7 Lessons From the Gym for Improved IT User Adoption

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I do some of my best thinking when I’m exercising. My mind shuts off all the day-to-day life noise and drifts off into uncharted areas.

With the holiday season upon us, and the inevitable (though often short-lived) rise in people wanting to make changes in their lives (can you say “new years’ resolutions to get in shape”?) it occurred to me that there are a lot of lessons one can learn from the gym that can help us improve adoption of IT systems.


Look around the gym (it’s OK) to see how you can deliver successful IT adoption

Pretty much no matter what gym you go to, you’ll see all different kinds of people, in all different stages of fitness. There are people who are clearly new to the healthy lifestyle arena. And there are specimens that could be on the cover of a fitness magazine. The range of ages, comfort, skill, and experience of the people in the gym is quite similar to the diverse stakeholders that you must get to adopt your new technology.

Getting people to adopt regular, sustained, effective fitness into their lives requires that they change their behavior. They have to change how they conduct their daily personal life activities. This is very similar to getting people to adopt your IT systems. It’s about getting people – all sorts of diverse groups of people – to change their behavior and how they conduct their daily work life activities.

So, what can we learn?


1. Take a holistic, systemic approach

Achieving a healthy lifestyle includes many things, not just exercise. You need to look at multiple areas of your life – diet, drinking, smoking, sleeping – all affect your level of fitness. People who are truly looking to get in shape realize they need to look at ALL of the elements that affect their life, and it’s not just plugging in 30 minutes on the bike every other day. The may end up changing how they shop for groceries, where, when and what they eat, how they spend their free time, and even the people with whom they associate.

Likewise, achieving effective use of your IT systems also requires that you take a look at all of the elements that affect user behavior. You should:

  • Look beyond system functionality and business processes
  • Address organizational policies
  • Examine your rewards and incentives
  • Consider your communication and employee engagement approaches
  • Look at how you manage user performance


2. Get expert help

When people join a gym for the first time they often consult a personal trainer. The trainer helps guide you through the process of learning how to exercise and increase our comfort level using the equipment and will often offer suggestions of how to change things outside the gym in order to achieve success inside the gym. The trainer makes it easy for you to through the initial adoption of a healthy lifestyle and then assists you in keeping it going.

Similarly, consulting an expert in IT user adoption can help you drive initial use when a system is first live and then help you sustain it over the long term. Many organizations assume user adoption will just happen – or that it will be mandatory – only to find that they experience difficult, expensive, avoidable problems.


3. Have a plan

People who are serious about their fitness develop a plan (often with help of an expert). The plan is customized (such as losing 100 pounds or training for an Iron Man) based on the goals of the individual or a group.

Having a plan makes achieving your goal easy. It lets you break things into small, manageable chunks. It gives you a schedule and structure for taking action. It lets you know what you need to do from one day to the next. It lets you make the best use of your time and resources.

Many IT projects have a plan and project schedule for how they will build, test, and deploy the system. But they do not have a plan for how they will ensure it is used and delivering business value.

Before you even think about moving forward with funding an IT project, make sure you have identified all of the issues that you need to address in order to drive user adoption. And make sure you have a written plan for how you will make sure these issues are addressed, at every level of your organization.


4. Motivation is key

People find all sorts of tricks to motivate themselves at the gym. Some work with a trainer. Others have a gym buddy. Others yet take classes for that group motivation. And others do it by spending an exorbitant amount of time admiring themselves in the mirror.

The point is, knowing how to exercise and use the equipment is worthless unless people are actually inspired enough to go and do it.

The same is true with the adoption of IT systems. Develop incentive and reward systems to encourage adoption. This may include adjusting compensation plans – especially for commission-based staff. And it may involve things like helping managers to recognize and reward people who do an exceptional job incorporating the new technology into their daily work practices.

5. Set goals, measure progress

Look around the gym and you will see lots of people who have set goals and measure progress. People often print out their workouts and then mark their progress. Others carry around notebooks that they update after every set. And some go for the good old fallback position of just stepping on the scale every day.

The point is, they know the direction they want to go, they are taking steps to get there, and they are measuring results so they know if they are succeeding or if they need to make adjustments.

Do the exact same thing with your user adoption program. For example, I helped one organization set specific weekly goals for how people should use the new CRM. We specified the minimum number of records each person needed to create and update each week. We identified which modules they needed to use. And then we measured the results.

So what happened? We had very quick adoption of the system and we were able to sustain it over the long-term.


6. Make it fun

Working out doesn’t need to be a drag. People find all sorts of ways to enjoy it. They try new things. They try classes, they work out in groups, and they get dirty. The point is that doing something that is challenging and good for you doesn’t have to be hard or annoying. There are lots of ways that you can find fun in what you do.

The same is true when it comes to embracing technology. There are all sorts of ways to engage your user base to help them find the fun in learning a new system. You can run contests. You can make it a team effort. You can give prizes. You can change the physical environment to make the learning experience enjoyable.

Challenge yourself to find new ways of learning new systems and behaviors. If you embrace your creativity, you will be surprised what you can achieve. Oh, and you can even make the fabled ‘user resistance’ a thing of the past.

7. Keep going

OK, this one is a no-brainer. Fitness is not a one-and-done adventure. You need to incorporate it into your life and keep it going throughout your life.

The same is true with user adoption. Getting initial adoption of your system at the time of go-live is of no real value if a year or two later people are not using the system. To get full value from your IT investment you need to sustain effective user adoption over the life of the system.

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