What Can Warren Buffett Teach Us About User Adoption?


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In a recent interview on CNBC Warren Buffett said that he could end the federal deficit in five minutes.

“I could end the deficit in five minutes. You just pass a law that says that any time there’s a deficit of more than three percent of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election. Yeah, yeah, now you’ve got the incentives in the right place, right? (Laughs)” – Source: www.CNBC.com 07 July 2011.

What Warren Buffett knows that most people seemed to forget (or just ignore) is that you need to develop meaningful incentives that reward the desired behavior and work performance you want to receive. This simple concept is as true for politicians in congress as it is for users of IT systems in your organization.

User adoption is ultimately about changing user behavior. So how do we effectively change behavior?

Looking to another part of life, there is evidence from public efforts to change driver behavior that programs that combine incentives with enforcement and consequences are more effective than programs that only focus on motivation alone.

The Washington Post reports:

“The campaign against distracted driving has provided another illustration that American drivers are more likely to respond to safety initiatives when they carry the threat of punishment.

…Publicity efforts alone, such as the “Buckle Up for Safety” campaign, were high-profile failures, but the “Click It or Ticket” effort that followed is credited with increasing seat-belt use. The weeping victims of drunken driving who appeared in public presentations and in the media captured widespread attention, but experts say sobriety checkpoints provided stronger motivation for the use of designated drivers.” – Source: www.WashingtonPost.com 11 July 2011.


A common problem of most IT implementations is a focus on sending out 1-way communications, without developing truly meaningful incentive programs that drive desired user behavior. Many IT projects focus their communications on the typical, yet ineffective “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)” message, but do little or nothing to define how they will measure user adoption and the rewards or consequences for meeting or missing adoption goals. In effect, the approach to user adoption found in many organizations is a “Buckle Up For Safety” campaign when a “Click It or Ticket” approach is needed.


  • If you want to improve user adoption, you need to make sure you have specified user adoption targets and defined policies that align incentives and rewards (including consequences) with desires behavior. The rewards and consequences must be strong enough – and meaningful to end users – to actually influence user behavior.
  • You need a structured program to measure user adoption against defined targets and then enforce your incentive policies. This may include setting monthly user adoption metrics and targets, and then providing regular reports to monitor performance.
  • You need to formally assign responsibility for implementing your incentive and rewards program. With “Click It or Ticket”, police officers are responsible for enforcing seatbelt policies. In your organization, it may fall to team leaders, department managers or directors. What matters is that everyone is clear on whose job it is to implement your user adoption policies.
  • Don’t forget that incentive programs that are heavily focused on driving user commitment to adopt systems are preferable to programs that only focus on compliance or WIIFM. Of course, even commitment-centric approaches still require that you have a structured program for monitoring adoption and allocating rewards.


  • Do you currently take a “Buckle Up for Safety” or “Click It or Ticket” approach to user adoption? Is it effective?
  • Are your incentive systems truly aligned to drive desired user behavior? Do end-users feel meaningful rewards and consequences if they do not use your system? How are they enforced?
  • How do you know if your incentive program is meaningful to end users? What do you do to validate that the rewards/consequences actually matter to the individuals whose behavior you are trying to change? Or do you just assume you have the right incentives?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jason Whitehead
Jason Whitehead is CEO of Tri Tuns, LLC, an organizational effectiveness consultancy specializing in driving and sustaining effective user adoption of IT systems. He works at the intersection of technology, process, culture and people to help clients actually achieved measurable business benefits from their technology investments.


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