User Adoption

Organizational Culture: Take it or leave it, but it’s yours

Close up of men's rowing teamCan organizational culture predict the success or failure of your Office 365 rollout? Absolutely. The positive (or negative) impact of your organization’s culture has a direct influence on the success of your technology initiatives. After all, your culture defines how easy or difficult it is to do almost everything, from onboarding new employees to openly sharing ideas and driving adoption of new technologies.

Your IT department’s reputation and history of engagement with business teams is a key indicator of its cultural tie-in to your organization. An IT department that fosters open dialogue and has high-trust relationships with business teams has a tremendous advantage in deploying Office 365. Conversely, a tarnished set of relationships with IT can make it virtually impossible to drive successful change management efforts. Users that distrust or have an adversarial relationship with IT may be predisposed to view all IT initiatives in a negative light.

Your organizational culture is a living, breathing organism. It is built over time and is reinforced by operating norms, employee interactions, and executive modeling. Every communication decision your executives make and every unwritten social norm your departments have put in place has driven the design, shape, and usability of your culture. Changing (or rewriting) your organizational culture is a monumental effort that requires diligence, time, and a huge influx of positive energy. And ultimately, your employees will decide if the culture shift has a hope of succeeding.

Many factors can negatively impact your company’s culture: well-regarded executives leaving for new opportunities, founders selling the company or retiring, erosion of employee trust, etc.. Ironically, difficult economic times and business turbulence isn’t always a harbinger of negative culture shifts. Positive cultures can exist and thrive in negative business climates if there is trust, transparency, and a sense of company unity.

So what steps can you take to improve your company culture and support your Office 365 rollout? First, evaluate the current state of your organization’s culture. If you’re concerned your employees can’t evaluate your culture objectively, bring in outside consultants to perform a culture assessment. Next, build a vision for where you want to go. Interview employees, executives, and board members to gather their wish list for culture improvements. If you haven’t done so already, try leveraging innovation games to gather creative ideas for cultural improvements.

Once you’ve documented your current and desired future state, it’s time to build your transition plan. The specifics of your plan will be driven by your specific context, but common themes for cultural improvements include:

  • Aligning strategy & communications. Ensure your organizational goals are clearly defined and openly discussed at all levels. Having everyone on the same page and moving towards the same goal brings a sense of unity and common purpose.
  • Tear down the silos. Ensure your business teams are working together effectively and not competing for attention, funding, or recognition. Actively use the word “we” when referring to company initiatives, tasks, and efforts. Inclusive language fosters a collaborative, engaging atmosphere.
  • Be transparent. Employees can sense inauthenticity. Consistent, strong leadership is critical, and transparency and trust will build bridges and inspire cooperative behaviors.
  • Communicate early and often. Talk about what’s going well and what still needs work. Engage in departmental, cross-departmental, and all-employee meetings and engage everyone in the mission to improve your company culture. A unified strategy will help achieve buy-in and drive adoption.

There’s no wrong time to start your cultural transformation. Yes, it would be ideal if all our organizations had a winning culture before we began rolling out Office 365. This is rarely the case, so don’t sweat it if you’re not in a perfect position. Where you’ve been is less important than where you’re going.

Disruption vs. Value: Keeping your Office 365 Initiative Afloat

As Office 365 practitioners, we need to consider the speed with which we roll out app capabilities to our organizations. Yes, some of our advanced users can make use of a wide array of Office 365 apps quickly and with relatively little discomfort. But most of our users are disrupted by the rollout and onboarding process for new technologies. The delicate balance of success hinges on generating enough disruption to change user behavior without alienating the very users we’re trying to engage.

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Disruptions are not always a bad thing. Disruptive ideas and events are often credited with bringing about periods of great change and innovation. Office 365 provides an opportunity for your users to rethink the way they work and drive massive gains in their personal productivity. The intelligent form capabilities of PowerApps, the workflow automation of Microsoft Flow, the connected teams communication vehicles in Microsoft Teams, and the mobile capabilities of OneDrive and OneNote can be leveraged to drive a stronger digital workplace.

But how much disruption is too much? And how do you balance the executive “value” question with the impact of disrupting your users? This blog post examines this delicate balance of value versus disruption.

Note: Before you can evaluate how to roll out Office 365, you need to validate WHY Office 365 is right for your business. After all, technology is secondary. Our business drivers and employee needs come first. For more information, check out my blog post It’s not about the technology. It’s about the use case.

Determining your path
Every organization is unique. While there is a plethora of guidance on how to approach your Office 365 rollout, you should not blindly implement a “one-size-fits-most” strategy. Your approach needs to reflect the culture of your organization. If you work for an innovative think tank that prides itself on offering cutting-edge technology, a slow-and-steady Office 365 rollout is ill-advised. On the opposite end of the spectrum, organizations with a high degree of technical debt and a user base that is averse to change should carefully plan and communicate their Office 365 deployment.

I recommend creating formal personas for each of the key user groups that will leverage Office 365 in your organization. Ideally, these personas should be granular enough to account for each of the different Office 365 applications you roll out. You may have a business user persona, for example, that leverages Microsoft Flow to drive departmental process improvements. You may also have a customer service technician persona that leverages Yammer to respond to user questions and drive reductions in support desk calls.

Each user persona should identify:

  • High-level work objectives
  • Technology pain points the user faces
  • The user’s appetite for adapting to change
  • The speed with which the user adopts new technologies
  • Technology learning preferences
  • Preferred training and communication mediums (e.g. brown bags, video-based learning, self-service knowledge base, etc.)

These user personas should inform your Office 365 rollout strategy and form the basis for your user adoption campaign. The personas can also be used to build adoption targets for each of your Office 365 applications. Adoption targets estimate the rate at which users will leverage your new Office 365 capability. If you have 1,000 Office 365 users, for example, you may target having 10% of your users adopt Microsoft Flow within the first 12 months. Your Microsoft Flow rollout plan should account for driving this user growth, and monthly checks should be performed to measure your adoption efforts against your defined goals.

You must also determine what criteria your executive leadership team will use in determining the success or failure of your Office 365 implementation. Start by assessing the key business drivers for your organization and industry. Are your executives driven by financial metrics like margin, lower operating expenses, and total cost of ownership? Or are they swayed by productivity optimization (e.g. shortened business processes, workforce innovations, etc.)? The goal is to clearly articulate the value Office 365 is providing to your organization. Substantiating these value claims with appropriate supporting evidence (e.g. usage statistics, Office 365 success stories, user testimonials, etc.) is important. Executives are discerning, especially when it comes to business value claims. Your success depends on your ability to thoroughly back up your Office 365 value assessment.

An interesting debate
At Microsoft Ignite 2018, a set of REgarding 365 experts debated whether organizations should turn on all the Office 365 apps at once or take a slower rollout approach. The debate commentary brilliantly summarizes the disruption challenges organizations face. Take a look at these quotes from the debate:

“Not everybody needs everything…think about what you’re doing, what business challenges you’re trying to address” – Loryan Strant

“Experimentation is the lifeblood for innovation…I have to have all the availability of the things I want to use to be able to create solutions. I don’t want to be halfway down a path of a solution and then fall into some type of a trap that I can’t complete the solution based on the fact that I don’t have access to a certain tool” – Liz Sundet

“Are you operational-ready? Are you able to support all of the requests that are going to come at you all at once when you turn everything on?” – Daniel Glenn

“Office 365 is a suite. It’s not really individual products…so you’ve really got to go for it and turn everything on” – Steve Collier

“The company does not have (an) appetite for that which it does not understand” – session attendee

“We were challenged by our boss to get it (Office 365) out in 90 days. So we basically turned everything on, got it all out there, and then realized we have no governance whatsoever in place. And it was a disaster. We have group names, we have 5,000 SharePoint sites that nobody ever uses. And it’s just out of control. That’s one of the problems with turning it on without having the governance. Once you get the governance and all your framework in place, turn it on. Let people innovate. But make sure you’re there before you turn it on” – session attendee

You can watch this session in its entirety at Turn it all on in Office 365 – RE365 Debate (BRK1092).

The bottom line
Office 365 implementations are disruptive, and that’s OK. Success isn’t about avoiding disruption. Success hinges on driving business outcomes that outweigh and outlast user disruption. How much time you have to drive those business outcomes and how much allowance you have for causing disruption is going to be unique to your situation. The key is determining what business value looks like at your organization and building user personas that can help you limit the disruptive force of your rollout.

You also need to ensure your executives understand your approach and expected adoption of Office 365. If you have aligned your Office 365 rollout strategy with your business goals and clearly understand the value your executives want to see from your implementation, you’re on a solid path to success. Misalignment of expectations will fracture and limit the efficacy of your results.

As you roll out Office 365, keep your executives apprised of unexpected delays or changes in your forecasted adoption rates. Any gaps between your executive’s expectations and your project’s realities should be identified and communicated quickly.

It’s not about the technology. It’s about the use case

This week, I participated in a REgarding 365 debate about use of org-wide Microsoft Teams. Not surprisingly, the Microsoft Teams versus Yammer question was raised multiple times. Here’s the thing–there are uses for Microsoft Teams (including org-wide teams) and there are uses for Yammer. In the end, it’s not about which tool myself or the other REgarding 365 panelists prefer. The valid questions are:

  • What are your organizational use cases and content needs?
  • What is your company culture?
  • Which technologies best fit your use cases and culture?

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Use cases are practical business needs (aka requirements) that need to be met. Examples of use cases include:

  • Sharing organization-wide HR policy changes
  • Sharing strategy and content updates from the company’s CEO
  • Providing newly-onboarded employees with a resource center for frequently asked questions
  • Enabling employees to instant message, chat, and screen share with their peers
  • Enabling employees to quickly engage with other employees and members of IT on technology support questions

As collaboration strategists, our first job is identifying and documenting the unique use cases for our organization. Next, we need to assess our organizational culture, including: company values and norms; technology adeptness (aka how well our users adopt new technologies); and readiness for change (e.g. do our users welcome change or do they fear it?).

When we view our use cases alongside our company culture, we’ll be able to determine which technologies are best-suited to meet our needs. There is no one-size-fits-all model or one Microsoft 365 capability that wins the day. Let’s look at our organizational use cases and culture and determine what tool works best for our specific needs.

The importance of Community Managers

I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in the SharePoint and Office 365 community for many years. The relationships I’ve formed have helped me grow my career, expand my technical knowledge, and build lifelong friendships. This community is special because of the people in it–people who are willing to support one another and share what they know. This selflessness is the distinguishing characteristic of strong community managers.

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Community managers give their time and talent to support the growth and development of others. Community managers come in a variety of forms. They can be internal Office 365 administrators, user group leaders, Microsoft MVPs, Yammer evangelists, or people who engage in regular Twitter conversations about SharePoint/Office 365. The community manager role can be formally acknowledged (e.g. leader of a formal user group or online community) or informally earned (e.g. an Office 365 user that drives engagement by regularly liking and commenting on Yammer posts). The hallmarks of the community manager are what they give to others–support, encouragement, and a continued positive focus.

I had the good fortune to spend time with several great community managers at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando a couple of weeks ago. Folks like Darrell Webster, Phil Worrell, Liz Sundet, Heather Newman, and Tracy van der Schyff encourage others to come forward and share what they know. They support a diversity of opinions, give others a chance to shine, and applaud people publicly for their contributions.

This concept of community management was also woven through several of the #MSIgnite sessions I attended. In her session on how Kimberly-Clark powers employee engagement with Yammer, Karen Prather outlined key ways community managers drive engagement:

  • Promote the creation of new community content
  • Drive ongoing dialogue by liking and commenting on posts frequently
  • Jump-start conversations by posting questions and user polls
  • Share popular posts from other communities/groups to drive cross-engagement
  • Continually invite others to post and share content
  • Attach pictures and videos to posts to drive higher click-thru rates
  • Keep a pulse on the community (understand what drives it forward, what inspires community members, etc.)

I also had the opportunity to participate in the #MSIgnite meetup “Learning through sharing: The new way to build your community.” Darrell Webster, Daniel Glenn, Loryan Strant, and Alistair Pugin led a facilitated discussion on fostering in-person and virtual Office 365 conversations/user groups. There was no one-size-fits-all approach that worked across geographies and types of groups, but community managers that knew their audience and tailored their approach to match the unique needs of their users were the most successful.

If your SharePoint or Office 365 journey has been positively impacted by a community manager, take a few minutes to say thank you. And perhaps it’s time to consider whether you have the time and talent to lift up others in your community. We’re always looking for strong community managers to spark new conversations!

Creating a custom Microsoft Flow template gallery for your organization (part 2)

This flow internal template gallery was designed and built in partnership with Daniel Glenn, Office Apps & Services MVP. For more information about the template gallery solution we developed, check out Daniel’s blog post and his Microsoft Ignite 2018 session.

In my earlier post, I laid out a business case for creating an internal Microsoft Flow template gallery for your organization. The internal template gallery enables you to build and share custom Microsoft Flows within your Office 365 tenant. The gallery ensures company data and internal data connections in your flow templates are secure, while safely enabling your users to pool their collective knowledge and avoid re-work in building flows. You can also create a formal approval process for internal flow templates. The process ensures that flow templates are reviewed for accuracy and are appropriate for internal sharing.

But we don’t have to stop there. We can take this template gallery idea several steps farther by creating a Microsoft Flow Resource Community. The resource community can serve as a self-service gathering place for Microsoft Flow users in your organization, complete with links to training resources, Yammer discussion groups, your internal template gallery, etc. The resource community will:

  • Promote the use of Microsoft Flow by providing “getting started” materials for new users and a place for advanced users to share what they know
  • Support open dialogue and troubleshooting of flow issues
  • Prevent users from having to “recreate the wheel” by enabling easy re-use of flow templates
  • Provide a browsable interface for reviewing and downloading flow templates
  • Enable the submission and approval of flow templates for internal sharing
  • Drive engagement and adoption by providing a “community space” for Microsoft Flow

We recommend building your Microsoft Flow Resource Community on a SharePoint Online Communications site. You’ll want to customize the contents of your resource community, but here’s a list of suggestions to get you started:

  • Links to internal and external Microsoft Flow resources (e.g. 100-level introduction to flow, Microsoft’s flow guided learning site, the official Microsoft Flow team blog, and the Microsoft Flow Community).
  • Events calendar that highlights flow and other Office 365 learning opportunities
  • Microsoft Flow internal template gallery
  • Instructions on how to download flow templates from the gallery and leverage them to deploy new flows
  • Live display of Yammer conversations related to Microsoft Flow
  • Links to your Microsoft Flow governance policies
  • Information on where people can go to get advanced flow help

Most important–make the site relevant, engaging, and full of great flow content!

Now that we know what a Microsoft Flow Resource Community is, let’s take a look at a sample site.

The home page
We wanted a graphic, engaging home page for our Microsoft Flow Resource Community. The hero web part at the top of the page contains links to various flow learning resources. The remainder of the page includes our flow template catalog, a display of our Microsoft Flow Yammer group, and a list of upcoming Office 365 events. (Note: We elected to use the classic Yammer web part on our site because it enables full engagement. Users can like and comment on Yammer posts directly from the resource community without having to open Yammer in a new browser tab. For more information on the available Yammer web parts and the differencees between them, see my Yammer web part blog post.)

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Our flow template catalog is built using a series of News pages–one page for each flow template. News pages are stored in the Site Pages library, and the catalog is displayed on the site home page via the News web part. To help users quickly see which app(s) are included in the flow template, we added an app graphic to each template news page.

Let’s take a look at one of our template news pages in more detail. The banner across the top of the page displays the name of the flow template and the related app(s) the flow uses. Screen shots of the flow are displayed on the left, along with a clickable link to download the flow ZIP file template. A detailed description of the flow is provided on the right. The description pages for all flow templates include the same standard information–a description of how the flow works, a list of the required Office 365 or external application connections that the flow requires (e.g. a valid OneDrive account, a valid Box account, etc.), and a link to instructions on how to use the flow template ZIP file. A comments box at the bottom of the page enables users to comment on each of the templates.

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If you want to enable all Microsoft Flow users in your organization to submit workflow templates to your gallery, you may want to consider building out a review and approval process. Consider your must-have safety controls and review requirements as you build out this gatekeeping process. While governance is important, all governance policies and procedures should drive innate value.

We hope this Microsoft Flow Resource Community sparks your creativity. Best of luck in creating a site of your own!

Driving adoption of Microsoft Flow

Depositphotos_70209473_originalIn the land of Office 365, Microsoft Flow users are unique. While most of your users may use Outlook for email, OneDrive for file storage, and Microsoft Teams for intra-team collaboration, not all your users will create and leverage flows. Your approach to Microsoft Flow user adoption needs to account for this uniqueness. While you can launch broad Office 365 awareness campaigns, you will need to create a targeted adoption model just for Microsoft Flow.

Your user adoption campaign should focus on 4 key goals:

  1. Make flow relevant. Show your users how Microsoft Flow can help them meet their business goals. Making flow relevant to their daily work lives will drive home the why.
  2. Make flow achievable. Some innovators may start using Microsoft Flow based on word-of-mouth discussions or native curiosity about what the app can do. But the vast majority of your users will need help breaking through the conceptual barriers to using flow. They need an easy way to learn the basics, easy wins that can boost their confidence, and a method for getting peer or expert IT support as they start building more advanced workflows.
  3. Give your users a running start. Teach your users how to leverage Microsoft’s existing flow template gallery. And to drive stronger adoption and greater ROI, consider building out a series of company-specific flow templates that can be re-used internally.
  4. Make them shine. Provide your users with the educational materials and coaching they need to build flows that will make a difference and drive business value. Turning new flow users into flow superheroes will ensure continued adoption.

Planning for your flow user adoption campaign
To get started, you will need to clearly identify your target audience. I recommend creating formal personas for each of the key user groups you believe will leverage Microsoft Flow. You may have a business user, for example, that creates flows to help drive departmental process improvements. You may have a developer that creates flows as part of an agile engineering team. Identifying key types of flow users, documenting the reasons why they would leverage flow, and identifying their technology learning preferences will lay the groundwork for your custom user adoption campaign.

Once you identify your user personas, start building a target estimate for flow user volume. The estimate should project the rate at which users will start leveraging flow. If you have 1,000 Office 365 users, for example, you may target having 10% of your users adopt Microsoft Flow within the first 12 months. Your flow user adoption plans should account for driving this user growth, and monthly checks should be performed to measure your adoption efforts against your defined goals.

Now that you’ve identified your target adoption rate, it’s time to start building your flow user adoption campaign. It’s vital that you design your campaign to reflect and complement your organization’s culture. Look at programs that have succeeded or failed in your organization and unpack the key lessons learned. Determine what types of education and communication initiatives work well in your organization. If employees at your company don’t engage with or read news stories published on your company intranet, then publishing mass-market intranet articles about flow will not yield much success. If brown bags are popular, consider hosting targeted lunch and learns for each of your core Microsoft Flow user personas.

You also need to determine how to invest your valuable time and user adoption efforts. As I explain in Change by color: The secret of green dots, yellow dots and red dots, some of your users will readily accept change and be driven to adopt new technologies based on an intrinsic desire to learn and grow. Invest in these change adopters, but don’t overcommit your time. Target your efforts on the users that are slower to adapt but are still willing to change and learn new technologies.

Once you’ve defined your user personas and built specific user adoption campaign ideas that fit your corporate culture, you’re ready! Identify business needs and existing work processes that can be improved using Microsoft Flow. Leverage these opportunities as “starter projects” that will show of flow’s capabilities. Ensure you’re working alongside key influencers and innovators on your business teams for these starter projects. You want to engage with users that embrace technology and are quick to adopt. They’ll be willing to hear new ideas and, if they’re successful, will be able to evangelize flow’s capabilities. If you have resources that are already knowledgeable about Microsoft Flow (e.g. pilot testers or members of IT), introduce them to key business users and foster peer mentorship opportunities.

Most importantly, remember that flow user adoption isn’t a one-time project. In order for flow user adoption to become a reality, you need to treat it as an ongoing service. And yes, you’ll need to build, evolve, and drive your adoption program from now until the day you stop leveraging Microsoft Flow. Even the most successful adoption programs will die without dedicated attention and fresh ideas.

 

 

Creating a custom Microsoft Flow template gallery for your organization (part 1)

Microsoft Flow comes with a wide array of templates you can use and customize to build the workflow capabilities you need. The templates serve as both a quick-start guide and a learning tool. You can use the templates as-is or review the templates to see how others have built custom flows. You can share flow templates you create by submitting them to Microsoft’s template gallery. If Microsoft approves your flow, it will be made available to all flow users.

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Microsoft Flow template gallery

But what if you want to share Microsoft Flow templates internally within your organization? Microsoft’s flow template gallery is open to the public, and doesn’t provide any safeguards for securing your internal company data or custom internal data connections. But since Microsoft Flow enables you to export and import workflows, you can build your own custom flow template gallery in SharePoint Online. You can use your gallery to:

  • Provide a browsable interface for reviewing and downloading flow templates
  • Enable the submission and approval of templates for internal sharing
  • Provide a community space where you users can access flow how-to videos and share learnings with others
  • Give your Office 365 users a jump-start for learning Microsoft Flow

In the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of blog posts with recommendations on building an internal flow template gallery in SharePoint Online. I’ll also share ideas on driving adoption of Microsoft Flow. (Hint: Flow isn’t like Teams or email. Your flow users are unique, and your flow adoption plan needs to be targeted and specific as well.) I also recommend checking out Daniel Glenn’s Ignite 2018 session THR1111 – Creating a custom Microsoft Flow template gallery in SharePoint. The session provides background information on how an internal gallery can support flow usage. Thanks to Daniel for partnering with me on our concept and design for this internal flow template gallery.

See follow-up posts:

The importance of seeing your Office 365 users as individuals…

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Our users make their own choices. They choose where, why, and how to invest their time and energy on a daily basis. Yes, they can be required to fill out a vacation request form stored in SharePoint Online and yes, they can be required to upload their documents to a SharePoint site or to their OneDrive if access to their shared drives has been disabled. But it’s a fallacy to believe that closing doors and forcing users down a single path will achieve buy-in. Forcing usage of SharePoint and Office 365 doesn’t allow for exploration, curiosity, and growth. Users will grudgingly meet the minimum expectations, but will not invest in learning the platform.

The only path to generate true engagement is through voluntary adoption. And the core tenet of voluntary adoption is personal choice. In order for users to engage and choose Office 365, they must decide for themselves that Office 365 provides them with a net benefit. Our job as Office 365 practitioners is to drive change at the individual (not the organizational) level. This individual focus ties into our communication and training efforts. As my previous post “It’s time to be user-centric” outlines, one-size-fits-all models for driving adoption (e.g. mass email communications without personalized messaging, antiquated “train the trainer” models, and old-school documentation that focuses on features instead of business needs) won’t drive change at the individual level. A user-centric approach that accounts for individual needs and learning styles will drive engagement and excitement, building business champions that will serve as Office 365 evangelists.

So what needs to change?
IT leadership must realize that users are not a collective to be assimilated, positioned, or maneuvered. Successful adoption of Office 365 cannot be mandated, and users must be engaged as a group of individuals that make independent choices. Designing our adoption campaigns to account for individual needs and learning styles will drive engagement and stronger results.

Change by color: The secret of green dots, yellow dots and red dots

blue-bright-candy-827066_croppedI had an insightful user adoption conversation with Yammer product evangelist Steve Nguyen recently. Steve shared an analogy he uses to identify key internal change agents for technology initiatives. The model, called green dots, yellow dots, red dots, categorizes users in the midst of change moments.

Green dots are the individuals that are highly motivated to change. They’re keen to adopt new technology with no prodding or encouragement. Green dots are natural innovators and early adopters that engage of their own accord. They’re driven to learn, excited to engage in new technologies and unafraid to change and adapt.

Yellow dots are hesitant and require encouragement to change. Greenish-yellow dots respond well to positive messaging, only requiring mild encouragement to jump on board. Reddish-yellow dots are more resistant. While there is still a chance they will jump on board, it will take significantly more effort to get them excited about the change.

Red dots are resistant to change. They may be technology laggards, see no purpose in the change or are motivated to maintain the status quo. When pushed or forced to change, red dots can often dig in. They remain resistant and can influence others to refuse to adopt the new technologies.

So what does this mean?
As a change initiator, it’s important to understand where to focus your time. Green dots are intrinsically motivated to change. While you need to actively engage these users in your change management strategy and leverage them as key change agents, you should not spend a majority of your time trying to “win over” green dots.

Yellow dots are hesitant or reluctant to change, but can be encouraged to adopt. As change initiators, we need to consider yellow dots as our target market for change. Investing in adoption campaigns, targeted communications, user education and “what’s-in-it-for-me” messaging for yellow dots can yield tremendous results.

Spending too much time converting red dots is like chasing after your SharePoint naysayers. As I’ve shared in previous posts, SharePoint naysayers are those individuals that persist in deriding SharePoint without provocation or apology. Naysayers come from many different contexts and backgrounds and can exist at all levels of the organization. They may be developers, information hoarders or tech-geeks that are “above” tools like SharePoint.

As SharePoint practitioners, we’re prone to over-investing in an effort to convert our naysayers into enthusiasts. While this conversion may occur in rare cases, it is not the norm. True naysayers are entrenched in their beliefs, and will require a change of heart or social pressure from other resistors to make a change.

It’s also important to note that not all red dots are naysayers. Some red dots are simply slow to change or are technology resistant. Given adequate time and attention, these red dots can eventually be won over. But it’s important to acknowledge that these red dots are heavily influenced by the yellow dots that adopt before them. The yellow dots teach the red dots that change is possible and show that life on the other side isn’t all bad.

 

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.”