It’s been months of discussions and budgeting, but finally your organization is ready to pull the trigger on a new piece of software that’ll make everything better. Guess what, that’s not the only thing you’ll need.
More than software, you’ll need people to use it.
If you build it, they will come works with physical infrastructure where people see it everyday, but digital infrastructure isn’t something people see everyday. It is only visible if it has advertising, word-of-mouth, or if its the only solution. When building customer-centric software, sales & marketing are essential to its success. But what if you’re building something to increase operational efficiency?
Years ago, I worked for a small company where we wrote our hours on paper timesheets and kept inventory more or less in our warehouse manager’s mind. When he went on vacation, I shifted to a digital solution because I was the young tech nerd. I spent his two weeks off taking pictures of everything, cataloguing locations, amounts, cross-referencing with manufacturer information, and sharing access to this database with our company. When my manager got back from vacation, he thought it was so neat that everyone knew how much we had of what!
Our sales team could efficiently pitch cheaper solutions for small projects with scrap materials only our warehouse manager knew about beforehand. It was a game-changer. But over the next few months, whenever I was not at work (I was in school at the time), it all fell into a state of disrepair. I learned the most important lesson about software: coding is only as good as adoption of the software.
Getting people to use the software we build takes effort and time because it often involves changing peoples’ everyday behaviours. Sometimes they’ve been at it for so long that they’re stuck in their ways.
So here are a few behavioural science techniques for getting your team to adopt a new tool;
1. Establish trusted people to lead the change
2. Use incentives if you want short-term changes
3. Change hearts & minds if you want long-term adoption
4. Explain the value of it
5. Avoid controlling people
6. Offer choice
7. Use existing motivation as a launchpad
Establishing trusted people to lead the change begins with that important word: Trust. If your team doesn’t trust you, you’ll be forcing something upon them. And that is the one true form of reverse psychology that’s been found in behavioural science. When someone feels they have freedom to set their own course but they are forced to do something in the area they felt control, they will react by trying to get their feeling of freedom back.
To avoid this, establish a trusted authority who can lead the change.
Build trust by thinking about the triad of trustworthiness:
Managers, directors, and executives are authorities whom many people trust. But we all know some bosses we didn’t trust—so it’s just their authority that makes them trustworthy. Sometimes we must prove we are trustworthy through performance. Being the best manager or director who leads the team to success is a great step in that direction.
Trust is also heavily influenced by likability. Unfortunately for many of us, likability is highly influenced by physical attractiveness. Brad Pitt is more trusted than Lyell Lovett. It ain’t pretty, but it’s true. Don’t try to go changing that aspect of likability. Instead, change behaviour & attitudes. Focus on building relationships by remembering people’s families, personal lives, and general facts about others. Maybe bring in some treats every once & a while. These are ways to increase likeability, and thereby, trust.
To show honesty, work in the open. Remove chats from private channels, present progress—both good & bad—to everyone. Be honest & vulnerable about where things currently are at and where you want to go. Be honest about reading this as a way to grow and improve things for everyone! This is how Martha Stewart went from fallen, jailed homemaker extraordinaire to trusted brand.
Being a part of the team that you’re trying to get onboard to your new tool benefits how much you can get people onboard. However, that’s not always possible. So you can’t be the trusted person to effect change. When Button built a portal for managing applications for a funding program, we knew all the users well but we weren’t part of the team, so to get people to adopt it instead of using Excel to manage their workflow, we had to find someone already trusted in the organization to help make the change.
Fortunately, there’s a paradox on our side that means we can spend time getting fewer people on board which ripples out to more people: the friendship paradox. The friendship paradox is seen in all social networks, but was found when children were asked who they wanted to sit beside at lunch time.
Everyone has a few people they choose to connect with, but there are always a small handful of people who many people want to connect with. As children, we would call these kids the popular kids. Within a social network and the workplace, they can be considered agents of change. Because if we focus our efforts on getting them to adopt the tool, their influence will ripple out to more people.
Agents of change are people who you recognize to have influence in your workplace. Getting them on board will pay dividends in creating culture. This isn’t favouritism. It’s bigger & broader vision. When there are fights in high schools, the teachers who run out to intervene have been asked to by the administration. They are often selected because they are the “cool” and/or well-respected teachers.
Similarily, in the workplace, you can identify who is well-respected then focus some time & effort on getting them onboard with the whole process of digital transformation. As they influence others alongside you, the group snowballs and culture is born. This culture will eat your policies for breakfast.
As trust within the organization grows, get a temperature check for where everyone is on the transformation journey. Are they on board, adversarial, indifferent, or what?
Bonuses bring progress, which is why most companies use them. It’s simple behaviour for humans & animals alike: When we are rewarded for our actions, we will try that behaviour again in hopes getting the reward again. Incentives & rewards work extremely well for getting quantities of work done: offer more, get more. They will get the job done, however, at a price.
That price can be someone’s passion & motivation, the quality of work, or the actual cost of the incentives. The old adage if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life again is true, but if you start tying incentives & rewards to what someone loves, the love will whither away. So if we start giving incentives to people to adopt a new tool for something they already care about, we risk that care.
The other downside of incentives is that they only get the minimum quality of work.
Incentives also come at a long-term cost. Any parent knows that getting their kid to clean their room is tough. If we offer our kids a candy to clean their room, they’ll do it. But if you run out of candy, that room won’t be cleaned anymore. Also, as the kid grows, they may want more candy or better candy. I personally will only work for Snickers or Reese’s peanut butter cups—anything else isn’t worth my time. So it’ll cost you a lot in the long-run if you offer incentives to get people to adopt the new software.
So how do you make people motivated to change and be part of the change in a way that gets them on-board, advocating, happy, and doesn’t cost as much money?
Moving away from incentives, there are a few other ways to get people on-board & motivated to be part of the change. These involve: norms, explaining the value, avoiding controlling techniques, offering choice, and nurturing existing motivation.
Remember the trusted people from the start of this, as they start using the new tools, they’ll influence other people to use it. The more others see others use it, the more they’ll use it. This is essentially the basis norms.
One of the biggest drivers of human behaviour is what other people are doing. We know that peer pressure is a big factor for children, but did you know that we just rebrand it as norms when you grow up and it’s just as strong. The most common reason that people recycle is because they see other people do it. The reason your electricity bill has a comparison of you & similar households is because companies know it influences your behaviour.
Leverage these norms in the workplace to shift attitudes and behaviours towards adopting digital solutions. Culture eats policy for breakfast so don’t just say, “this is what we’re doing.” Find ways to bring people on board with the solution & processes. One of the best ways to do this is to identify agents of change.
To get agents of change and others on board, they must understand the value of the digital solution.
Meet people where they’re at and, because you’ve built trust, they’ll listen. Explain to them why it’s important for this org transformation to take place, using language they know. The importance is key here, you want them to know & understand the value of what’s happening. Being told to do something with no context is extremely frustrating. Being asked to do something with an explanation about what the impact will be and why it’s important will change people’s minds. That’s what you want here: changing attitudes, minds, and hearts—and behaviour will follow.
Use the language they know. Surfers can tell you they got barrelled, but that means nothing to a non-surfer. Work environments have unique language. Meet your colleagues where they’re at and talk to them in a way they understand.
The language used at this point is crucial. You need to meet people where they’re at and use terms they understand. Jargon gets lost on people when trying to on-board them. There’s no faster way to lose someone’s attention than talking about something they don’t comprehend. Not only is it important to use their own language, but it’s also important to avoid controlling language. Reverse psychology exists—it’s when people are told what to do and they end up feeling like their sense of freedom is being threatened. Words such as, “should” “have to” “must” are the killers of desire. As much as possible, try to avoid these. Instead, replace with “let’s try” “can you please” “why don’t you” or other phrases that foster a feeling of autonomy. You want to give your workers a sense they have the freedom to choose to adopt the new thing.
Choice is incredibly important. It is a key part of building people up to do something they want. If you offer someone meaningful choices, they’ll choose to do the thing they want over the things they don’t want. So when adopted a new digital solution, give people the sense that they can choose. The choice could be what their role will be in the new process, or how they want to contribute to the adoption of it.
Giving staff options of how they can contribute, especially giving them the opportunity to come up with their own ways of contributing, will make them feel a sense of autonomy & accomplished. They’ll feel more invested and, therefore, more likely to do that behaviour.
One of the most often overlooked parts of getting people to do things is using their existing motivation. You know that when rockets launch to the moon, they don’t go straight there? They sling-shot around the earth, using earth’s orbit as a force to propel them to the moon, this take less energy than just a bee line towards the moon. Similarly, find what people love doing and using it to slingshot towards the new digital solution.
Change management is a misnomer. It can feel like it implies big, drastic changes. Those big swings probably won’t work. Incremental, focused changes to your own habits and to the focus of your organization pay off in the long-run.
Image Credit: Alfonso Estevez / Midjourney
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