proper governance and metrics are in place to monitor progress.
Lead by example. You can influence the transition to new digital ways of working by modeling the change you want to see happen – and by encouraging your colleagues to do so. For instance, actively participating on digital platforms and experimenting with new ways of communicating, collaborating, and connecting with employees. It is the first important step to earning the right to engage your organization. Coca-Cola faced huge challenges when it deployed its internal social collaboration platform. Only when Coca-Cola’s senior executives became engaged on the platform did the community become active. As the implementation leader put it, “With executive engagement, you don’t have to mandate activity.”
Engage true believers. Drawing on influential employees in the front line is one of the most effective vehicles for promoting change in an organization. Identify your committed digital champions early – individuals who network well and can create horizontal influence to help implement behavior change across silos. Devise a program to nurture your digital champions, as they are key to transformation success and will most likely be your organization’s future digital leaders.
Engage your HR and Organizational Development people early. Encourage them to take a leadership role in the transformation. It will be essential for them to adapt management and HR processes to ensure the new practices get institutionalized – for instance, designing a new digital competency model or formalizing a reverse mentoring program. They also need to ensure that the metrics and goals that describe adoption success are monitored, as well as to provide regular analytics on progress.
Align rewards and recognition. Transformation goals and measures are inextricably linked. It’s natural that conflicts in your reward structures will occur as you get into the depth of your digital conversion, and this can slow down execution. Many retailers, for instance, have had to align their online and in-store sales incentives to avoid channel conflicts. Use all available reward structures to foster adoption, not just financial ones. And consider new forms of employee engagement, such as games, which can also yield positive results.
Remember, creating a digital organization is not just about implementing new technology. If you want to see true and lasting value from your technology investments, people need to change their mindsets and behaviors, and you need to lead that change.
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