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Any Good Adoption and Change Management Process Needs Reinforcement

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Image: Brian Jackson - Alamy Stock Photo
This article is the third and final in a three-part series on how and why it’s good business sense to implement a formal adoption and change management (ACM) process.
In the first article, I explained the importance of a process and the impact that it can have on the success of a technology project. If you’ll remember, the most compelling reason was that this formal process could increase end-user adoption of new technology and ensure that your organization receives maximum return on investment (ROI).
I also provided an overview of the four parts of the adoption and change management process: discovery, planning, execution, and reinforcement.
The second article in the series covered the discovery and planning steps in the process and explained how each step builds upon information from the previous step.
This article describes the last two steps in the process. At this point, you have completed discovery and documented the requirements and motivations of various user groups and completed planning of your communication and training efforts. Now it’s time to execute all that work.
This information is based on a session from Enterprise Connect 2022 in March that I presented along with Vallorie Weires, director of adoption and organizational change management, Enabling Technologies. Her expertise in the ACM process is extensive and invaluable.
Execution: Follow the Plan You Made
If you’ve spent time in the discovery and planning phases, the good news is that your work is mostly done. In the execution phase, you follow your plan. You have developed custom technology-adoption experiences for users based on what they said they needed. In this stage, the goal is to translate that information into helping them be successful with the new tools. The users should feel that you have seen and heard them and meeting their needs.
But don’t let your guard down just yet. The key to success at this stage is having the resources available to respond to issues as they arise.
For example, your training plan will be enacted during the execution phase. This means that you need to:
  • Create or scavenge the training materials (based on your plan)
  • Designate and populate your training repository
  • Determine the space (real or virtual) to be used for the various types of instructor-led training
  • Create a training schedule
  • Communicate the training options to your users (using your previously developed communication plan).
It’s important to include time in the project schedule for follow-up and to handle unexpected issues.
For example, on a recent project, the team was migrating 10,000 users in phases to a new unified communications as a service (UCaaS) solution. During the migration, the UCaaS provider made a major update to their software that changed the user interface.
This update resulted in significant effort for the ACM team on the project. Some users had already been trained on the old interface and had to be contacted and given updated information. Training documents had to be revised and updated. The curriculum for upcoming classes had to be updated with the new information, and the instructors had to be informed and prepared to deliver the new information.
In addition, the migration schedule allowed the technical team one day after each group's migration to resolve issues reported by users.
While one day worked for that project, the following factors could impact this time frame:
  1. The number of users moving during a phase
  2. The amount of training consumed by the users (untrained users tend to generate significantly more help desk incidents)
  3. The extent of the change created by the new tool and its impact on the user’s daily work (more change with higher impact means a higher probability of additional support needed)
If you are migrating users in phases, the execution phase is also the time to adjust and optimize your plans going forward based on your real-world results and user feedback.
As your plans turn into actuality, you will likely need to fine-tune them. You may find that you need more (or fewer) communications to the users. You may also find commonalities of help desk incidents that can be resolved proactively by adjustments in the training curriculum, resources, and materials.
In the project I mentioned above, we adjusted the communications plan to include device-specific communications that provided soft phone users with headsets and one set of information and desk phone users with information specific to their device.
We also found that the staff who answered calls from the public required additional configuration information, so we added this requirement to the process.
In my experience, this phase is the most commonly missed step in any change project. Ironically, it’s also often the most critical factor in the perception of the project’s success.
This phase includes a lot of tasks that require interaction with users:
  • Non-technical Q&A support. This is typically support for user questions that can be provided by the training team, and doesn’t include configuration changes that require an engineer to address.
  • User satisfaction surveys & analysis. In addition to asking users to answer a survey, the results should be shared with user representatives in a format that makes them easy to understand. Any results that indicate changes are needed should be acknowledged.
  • Updating of materials & training. This is an ongoing requirement. Updates and enhancements will occur during the life of the technology. If materials are not updated, they become useless. New and even existing employees will no longer have a reliable resource, and the utilization of the tool will drop.
  • Ongoing recognition of user concerns and feedback. The need for this is greatest during and after the migration process. However, there will always be new users, and existing users may change jobs and require different skills. A mechanism for reporting questions and concerns is essential, along with a process for responding to users. The response should thank them for their input and lets them know what to expect (even when nothing will change).
It doesn't have to be time-and resource-intensive, but it does have to be intentional. From a user perspective, the feedback loop is a simple thing: they share something and either we either address it and take action, or we don’t. Users either feel seen and heard, or they stop sharing feedback because it feels like their input doesn’t matter.
It’s important to plan for reinforcement at the beginning of the project. During persona discovery, you can learn how people want to be acknowledged. That knowledge sets the stage for reinforcement later.
These four sequential steps produce optimal reinforcement:
  1. Capture input
  2. Demonstrate how you are acting on it
  3. Drive it home by intentionally acknowledging every single bit of feedback shared.
  4. Consider scheduling additional opportunities for user feedback gathering to gauge perception and efficiency gains, and also identify ongoing trouble spots to remediate
When users provide feedback, you must respond. This doesn't mean you always respond to the user with “yes.” The fact that you read and respond to user feedback is the most important factor. If you make adjustments or improvements, communicate them to users, so they know their feedback was heard. This is an important opportunity to improve user perception.
Of course, we all know that users will ask for things that are not feasible (or even possible). In that case, a simple thanks for their idea and a quick explanation of why the request can’t be met will let users know that their input didn’t fall into a void.
Ideally, you should assign a specific person to manage this during and after the project. Plan to continue the feedback loop through the support team on an ongoing basis.
An intentional reinforcement phase demonstrates the value of employees and shows that you listen to and embrace feedback. When it makes sense, use the information to take action and improve processes (and let users know about it).
The most critical component of this phase is setting user expectations about what you’ll do with the feedback and then doing it. Recognize that failing to follow up will be detrimental to the IT reputation in your organization.
A formal end user adoption and change management process is an important component of a successful project. It addresses the people part of a technology project. It improves how that technology is adopted. And, in the end, isn’t every new technology intended to improve results for the people involved?

Melissa is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. SCTC consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.