[ I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2009. ]
This is the 2nd part of a blog post looking at user adoption.
- Overview of barriers to introducing Enterprise 2.0 and user adoption
- Scrutinizing barriers to user adoption
- Thoughts on how to attract second-wave adopters
In the first post I listed the following barriers to user adoption:
- Insufficient training
- Generation Gap
- Applications not part of users’ workflow
- Time effort > personal value
- Complex applications
The first barrier (insufficient training) can be addressed fairly easily. The scope and content of the training program should depend on complexity, context and people’s background.
Barriers two and three (culture and generation gap) are cited very frequently with respect to user adoption. Not to sound harsh, but I think the importance of these two barriers is partially overrated. This is not to say that they do no effect user adoption at all. But looking at cultural issues, people assume that certain behavior can be attributed to a particular culture and by that ignore other explanations.
For example, a very common argument is that people are unwilling to share what they know. Well, they may not be necessarily unwilling to do so, but it does take low priority when people try to meet their goals and deadlines. That was the fallacy of the early KM era, in which employees were asked to step outside their work and ‘contribute’ to a fancy KM tool (aka database). The beauty of social tools is it then, that they allow people to do their work in a more efficient manner, thus, gaining direct personal value and at the same time letting the organization as a whole benefit from it by breaking down silos and enhancing transparency. People need to realize that in most cases, knowledge-sharing is not an activity but in fact a by-product of people’s work. That’s why it is so important to implement these kind of tools into people’s workflow.
On the generation gap, most of the statistics seem to indicate that the older generation is technology averse and few use social tools or services on the Internet. But what about LinkedIn with it’s 39 Million users? What about XING, where 37% of its users are baby boomers? What about Facebook, where the fastest growing demographic is women over 55? And if the younger generations are always on the lookout for the next cool thing, why is the average age of people on Twitter 31? Can we really explain all that just by looking at age, gender or race? I doubt it! Ultimately it comes down to value! People flock to a service from which they get value. What constitutes value, lays in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, it is paramount to understand people, their needs, interactions with others, current tools they are using and so on.
This leaves us with the last three barriers (applications not part of user’s workflow, time effort > personal value, complex applications). To reach second-wave adopters we will need to concentrate on these barriers and come up with strategies to bridge the old and new world.
Whenever there is change about to happen, people effected can roughly be divided into three groups:
- People inside your garden
- People on the fence
- People outside your garden
The number of people can be visualized according to a bell-shaped curve. People on the edges, thus, group one and three, are usually in the minority, whereas group two constitutes the majority.
When considering the introduction of social tools, the groups above can be mapped as follows:
- People already using social tools or very eager to do so (the enthusiasts)
- People not completely opposing the idea of social tools, but reluctant to some degree to adopt new ways of working for various reasons (the skeptics)
- People completely resistant to the introduction and use of social tools, e.g. lawyer that asks his secretary to print out emails or newsletters. (the lost)
Forget about the third group! Getting them into your yard will most probably be impossible and distract you from focusing on the people on the fence. Besides, the group is usually fairly small and may well leave the firm not too long into the future. The enthusiasts are also usually a small group, but a very important one. They can positively influence at least some of the people on the fence.
As pointed out before, the skeptics are not opposed to social tools per se, but do need to understand how they can benefit most with the smallest effort to change existing practices. And that’s where Enterprise 2.0 projects fall dangerously short. Early adopters and enthusiasts tend to have their heads somewhere in the clouds and forget about the existing work practices of the masses.
I liked Gil Yehuda’s analogy of the E20 and the long neck, which applies to enthusiasts vs. skeptics:
“The problem is that the “body” — the enterprises that are supposed to benefit from Enterprise 2.0 thinking are lagging far behind. [...] the “head” is moving forward, looking at traditional business as the outdated, backward-thinking, unimaginative dolts who just don’t get it. The messages delivered by the head seems to say everything you are “is dead”. SOA is dead, IT is dead, data-centers are dead, waterfall is dead, email is dead, etc. Instead, we live on perpetual betas, agile, clouds, and micro-this or that, social-this or that.”
As much as we dislike it, people live in their inbox and this fact is not going away over night by telling them about the benefits of using social tools! Given the lack of appropriate tools in the past, people have grown accustomed to (ab)use email for everything, e.g. public conversations (e.g. cc’d), collaboration, awareness (e.g. newsletters, updates), connecting with others. It’s effortless to fire an email to a group of people rather than using a separate tool. And yes, for most people it is easier to use email for collaboration rather than a wiki, even though they are aware of the disadvantages.
In the last part of this series we will be looking at ways to attract second-wave adopters of enterprise social tools.