Trent Parkhill
Guest Blogger

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In my last blog post, I suggested that by analyzing our past projects, we can improve adoption of our future information systems (IS) projects.  Three of my adoption observations are that:

  1. adoption is hindered when . . . use of the new technology is contrary to the kind of staff we need in our company, contrary to the primary goals we give them, and contrary to human nature;
  2. adoption is hindered when . . . we do not understand how to drive adoption;
  3. adoption is hindered when . . . the technology does not address an important need or the initial implementation was not sufficiently tailored to the business to be compelling.

Getting good adoption rates with any new technology, requires keeping in mind these impediments to adoption in all stages of a project, from considering the fit and value of a new technology, to executing the deployment.  Let’s focus on the first impediment – the match between what the technology asks our staff to do, and who they are.

“Use of the New Technology Is Contrary To the Kind of Staff We Need In Our Company”

If we look at professional services firms, business success requires hiring and developing staff who are creative and independent problem solvers. And creative, independent problem solvers are not, by nature, inclined to change how they work to match a new standard process. This means that the best staff in professional service firms, and the junior staff who look up to them, are not likely to adopt a new IS.

“Use of the New Technology Is Contrary To the Primary Goals We Give Them”

In a professional services firm, business success requires our staff to be highly client focused.  We train them to avoid distractions and to focus their energies and time on understanding and delivering on the needs of the many different clients they serve.  And while we might ask them to do other things, like put information into databases or organize documents into repositories, we do not emphasize this “low priority” work, nor do we create rewards or penalties for following this behavior.  Acknowledging that one must limit the things we identify as “key priorities”, we reward for actions tied to client focus, client service and effective financial management.

If we are deploying an IS project that requires our staff to stop their priority work in order to add information to databases, or documents to repositories, we are setting up a conflict with their company directed priorities and rewards, and thus not likely to get good adoption.

“Use of the New Technology Is Contrary To Human Nature”

It is difficult to over-state how much people resist change.  No matter how great the benefits, people resist changing how they do their work for many reasons, including:

  1. lack of understanding of the importance/value of the change,
  2. lack of trust in those driving the change,
  3. and perhaps the most important and most fundamental reason: fear

We might think that this fear is based in a rational concern about how a change may affect them, a concern that a new system may fail, and that they will pay a price.  But neuroscientists and psychologists suggest the problem is more fundamental, that fear of change is an evolutionary survival mechanism wired into who we are.  They suggest that when change is thrust upon us, that the first reaction is emotional, rather than conscious and rational.  And they suggest that this emotional and biological response impedes our abilities to even listen.  So when we are making our great and rational IS roll-out presentation, the reaction in much of our audience may be at a sub-conscious level, and it may be preventing them from even hearing our arguments about the value of the new system.  Sub-conscious fears that may be in their minds include: “loss of control”, “loss of status”, “feelings of incompetence,” and a sense that their many other priorities are overwhelming them or that too much change is going on in their life.

Getting employees to adopt new systems is pretty tough when their subconscious is full of these fears, they are creative and independent by nature, and your company is strongly pressing other priorities!

As technologists, addressing these very human issues may seem daunting.  However, there is good news when it comes to enterprise search.  When we do a good job of configuring enterprise search to the language and needs of our company, many of these impediments go away.  For example, an enterprise search solution can provide the information our staff needs without asking them to pause from their core work to put information into databases or repositories, and without forcing them to change how they manage their information.

The bottom line is, if your new information system requires your staff to do something that is contrary to who they are or what your company tells them is important, your adoption rates are likely to be very low.  Creating an IS that is “easy to use” and that has “information your staff wants” is not sufficient to generate broad adoption.

About Trent Parkhill

Trent Parkhill has more than 30 years of engineering and IT experience and consults with organizations in the engineering and professional services market on best practices in enterprise search 2.0. A former engineering consultant and Director of IT, Parkhill was named to InfoWorld’s CTO 25, the publication’s annual list of senior IT executives who demonstrate leadership within their companies and the IT community. For the past 25 years, Parkhill has managed information systems development in a variety of positions at Haley & Aldrich (H&A), a leading science and engineering firm.

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