Silicon Mountain
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Silicon Mountain

DoD Customer Personas: 5 Reasons to Help the Late Adopter

Hi, meet Bernard. Bernard is a figment of the imagination of the Silicon Mountain product discovery team that completed approximately 70 hour-long interviews with members of the DoD in the course of a month.

Image courtesy of Silicon Mountain product discovery team

Bernard is my personal favorite persona. As a team we generated five main personas while researching with end-users throughout a DoD operation. Bernard is really a combination of personalities and stereotypes, intentionally to help others understand a story. Bernard is the one that constantly comes up when we want to laugh, to cry, or to reference a victory.

A few years ago, I only really heard about personas when talking about marketing and sales activities. Who is my buyer persona? Who is my naysayer persona? It made a lot of sense then to talk about these stereotypical roles, it lead to an opportunity to test a hypothesis (e.g. a 25–45 year-old female, living in a city zip code can quickly define a target audience). Most of our human brains are designed to handle maybe a group as large as 100 people. Of course, I am paraphrasing from great books like Think Again by Adam Grant.

The reason I bring up Dr. Grant’s book is that it identifies a common thread with thinking patterns — entrenchment in one’s own ideas when challenged or persecuted. He has an awesome meta-analysis graph in that book called Beliefs I Stand By that weighs, “That thing I heard from my friends brother in 2006” as the highest by at least a factor of ten on a scale of how steadfast it is against: data that goes against my assumption, the latest scientific studies, unconventional thinking, and new evidence. So the direct path to challenging someone often meets a lot of resistance. We all seek confirmation of our beliefs, Bernard is someone who has already confirmed many of his or her beliefs.

In this case, we declared that there were five personas. Col Grant (I argued hard for Col Mustard), Lt Mattison, Maj Thompson, Milton Smith (yes, inspired by Office Space), and Bernard Shultz (Bernard is a character many of us might remember from Guess Who). None are real people that we interviewed, instead they are a fun way for a team to refer back to personality types as we empathize with all of the characters involved in the process. Bernard stood out from the very beginning.

The persona we built is intended to be funny. We are using humor to lighten the mood about what we would otherwise regard as “personnel risk”, “potential blockers”, or maybe even a euphemism like, “late adopters”.

Five Reasons Why I Love Bernard

  1. Bernard is not just a retirement-focused boomer. He’s your father, your sister, your brother, your cousin, your child. Everyone knows a Bernard and as much as it seems crazy, the personality transcends every generation.
  2. Bernard represents the absolute hardest single person group to convince to adopt any kind of innovation. Bernard can be the most rewarding and the most challenging conversion of anyone’s initiative.
  3. I have spent some of the best times in my life supporting Bernards. These people self-identify as technophobes, or more commonly don’t even recognize the term technophobe. Had they known, they would have nodded affirmatively.
  4. Bernard tends to be highly human in interpersonal interaction. Frankly, I spend too much time on technology. Bernard has a much healthier relationship with technology. Often Bernard is affable and sincere, which can lead to thorough feedback. He’s not checking his phone for something better or the latest TikTok post.
  5. Bernard is the most fun persona to talk about in public. Frankly, the second someone who has spent any time with our product teams has heard the name, Bernard, they laugh. It is all in good taste, Bernard is intentionally a silly illustration of one extreme.

Just the other day I was spending time with one of my favorite Bernards. This person has impressed the product team with the ability to adopt and work within innovation. Not only was this particular Bernard adopting, this Bernard was leading the innovation for his team. It can and will happen if you too love your local Bernard.

That seemed impossible, but is one of the greatest coups the team has achieved, and it is totally and entirely replicable.

How did we convert this persona, and then another shortly after? Patience, empathy, and sincerity. Having spent three years supporting government employees directly, and five years previously in a non-profit targeting government administrators (most of it from the Washington, DC region until one of those moved me to Colorado) I learned a very important thing about government employment. First, some of the best people in this country serve us directly through military service, or indirectly through the federal employment service. I cannot stress enough the use of the term service. Too frequently people malign government workers or call them lazy. I invite those people to spend a week in that person’s chair, with all of their responsibilities, tools, and constraints. We picked up the phone and wore the hat of product team, help desk, researcher, whatever is needed for that user to help Bernard feel supported and comfortable entering an uncertain world.

Uncertainty avoidance is measured in cross-cultural psychology and in organizational behavior studies like the Hofstede cultural dimensions theory. Below is a chart that shows that in general, Americans are pretty middle of the road when it comes to uncertainty avoidance. It is safe to argue that most Bernards are dragging that trend higher. Also, we can observe in day-to-day life that Bernards are the first to be dismissed by the more innovative personas.

By Piotrus — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76074311

Uncertainty is scary. I spend many nights worrying about the future, impacts of decisions I have made, and how quickly things can change. I work at a small, start-up like business, though. I trade off that discomfort for the comfort of being able to pivot, change and adapt quickly, and as much avoidance of direct bureaucracy as possible.

Bernard does not have that same perspective. Bernard joined the government for stability. Bernard owns the job assigned and spent a lot of time figuring out the fastest process using Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook as possible. Bernard just got comfortable and understands the bureaucracy as a fully indoctrinated member of the clan.

As stated before, though, Bernard is an amazing person. In fact, I would argue that nearly every government employee, service person, and even peer contractors have impressed me in significant ways. Not to say that I agree with everything or everyone in the government, that is not possible. However, if I am successful in understanding the other person’s perspective before I try to help them, it makes a world of difference in the outcome.

We decided to adapt different implementation tactics for different personas. This is not to say that empathy, sincerity, and patience are not critical to everything we do, more to say different people require different levels of support. Leaving Bernard behind would be a big mistake. Bernard needs a customized approach that mirrors Bernard’s needs. Perhaps other personas can be grouped or will run with recommendations on their own. Bernard often will not, and is very reasonably skeptical of the recommendation given experience and tribal knowledge.

Test yourself by using Bernard as a barometer of adoption. Bernard may be a young officer, a retiring contractor, a squadron commander, or a freshly minted enlisted soldier. While it is likely easier to scale numbers by appealing to other personas, Bernards will be there providing continuity long after the mercurial rise of the competitive, the ultra-ambitious, and the early adopters. If you do not find a strategy to work with Bernard, the lifespan of your capability may suffer.

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Silicon Mountain is a small company based out of Denver, CO with multiple SBIR awards. We deliver DevSecOps as a service to enable our employees and customers to own their mission success.

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Michael Downard

Michael Downard

Michael works for a small business as Principal Investigator for multiple SBIR awards and earned a part-time MBA from George Mason and is both a PMP & PMI-ACP.

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