my world of work and user experiences

February 28, 2014

Build it and they will come? Not if they do not adopt it

Filed under: Adoption,Digital Workplace,Governance — Tags: — frederique @ 22:24

Even if you have built a brilliant intranet or digital workplace, the people will not come and use it if they do not know about it, if they do not understand it, or if they do not feel that it is for them. They are all busy doing their jobs and do not want to be bothered by change, especially when they feel it is being forced on them as the latest fad from the IT department.

In a previous blog post I discussed five questions you need to address to get a Sharepoint environment that meets the users’ needs and can be really useful. In this article I focus on the other aspect: given a great tool, what can you do to get people to actually use it? You can start small with low hanging fruit, embed it in your organization and get leadership on board, communicate, involve the employees and find champions, and arrange for support like training and help where needed.

But before I go into details, let me first emphasize that you cannot simply force employees to adopt your system by making it mandatory without making it palatable. If your system does not meet their needs and they don’t feel comfortable with it, they will just find tools elsewhere (like dropbox when they don’t like your SharePoint). Or at some point quit and find an employer that does provide them with a workplace they like…

1. Start small, with low hanging fruit

You don’t have to launch everything that SharePoint has to offer to everybody all at once. People will just feel overwhelmed by all the options thrown at them. Concentrating on what’s in it for the employees:

  • Focus on simple functionality that can help a lot of people. For example, sharing documents and collaborating on them in a team site instead of e-mailing them back and forth and getting lost in the different versions.
  • Focus on eager users who can really benefit and may even be asking for a tool to help them, for example, to share documents with partners or process requests via a simple workflow. When a small team has used the new tool successfully to achieve their goals, you can show that to the others, their enthusiasm can spread and get the vibe going.
  • Focus on key content that many users need or find interesting. For example, HR information and today’s cafeteria menu (in many organization quite popular…). Make sure that content is in place when you go live and make sure that it is maintained afterwards.

2. Embed in the organization: get leadership on board

If the organization’s leadership is not on board, you firstly may run into trouble over funding. And secondly, employees may sit on the fence and wait it out.

This is especially true for the more social aspects of your environment, like discussion groups: some employees hesitate to share their ideas and give feedback in a public forum if they fear that management will disapprove. They need to know their manager will respond with kudos instead of complaints when they write up their discoveries in a blog post on the intranet.

When senior management participates enthusiastically and visibly, especially when they respond constructively to ideas and warnings, the employees will be more likely to stick out their necks and participate too.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

If the employees don’t know it’s there, they won’t come and take advantage of the brilliant digital workplace you’ve built. So tell them what you are going to build, what you are building and what you have built, what so cool about it and especially: what’s in it for them. This is not about the technology (although that may be of interest to some technical groups or technical organizations), but about the solutions that will make their jobs easier.

Make a communication plan and determine:

  • What you should communicate to which groups of people. For example, the basic benefits to all employees, productivity gain to managers, ease of site management to site owners.
  • Which channels to use for what: formal news articles on the homepage of your intranet, video, a series of informal blog posts, e-mail to people with special roles like site owners about the changes that will impact them, a few (very few!) e-mails to all employees about what they can expect (linking to intranet articles for more details), paper leaflets and quick reference cards explaining the steps they have to take, posters on the walls showing the benefits, …
  • What you should communicate when. For example, in the beginning tell about the results of the benchmark survey you did on the old environment, before launch explain what they can expect, after launch tell success stories of benefits gained by specific teams and share tips and best practices.

4. Involve the employees and find champions

Communication should not just be you broadcasting your information towards a silent crowd of employees. You also want to hear from them. You will need the input and feedback of the users to get an environment that really meets their needs. And you should make it clear that you are involving the employees, so that they don’t feel like you are trying to force your tool down their throats.

Tools that can help involve the employees include:

  • Serious surveys and quick polls
  • Focus groups
  • Social options in your existing intranet, like comment fields, discussion lists, yammer groups.
  • Just talking to them at the water cooler, coffee machine, or whatever you have…

When you are involving the employees, try to find and engage “champions”: people who can stimulate and help their colleagues to take full advantage to the new tools. These champions do not have to be the management sponsors or “officials” like the HR person or IT person for that part of the organization. It can be anybody who is enthusiastic and savvy about the new tools and willing to share.

So when a user is asking you smart questions about the new intranet, or often contributing to a discussion forum or blog, or contacting you about a team site that they manage and want to improve, or referring others to you for a specific solution, pay attention. These people are very valuable to you as representatives of and pioneers for their community.

5. Arrange for support: training and help where needed

The users may need help to understand the new tools and how to use them to their full potential. Usually, you hope your environment is so user-friendly that innocent end-users do not need training in order to use the basics. But, you’ll still want to arrange for:

  • Training for site owners and other people who need to play a more complex role.
    For instance, site owners who are expected to manage their sites and configure them to meet their users’ needs will probably need some training: how to create and modify lists and views, how to add elements to the homepage of their site, how to give people the right permissions to the right elements.
    Organize classroom training sessions at locations that can be reached, live online training sessions for people who cannot come to such a location, and recordings or other self-paced e-learning materials for people to follow at a later time.
  • A forum where users can share knowledge about the new tool
    For instance, site owners can ask questions and share tips in a Yammer group or community site.
  • Help content for all users, with a ‘Getting started’ page that offers a quick overview of the most interesting functionality and short cuts to, for example, my profile where I can upload my picture and enter my details. For users who want to know more, provide detailed help content.
  • Demo sites with some demo content that show a team site, a project site or a community site, where users can click around to see what such sites could look like
  • Playground sites where everybody can contribute, to see how it works.
  • Intranet team or at least an intranet guy/gel who the users can contact if the need assistance. Guide them to the best solution for the needs of their team, help them fix their site when it is broken, and simply hold their hand until they feel comfortable enough to take charge.


So there are things you can do to help your users adopt the new tools and take advantage of them in their daily work.

  • Don’t wait until you have built everything and then start thinking about adoption. Involve your leadership and your users from the beginning, think about the low hanging fruit so that you are sure that works perfectly, train content owners at an early stage so that the key content is in place before you launch.
  • And then again, don’t stop after you have launched your intranet or digital workplace. Adoption is part of your ongoing governance: you keep monitoring what is needed, aligning with the organization, offering quick wins, communicating, involving the employees and proving support.

Your intranet or digital workplace is a living environment. You’ll need to keep an eye on it, using analytics tools and user feedback, to know how it is performing. You’ll need to feed it with good quality content and improvements, or it will starve. And you and the users need to adopt it and love it, or it will pine away…

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