“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw
In thousands of conversations with IT organizations of different sizes, within various industries, and across sectors, we’ve noticed people purchase and implement new technology with the expectation it will deliver their expected outcomes. When these outcomes aren’t realized, they hold the technology responsible and purchase new, failing to consider the vital role people play in delivering results. User adoption and enablement are critical to successfully achieving IT Operations results.
Over the last 25 years, we’ve seen few organizations effectively communicate beyond a project (status, budget, etc.) in order to drive user adoption and enablement. The four most common barriers to effective IT communications are: lack of bandwidth from IT teams to focus on communications, lack of knowledge around how to most effectively communicate, lack of historic credibility of communications efforts, and a lack of proactive communication to help non-IT people understand the full story behind an initiative.
We’ve observed that when organizations implement proactive, targeted, and thoughtful communication strategies, their success is highly probable. We’ve boiled down our findings to the three most important approaches:
1. Communicate early, clearly, and consistently to drive user adoption. We’ve noticed organizations often feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the idea of building a “communication strategy”, but communication doesn’t have to be grandiose or complex. We’ve seen customers effectively drive awareness, build enthusiasm, and generate conversation by way of a simple slide in a weekly meeting or by way of posters in their office cafeteria. So long as your communication plan/strategy/campaign is proactive, clear, and consistent, it will be powerful.
2. Identify target audiences and build relevant messages. Change impacts different people in different ways, so it’s critical to tailor communications to different audiences. Although every customer has their own story to tell, we’ve seen organizations be successful when articulating to these three target audiences how changes will benefit them individually.
- IT – This audience wants to hear about technical features, process changes, the status of deliverables, and how-tos around tool usage and integration with other existing systems.
- End-Users – This audience wants to hear about the value of the change for them personally (what’s in it for me?”) and how-tos around tool usage.
- Executives – This audience wants to hear about the value of its investment (ROI) and costs, the high-level project status and expected benefits to the organization, and outcomes.
3. Explain changes and why they are important. In our experience, users that feel a sense of ownership in a change, and feel prepared and enabled around it are more likely to support and adopt the change. To drive this kind of engagement, it’s critical to communicate clearly and consistently around what’s changing, why it’s changing, when it’s changing, and how the change will impact users on an individual level. It’s also important, perhaps even more so, to address any apprehensions or resistance to adoption by communicating how new software will impact individuals’ job proficiency or perceived value to the organization, answering questions such as: How will this IT change make me look better? Set me up for advancement? Bring certainty to my life? Help me sleep easier? It’s critical to assure users executives expect bumps in the road during the adjustment period, and to communicate where users can go to find resources and training (before and after go-live).
You will inevitably face groups of resistors. It’s important to focus first on your early adopters and then the critical mass. Ignore your resistors. Once you have the critical mass, organizational psychology will do its work.
A thoughtful communication strategy helps align the organization to the vision of a project, and demonstrates the value of the project and the value each person brings to fulfilling that vision. When organizations invest in effective communications, they are better able to gain trust and buy-in from executives and end-users, recognition from the business, organizational alignment, and increased adoption rates. Success is only possible when value is generated, perceived, and clearly communicated.
How will you communicate value in your next project?