The slip between the cup and the lip

Poor employee adoption of technology can overturn best laid plans

I recently attended a monthly review of the B2B sales-service team as an observer. I noticed that when the topic of adoption of the newly introduced technology by the frontline team of this large sized company was being discussed, worry lines were apparent. It appeared that the fairly large investment of time, effort and money undertaken during the lockdown months was just not paying off. Various initiatives ranging from cracking the whip and throwing in sweeteners did not seem to have too much effect.

Triggered by the pandemic, the company had identified an opportunity to mitigate the challenges faced by the distributed B2B account management team and build for future. An app introduced for this workforce integrated the modules of lead management and account management. They could also get easy to access real-time performance and rewards, previously touted to be a critical ask. The management believed that by so equipping the distributed workforce, they could improve effectiveness. The technology, operations and HR functions collectively had risen to the challenge and were able to integrate various siloed modules. The knowledge management as well as service management modules built, piloted and launched in double quick time.

Needless to say, benefits to date were sketchy at best. Even almost 6 months after launch, adoption hovered around only 38% and, regular users were just 22%.

Sounds familiar?

Well, this unfortunate scenario plays out to some degree or another across the landscape. Contrarily, not all employees seem enthusiastic or responsive enough to adopt newly introduced technologies inspite of strong evidence of its multi-fold benefits. This is specially ironic considering that outside the workplace, the same employees may embrace and use technology fairly frequently and easily.

[box type=”info” align=”” class=”” width=””]Rogers (1962) in his seminal study “Diffusion of Innovations” introduced terms like innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%) with the laggards being 16%. This study also explained that the rate of innovation adoption hinges on employees’ perception of relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability that they can gain in order to expend effort.[/box]

In sheer plain and practical terms, two inferences emerge for operational managers emerges:

  1. Understand why the early adopters and early majority (almost 48%) are adopting at rate slower than expected. Ideally, these cohorts should form the fulcrum around which a change agenda can spread quickly; such slow adoption in such situations should raise a red flag.
  2. Widen the focus to include the late majority and laggards, if the innovators, early adopters and early majority have already started clocking in interest and adoption. A common mistake is when management attention moves on prematurely and assumes that these cohorts will align in due course. That may well turn out to be a costly decision.

A HBR article (July, 2019) by Fountaine and others corroborates that such situations are endemic in many organisations and, they were of the opinion that it reflects the failure of management effort to ‘rewire’ the organisation appropriately. What results is that technology adoption stumbles in the face of formidable ‘cultural and organisational barriers.’

In India too, we have seen many technology programs that for reasons of resource constraints (say either time, money or people) are developed and deployed more as plug and play mechanisms rather than as part of a larger well designed strategy.  Such resource constraints may mean inadequate energies are focussed on socialising benefits, building consensus well in advance or even taking the opinion of the all-important ‘end-user’ cohort while expecting them to adopt and align.

Today, managers have to overcome and rise above any resource and situational constraints and ensure adoption in order to ensure that the company’s investments pay off.

In most projects involving technology, cultural aspects are given short shrift and can become major derailers. Ironically, much time, effort and money is devoted to selecting the right technology, vendor selection, budgets, architecture or even features but, comparatively little effort is spent on the people that will use it most. The ‘end-users’ opinions may even get captured at some stage but more likely as a transactional afterthought.

Managers do not proactively concern themselves with the situated reality of end-users. If such need-gaps do not surface at the right time in development cycle, problems surface at a later stage. End users can then feel that they are involved as a fait accompli when the project has been delivered by the external vendor and, made to test it. It is demotivating when any observations or glitches pointed out are ignored or deprioritised to ‘somewhere’ in the future. Such incidences do not build collaboration and ownership.

If on the other hand select members of user teams themselves are involved appropriately, they develop a stake in the game and, a vast improvement in outcomes follows. Isolating operating or business teams even for productivity reasons can have dampening effects. These are but some of many misguided attempts in early stages that can later contribute in the problems of adoption.

On a positive note, I have also observed successfully deployed change management programs where tech adoption and adaption reached desired levels and, project ROI objectives were achieved in double quick time. So, what was different? In complex programs no single aspect can contribute to success or failure but two elements stood out; the sheer involvement and engagement of the end user team at every level and, a high level of functional leadership involvement.

A squad of enthusiastic, highly passionate ‘stars’ whose ability to front discussions, create and execute training cascades, hold stand up meets proactively to defuse sticky situations was associated from the beginning. Leadership successfully balanced governance, empowerment, encouragement and recognition and, that went a long way in making the change truly pervasive and propelling motivated ‘self-starting’ behaviours. If such core groups can deliver acceptable solutions at challenging intersections, it relieves senior managers who can concentrate on governance and most importantly makes execution a simpler and more successful one.

The cost of undoing and redoing is more costly especially when organisations are rushing to maximise in all opportunities in double quick time… as the old adage says, ‘a stitch in time saves nine!

[author title=”Dr Jacqueline Mundkur” image=”http://”]Jacqueline is the CEO of The Nxt Levels CX Business Advisory Services and Senior Adjunct Faculty, School of Business Management, NMIMS has more than 2 decades experience as a CX practitioner across multiple sectors[/author]


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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