Don’t wait. It’s time to engage your users


As SharePoint and Office 365 practitioners, we get excited when new product features and capabilities are released. It’s in our nature. We see the value these Collaboration tools provide and can’t wait to put new features to use. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget we’re in the minority. 

Most of our business users don’t really care about SharePoint or Office 365. They’re focused on the constant barrage of work coming at them and don’t have the time (or the desire) to learn new technology features. And we can’t force these users to adopt our platforms. They’ll choose to adopt only when they see that the technology can provide them a clear benefit.

Our job is to serve as a bridge for our users, showing them how SharePoint/Office 365 can eliminate the manual work they hate doing and deliver capabilities they need. If we bridge successfully, we’ll turn our users into advocates and evangelists.

So how do we engage our users? Let’s break it down into three initial steps:

Look for early adopters. In his renowned work on diffusion models, Everett Rogers identifies the vital role early adopters play in the spread of ideas. Early adopters are a judicious group of individuals known for evaluating new ideas, new technologies, etc. and making recommendations to others. Early adopters exist at all levels of an organization. They’re not always people-leaders or technology evangelists, but they’re well-respected and tend to be highly networked. They also tend to be key influencers (the people others go to when they have a question or need advice).

As SharePoint/Office 365 practitioners, it’s vital we identify the early adopters on our business teams and partner to deliver technology solutions for them. If we deliver solutions that thrill these early adopters, they’ll spread the message.

Find what your users need.When I was completing my Master’s in Library Science, I learned that library patrons seldom ask reference librarians for what they need. They translate their information needs into something more “helpful.” A patron that needs books on how to toilet-train their 2-year-old, for example, will ask for books on child development or child psychology. It’s the reference librarian’s job to ask questions and discern the real information need.

As a SharePoint/Office 365 practitioner, I have to ask “why” and “what for” questions to get at my users’ information needs. If I don’t bridge the gap and connect my users with the right functionality to meet their needs, I won’t be able to drive effective adoption and will miss the opportunity to deliver true business value.

Whenever possible, deliver the capabilities that thrill. As SharePoint/Office 365 practitioners, we’re fortunate to have at our disposal a suite of products and features with the capacity to delight our end-users. As you’re gathering user requirements and building solutions, don’t forget to ask your users for their wish list. You’ll be surprised how often these wish list items are easy to deliver without custom code or hours of additional build time. If there’s an option to deliver a wish list item that pleases your users without breaking the bank or destroying your delivery timeline, do your best to make it happen.

I often find that delivering simple things (e.g. conditional formatting on a SharePoint list, custom email notifications for items that have been completed, or a filtered web part view that only shows items assigned to a specific user) will make the difference in my solution being enthusiastically adopted or treated as “just another technology solution.”

In his book Anything You Want, marketing expert Derek Sivers calls out how powerful a message it sends when you thrill your current users: “It’s counterintuitive, but the way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers. Just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.”

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