We live in a technology-driven world. According to a recent Brookings Institute report, more than 70 percent of U.S. jobs now require at least mid-level technology competence. However, integrating new technology into an organization remains a largely hit-and-miss affair. Research consistently finds that IT projects fail at an alarming rate, with only about 3 in 10 meeting time, cost and quality expectations.
Why is adopting new technology so hard? Factors such as insufficient planning, inadequate resources, overly aggressive timelines, underestimated costs, overlooked requirements and unanticipated complications can undermine projects. Very often, however, the problem comes down to a lack of user buy-in.
Management teams and technology leaders often fail to anticipate how IT initiatives will affect the workforce. While a project might have the potential for improving workflows and productivity, employees will often have a significant learning curve. Shifting from familiar and effective processes to something unknown and untried can be a jarring experience, creating what some researchers call “technostress.”
A recent survey of global CIOs supports this theory. More than half reported that failed technology initiatives were typically the result of “slow” or “reluctant” adoption from end-users. More than three-quarters agreed that employees resist new technologies and ideas.
To boost success rates, management and IT leadership must address employee engagement as a core component of technology initiatives. Even this can be a bit tricky, however. Measures such as online tutorials, email surveys, company-wide meetings or even social collaboration tools will be ineffective if employees see them as time-consuming exercises that only add to their stress.
Nadjia Yousif, a technology analyst and partner with The Boston Consulting Group, suggests a different approach. In a recent Ted Talk, she says organizations should treat new technology like new employees — complete with “onboarding” processes designed to make introductions, set expectations and improve integration.
Open communication and effective feedback loops are essential for helping new employees become productive team members, and they are just as important for ensuring adoption of new technologies. The communication plan should include team-building sessions, such as lunch-and-learns or brown-bag events, where users can gain hands-on experience with the technology accompanied by immediate feedback, tips and suggestions.
Such sessions can be tailored to different user roles that require different levels of expertise with technology. Short, focused sessions are likely to work best — if employees don’t feel overwhelmed with information, it will reduce stress and improve knowledge retention. Live training can be complemented with e-learning modules for post-training reference.
A common mistake is relying too heavily on tutorials. It’s important that users have easy access to experts who can help with troubleshooting during the transition. In particular, users who are resisting change need the ability to get one-on-one support to address their concerns and reinforce their training.
Besides aiding employees, an open feedback loop can also improve the technology. Ongoing communication about processes, workflows and shortcuts can help identify whether the new technology is meeting user needs and the organization’s expectations. This information is crucial for customizing the technology or the processes surrounding it to improve performance.
Most modern organizations are continually looking for new ways to leverage technology to improve operations. An increased focus on user engagement should be a key element of such initiatives. Onboarding new technology with clear, consistent and ongoing communications can reduce employee frustration and stress, increasing the likelihood that the project will deliver the expected benefits