Features: December 9th, 2011

Technology brings major increases in efficiency, but without the collaboration and cooperation of people results will be limited. The author explains the people dimension of implementing technology and what can be done to get better results.

Old habits die hard, so don’t fight them. Instead give your staff collaboration tools they will actually use.

Back in the 60s the only technology on an employee’s desk, if they were lucky enough to have any at all, was a telephone. Things have changed dramatically since then, and today we are surrounded by an array of technology that we use for work – from PCs, mobile phones, laptops and tablets to a hodgepodge of collaboration and social tools – all designed to make us productive in the office and, now also, on-the-go.

Given such a rich tapestry of tools, why does Forrester Research report across-the-board underutilization of collaboration and social tools, with 64% of surveyed businesses receiving few benefits, if any, from their investments?

The technology adoption gap

Human nature is arguably the main factor that inhibits the adoption of new technology – people don’t like change. The reality is, when presented with an alternative way of doing something, we tend to overvalue the way we already do it while undervaluing the new option. Harvard Business School marketing professor, John Gourville, sums it up as ‘People irrationally overvalue benefits they currently possess relative to those that they don’t’. In fact, according to Gourville’s ‘what you have’ theory, a new product, service or process has to be nine times better than what a user is already using, or is doing, if it is to motivate them enough to change their behaviour or adopt a new product or technology.

Why nine times? Well, his premise is that the people peddling change will overvalue their fantastic new offering by a factor of three. In parallel, users tend to undervalue the benefits of the proposed change by a factor of three.

A second key factor impacting technology adoption is our reliance on an abundance of digital devices and stand-alone applications to get work done. Office workers switch programs some 37 times an hour, according to research reported by the New York Times. Dealing with too much information, and Alt-tabbing between too many potentially useful-but disjointed tools, is a constant mental locomotion that robs us of our ability to focus, think creatively, and generally take care of the responsibilities we were hired for. And that costs money.

So when change is called for, it is critically important to recognize common pitfalls and take steps to make sure the right technology solution gets implemented, with as little friction as possible. Here are some questions to consider:

• Is all that glitters gold? People are all too often lured into thinking they need something entirely new to solve a problem. Rather than first looking at what they have and why it isn’t being utilized, they make significant investments in a host of new technologies, creating yet another information silo for users to disregard. Jive is a perfect example. It seems it can do almost anything, with its robust feature set and top notch analytics capabilities, but social business leader Jacob Morgan questions if this is really what organizations need or want. He explains, “Many companies are just trying to hang picture frames and Jive is trying to offer the ability to tear down walls.” In his blog, Morgan postulates that perhaps 20-50% of Jive’s features are actually adopted.

• How do people do the task today? Dazzled by what the latest, greatest product or service promises it can do, many organizations neglect to think about how people would need to radically change their work habits to realise these gains. For example, an age old problem is the document development process. Business users invariably ping-pong multiple document versions back and forth, wasting time wrestling with the resultant document chaos and creating compliancy risks down the road. Web 2.0 pundits argue wikis activity streams and real time status updates will replace the “archaic” document concept. But the reality is, today, business people are creating and sharing more contracts, resumes, presentations and financial analyses than ever before. So documents won’t suddenly disappear, but they do need to become more social to be relevant in an Enterprise 2.0 world.

• Is resistance futile? Faced with the shock of new and/or unknown technologies, most people will dig in their heels rather than change. Email is an excellent case in point. If I had a dime for every eulogy written for email in the last few years, I wouldn’t be writing this article, I would be sailing on my yacht in the Bahamas. But email isn’t going anywhere soon. Rather, like documents, email will evolve.

So, how do you get users to change? Here are three things to consider that are often overlooked.


Consider how new products, or even changes to current solutions, will be used and fit within your existing parameters.

Currently, according to Forrester Research, only 20% of business workers use team document sharing sites such as Microsoft SharePoint daily. These user adoption gaps stem largely from the complex multi-step navigation required when completing tasks, not on inherent deficiencies in the product itself. Therefore, look at how incumbent products and existing working practices can be matched. For example, simplifying SharePoint tasks by bringing them into the place where people work, like email, is one way to take SharePoint and make it useful to every business user. Several products provide this type of functionality.


Forrester Research estimates that, for every $1 invested in purchasing collaboration software, $6-7 will need to be spent on training and getting people to use it. Rather than try to streamline training, how about figuring out ways to obviate the need for training? The closer the solution matches the current workflow, the less training will be needed. In fact, enterprises that integrate SharePoint collaboration and social features within their email client have realized dramatic improvements in the way their workforce operates, without drastically changing what they are already doing, because their workforce adopts SharePoint en masse for collaboration.

Plan for ‘Larry in the Mailroom’

It’s important, when implementing change, that everyone in the business is considered. As it’s impractical to consult every member of the workforce, a cross section that ensures everyone in the business is represented should be consulted so that the business needs are clearly defined in real scenarios and the implications of introducing new processes and/or technology can be fully explored. User reactions will help determine how to progress, changes made, and training offered before universal implementation is conducted.

This process doesn’t just influence users to embrace change but can also have a knock on effect to other areas of the business. So when Larry, our mailroom clerk, hears about sales achieving double digit revenue growth by establishing global peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, he helps streamline deliveries by instigating a worldwide learning community. Aka social business in action.

Ultimately, technology is only worthwhile if it is embraced so plan for change even before you sign on the dotted line.