XVA Labs People First Technology Second

Employee Adoption and Engagement. People First, Technology Second

In Collaboration, Culture, Engagement and Adoption, Organizational Change, Workshops by Matt Ridings1 Comment

Here at XVA Labs we preach loudly and often that you should start with “People First, Technology Second“. Meaning, figure out the actual challenges and opportunities that people are facing before dropping a technology solution in place.

This would seem obvious. After all, how can you provide a solution without knowing the problem? Why would anyone adopt the solution without seeing it as a means to better their individual lives? Yet this is exactly how most technology is deployed today, often for seemingly very valid reasons.

Where Platforms Go To Die

Someone, somewhere, says “We need to be more collaborative, let’s buy a collaboration tool”. Then that tool is rolled out to the masses who give it a curious, cursory glance and then go back to what they were doing while the tool languishes in the corner.

These goals such as “Be more collaborative” or “Be more innovative” are first and foremost organizational challenges. They require a mindset, a culture, that supports these objectives. But they are also vague constructs that aren’t very useful when thought of at that level. They require an understanding by the individuals involved about how these high level objectives help them and how they can be applied to their own specific contexts.

Then, and only then, can a tool be effectively deployed and adopted throughout an organization. You can always mandate usage of a tool if you like, but that generally ends in an unmitigated disaster by destroying the very traits of the culture you want to develop.

Measuring Sticks

But even if you do everything right, how do you measure engagement with a platform and the benefits derived from it? It’s a good question. Using statistical measures of reporting can give you information such as how often people log in, how often they post, respond, etc. This is what is used most often in organizations.

If these statistics are looked at in isolation however this can be a dangerous road to follow. It’s like using the number of Facebook and Twitter followers as a measure of how successful your social media efforts are. Those numbers are meaningless if you aren’t actually deriving real benefit from those followers.

What’s The Percentage Kenneth?

I can’t tell you what a successful percentage of adoption and engagement is for your organization where a platform is concerned. No one can. Don’t get me wrong, most people in an organization have a pretty accurate gut feel for when something is being underutilized and that’s a good place to start. Comparing yourself to another organization with these kinds of numbers is also not a good measure to go by, the circumstances and goals are simply too unique.

If you’ve put two and two together at this point you realize that the actual goals should never really be about engagement and adoption, but rather the business benefits those activities are supposed to enable. If you know that information, then you have a business case you can measure (in reality, multiple business cases).


Speaking of reality, let’s sidetrack here to talk about the ‘real world’ for a moment. The truth is that most employees have experienced someone dropping a piece of technology into their laps, telling them to attend a half day class on how to use it, and then effectively walking away. Technology came first, not the people. So what do you do now?

In our experience, there is a two-fold approach required to getting back on track. First, realize that an investment has already been made (like it or not) and it needs to be explored. That exploration should be at a contextual level, ‘how could I personally use this to improve my life’. Second, a mindset of experimentation has to be fostered within the culture. Most people in organizations fear tackling something that they aren’t sure will succeed because the opposite of success is considered ‘failure’. FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) is still your primary nemesis.

That notion of ‘failure’ has to evolve to be seen, and rewarded, as ‘advancing knowledge’ (otherwise known as learning). Putting those two things together typically means a cycle of ideation and testing. Engage your employees, find the best ideas for how it could possibly be used and what the benefit might be, then test those theories. A pilot project if you will (even though I personally hate the word ‘pilot’ because it implies something ‘temporary and separate from’, which is exactly the wrong mindset to enter into. After all, who wants to expend the energy to learn something new and try it out if it’s only going to be temporary?)

Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Now, let’s get back to how to measure success. The best thing to remember is that when it comes to tools meant to foster things like collaboration and innovation, engagement within the platform/technology is only one piece of the puzzle. If it’s really working it will be driving offline conversations and relationships as well, often with one or more of the parties having never engaged on the platform at all. This is a good thing, don’t try to force all of this activity back onto the platform where it can be captured. But it does mean you need to focus on measuring the impact on business goals, not simply measuring platform engagement.

That type of measurement is tricky, namely because the actual business benefit attempting to be measured is impacted by multiple things other than just the platform. That makes trying to divide up the credit very difficult indeed. But if you develop your ‘pilots’ properly, and get good baseline measurements before you begin, it’s imminently doable.

Have Some Guts

Having said all of that, don’t ignore your gut along the way. The analysts and researchers out there will kill me for saying this, but there are some things that are not worth the cost it would require to explicitly measure them. You get paid for the unique experience and insight you bring to your job, put it to good use. You don’t have to always have numbers to hide behind as a failsafe, that’s also a part of developing a culture of experimentation.


Matt Ridings – @techguerilla



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