Carrots and Sticks: Tips to solve your User Adoption Challenges

I recently attended a software conference and had the pleasure of sitting with a group of talkative and inquisitive lunch mates. One of the questions that came up during that discussion was “what do you do when your users Just. Will. Not. use what you have built”. To this question I answer — be prepared to bring both carrots and sticks.

The Carrot:

The first item I always look at is “Show them the value”. It is critical for users to understand the value of the tasks that they are accomplishing. The What’s In It For Me (WIIFM for short). At the end of the day people want to know that the time they have spent is worth something. Show them how completing this task helps make their life easier. How it will improve their ability to level up and show their own value? Users need to understand this to embrace that task at hand. If this is done well, you will not need any other carrots or sticks.

If showing how the task impacts them directly does not show results you can help them understand the impact they are making on those around them. What is the impact on the bottomline & financials of the organization.? When possible, make it personal: “By completing these tasks you are saving Justin 2 hours a week in boring, repetitive tasks, Help Justin out”. Users do not generally want to negatively impact anyone else by their own actions.

If neither of the above help the user adopt the process(es), evaluate the process. It is possible that the process includes duplicative steps. If you are being asked to enter in information that you have already entered into two other systems, you would not want to comply either. Take this as an opportunity to review what is in place, identify what could be improved, and take actions on what is ready for its next evolution.

The Sticks:

If employing the above actions and activities does not increase user adoption among those fighting the process(es) then you need to explore more aggressive tactics, essentially breaking out the stick vs. the carrot. One area to explore is validating that leadership is aligned in the process/data needs of the organization. Make sure that the time you are asking people to spend truly does have value. And, if it does, then leadership should also be following up directly with those who are not complying.

A creative use of reporting can help solve this issue. Push out dashboards and metrics that everyone can see, highlighting where data is successful and opportunities for improvement. An engaged leadership panel should comment on the successes, showing that being successful in doing these critical, important tasks, provides visibility to the leadership layer of the organization. No one likes being at the bottom of a list or graph.

Lastly, you can highlight specific use cases that violate current process(es) and incorporate those into annual goals. This is a last resort. If you find yourself in this situation often then you need to re-evaluate the culture of your system design and implementation for the organization.

How many of these carrots and sticks have you used? What other carrots or sticks have been successful for you? I look forward to your insight and response.