User Adoption

Today’s technology is certainly easier to use and more intuitive than it was just five years ago. But intuitive design does not guarantee high end-user adoption rates. You’re dealing with humans, after all. Habits need to be changed and people need to be motivated.

Getting the most return out of your software investment requires an earnest plan and sustained efforts.  Below are four methods to help you get started.

1. Get a jump start

Consider what can be done weeks, even months, before the new technology is available that will increase the effectiveness of how it is used.

An opportunity that is often overlooked is working to improve end-users’ skills with their current tools. In particular, look for features or capabilities that exist in the current version, but become integral in the new technology.

Examples include:

Excel:  In its 2015 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms report1, Gartner predicted that the market for business intelligence (BI) and analytics platforms will remain one of the fastest-growing software markets, and that by 2017, most business users and analysts in organizations will have access to self-service tools to prepare data for analysis.

If your organization is planning to implement BI tools—Power BI for Excel in particular—it will pay to introduce existing Excel features like tables, structured references and slicers, which will figure more prominently in workbooks utilizing Power BI.  It will also provide an immediate payback by improving the utility of many of the workbooks people are already creating and using.

Outlook:  Implementation of CRM software, such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM, is also on the rise.  Because Outlook is deeply integrated into Dynamics CRM, providing more in-depth training on certain existing Outlook features will minimize end-user frustration.  For example, in Dynamics CRM for Outlook, users can sort, filter, format, group and categorize views of CRM data the same way they manage views in Outlook.

OneNote:  One of the greatest challenges for organizations moving to cloud-based productivity suites like Office 365 is getting users to change how they collaborate.  OneNote enables users to collect notes from many sources and in almost any form—handwritten, typed, video, audio, websites and more.  Notes can be shared, collaborated on and synced easily.  Offering training for OneNote and encouraging its use will make the transition easier.

One of the easiest ways to begin using OneNote effectively is during meetings. Instead of taking notes by hand, or in a Word or Excel file, users can open meetings from their calendars.  Users will quickly realize the application’s utility beyond Outlook.

2. Reinforce through training and gaming

People adapt to changes slowly.  A two-week push to promote the new technology will deliver disappointing results. A server may turn on at full efficiency when you throw the switch, but people need time to adapt.

Keep up the pre-implementation learning momentum during and after rollout with phased training that builds upon the skills and knowledge introduced earlier. Training could include in-person webinars, videos and articles offering tips on how to best utilize the application.

Another approach to increasing end-user adoption of new technology is to use gamification, which is the use of game design and thinking in non-game contexts. Gamification is still a relatively new approach, but its use in enterprise learning, as well as in other contexts, has grown rapidly—and shown promise—over the last few years.

Gamification first made Gartner’s Hype Cycle in 2011, and has moved along the research firm’s Hype Cycle curve every year. Back in 2011, Gartner analysts identified four ways gamification could drive engagement, change behaviors and fuel innovation:

Accelerated feedback cycles:  In the real world, feedback loops are slow (e.g., annual performance appraisals) with long periods between milestones.  Gamification increases the velocity of feedback loops to maintain engagement.

Clear goals and rules of play:  In the real world, where goals are fuzzy and rules selectively applied, gamification provides clear goals and well-defined rules of play to ensure players feel empowered to
achieve goals.

A compelling narrative:  While real-world activities are rarely compelling, gamification builds a narrative that engages players to participate and achieve the goals of the activity.

Tasks that are challenging but achievable:  While there is no shortage of challenges in the real world, they tend to be large and long-term.  Gamification provides many short-term, achievable goals to
maintain engagement.2

There is no single “correct” way to incorporate gamification into enterprise learning. In a study published in December 2014, researcher Andreas Lieberoth of Denmark’s Aarhus University found that simply presenting an activity as a game can increase motivation.3  

A smart approach is to start small by offering extrinsic rewards, such as entries in giveaway drawings for users who have demonstrated that the information was consumed and understood.  This provides participation tracking and increases learning over a “just read it” approach.

Another gamification technique is to use social pressure as a motivator.  This can include selecting an executive sponsor of the new technology, taking steps to transform end-user perception from “their” new system to “our” new system and “championing” the adopters of the new technology.

3. Turn user frustration into opportunity

People rarely call IT to ask how they can use the technology to be more productive.  They call when something is broken, or when they are stuck.  Plan how you will provide gains while addressing the inevitable pains.  People tend to be open to what you suggest when you have just helped them.

Use your knowledge management and Knowledge Centered Support systems to deliver phased and targeted items to share with your frontline IT staff.  For example, follow up on a mobile device setup call with a few quick tips the caller can use today, and perhaps send an email with links to more related resources.

You can also teach your IT staff how to identify situations in which they should share additional, specific knowledge with end-users. These situations are known as triggers, and they are one element of a behavior model created by Stanford University’s BJ Fogg.4  According to Fogg’s model, in order for behaviors to change, three elements must be present: motivation, ability and trigger.

It is safe to assume that most corporate workers have the ability to learn how to use the technology—and if they are calling IT for help, the motivation is probably present as well. The most important element, at least in terms of end-user adoption, is the trigger. If you train IT staff to recognize situations in which they should introduce better ways for end-users to complete tasks, you will minimize lost opportunities and help ease end-user frustration.

4. Make training count

Getting people to understand the value of training is easy—the challenge is getting people to sign up.  Make training accessible to those who need it and offer it in small doses that fit into their schedules. Big Bang training is still needed around a launch, but smaller bits are just as vital in various places and forms as the universe expands. Keep in mind that one size does not fit all.  When planning your training, be sure to include the following:

Feedback: Request feedback for all training sessions and include it in self-service materials.  Use the feedback to improve and target ongoing training.

Successes: Ask end-users to share their successes with how-to testimonials—these emphasize the benefits of the new system or technology.

Add-ons: Integrate self-service materials into other forms of training to encourage their use.

Wrapping it Up

New technology promises companies an enormous opportunity for growth—for employees, IT leaders and the business overall. In order to realize the benefits, however, IT leaders need to formulate a thoughtful end-user adoption plan that begins well before the new software is introduced, with efforts to increase end-users’ effectiveness with their current tools. In the weeks and months following implementation, IT leaders need to sustain the momentum with relevant, engaging training and ongoing support.

With this approach, IT leaders can ensure end-users have the tools, knowledge and motivation they need to produce high-quality work.

1     Columbus, Louis.  “Key Take-Aways From Gartner’s 2015 Magic Quadrant For Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms.”  25 Feb 2015.  Web. 6 Mar 2015.  <>

2     “Gartner Says By 2015, More Than 50 Percent of Organizations That Manage Innovation Processes Will Gamify Those Processes.”  2 Apr 2011.  Web. 6 Mar 2015.  <>.

3     Lieberoth, Andreas.  “Shallow Gamification: Testing Psychological Effects of Framing an Activity as a Game. Games and Culture.”  Gamification Research Network.  Published online before print 1 Dec 2014.  Web. 6 Mar 2015 <>.

4     Ph.D., Fogg, BJ.  “What Causes Behavior Changes.”  Web. 6 Mar 2015.  <>.