Collaboration and user adoption lessons from our kids

All you really need to know about collaboration you learned in kindergarten

Here at Central Desktop HQ, we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about collaboration and user adoption. What are the problems that can be solved by smarter collaboration? How can mighty collaboration champions ensure that their colleagues or employees really understand the benefit of this new way of working – and, thus, are more likely to continue this behavior, well after the initial implementation push has ended?

Personally, when I’m not working, I take a break from thinking about collaboration… at least as long as it takes for me to get home to my toddler, who is essentially learning, re-learning and occasionally discarding collaboration lessons every day. There’s a lot of overlap; as a Central Desktop user, you may even be working in a “sandbox” workspace, a safe place for poking around and experimenting without wreaking havoc in a shared environment.

When it comes to business collaboration, then, perhaps the key isn’t necessarily embracing unforeseen ideas from the future but remembering what you already learned – and, in some cases, what you’re teaching the tiny humans at your dinner table.

Learning requires doing

We’ve known this for a long time. “One must learn by doing the thing; for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try,” Aristotle and/or Sophocles once proclaimed. A century ago, John Dewey complained that too many schools focused on telling instead of involving. That remains a problem in education today, obviously, and it’s also a significant misstep made by many businesses. Maybe the worst way to learn a new process is through a conference call or a PowerPoint deck. You need to roll up your sleeves – and make sure other users are doing the same.

Customers take all sorts of smart approaches to encouraging user adoption; there’s no single strategy that fits every case. The team at ScottMadden told us about personalizing Central Desktop to make the tool really feel like part of the team, even in conversation. CareerBuilder uses gamification strategies to identify and reward super-users. Another customer created a fun photo sharing contest to help get users acclimated.

Benefits work better than bribes

“If you put your pajamas on, you can eat a pint of ice cream.” That will probably lead a “successful” pajama implementation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much to ensure pajama success tomorrow; if anything, it undermines it.

Adults may like to think we’re more evolved than that, but we’re not. Rewards can obviously be powerful, but they are typically more effective on short-term or one-off goal achievement – or when trying to inspire 100% effort from someone who’d otherwise give 95%. You’re not likely to buy your way to successful long-term software adoption with a trail of Amazon gift cards. (But don’t skimp on the ongoing praise and recognition!)

What to do? Always sell the benefits. Pajamas keep you warm – and look at those awesome robots and dinosaurs you can gaze upon all night! Be specific. Collaboration helps different people in different ways – one person may forever be chasing after requests lost through the cracks of email, while another may be looking for a more effective way to review creative assets. Tailor your pitch to your audience.

And, yes, wise men talked about this point, too. “In order to win a man to your cause, you must first reach his heart, the great high road to his reason,” ultimate collaborator Abraham Lincoln said.

Be clear about expectations

I spoke with a customer recently – case study forthcoming – about user adoption; they’d drawn a hard line in the sand and said, essentially, that if emails were sent outside of Central Desktop (as an attempt to bypass the system), those emails would essentially be treated as though they never existed. This is a very clear message – and it worked. If they’d made a looser pitch, if they’d kept responding to those rogue emails while gently encouraging users to consider using the new process next time, it’s doubtful that usage rates would have increased so dramatically in such a short time period.

Kids like routines. If you expect them to pick up the toys on Monday and Tuesday, it won’t make sense when you let it slide on Wednesday. And, again, adults aren’t really that much different. Keep your expectations consistent and make sure they’re clearly communicated.

“Don’t do that! I don’t like that!”

Collaboration takes compromise. If you are trying to do the step outlined above and failing to find the benefits, it may be time to reevaluate the instruction. “Because I said so!” is even less likely to work on your colleagues than it is on your children; if you’re a bulldozer of a boss, you’ll have more short-term success, but don’t be surprised when it tapers off.

My daughter’s favorite new phrase is “Don’t do that! I don’t like that!” It comes in handy when some little brat is trying to pull the buttons off her coat. Her preschool teachers celebrated the new catchphrase as a milestone; they call it “finding her voice.” Encourage your collaborators to do the same. Check out how ScottMadden solicits and takes action on feedback from their users. Don’t be a bulldozer. Listening and re-evaluating will improve your day-to-day processes in the end. A fresh set of eyes can provide wonderful and, sure, sometimes weird perspective that you would never, ever find on your own.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.

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