Project Practitioners > Getting Acceptance From A Resistant User Community

Getting Acceptance From A Resistant User Community

By Margaret de Haan

This entry is late, as I have started it many times and each time I read the results it sounded like a boring textbook. So, I've decided to attack this from a different angle.

We have all been in situations where what Senior Management has agreed to do to "increase productivity" in the trenches results in an incredible amount of resistance from the user community. When the mandate is "just get it done", what tools can we use to decrease the threat of failure for the users and use our expertise to truly make their lives easier? If you really think about it, this resistance is a two pronged issue – one of motivation and one of learning.

I know how frustrating it can be to have worked long and hard to finally get the system to the point that you have met all of the objectives, only to be delayed by the users screaming that they can't possibly utilize the new functionality or system without killing productivity, and the fault lies on IT. They also use a myriad of excuses to push the date just hoping that they can delay the release forever. So, how we can attack this problem is by motivating the users and by educating them as to how the system will make their lives easier. We should never communicate that change isn't painful, but focus on the long term benefits both to the individual and the company, and we can do this through a major training effort.

Training can either be fun or hell – we have all experienced both I'm sure. To make training effective requires prior input from actual users, something that should be collected by allowing actual users to test drive the system before deployment. The easiest way to accomplish this is through Management of individual departments providing somewhat technically savvy employees to be assigned as "Go Live" champions. This will help to identify possible unanticipated user issues prior to the launch and/or the training. Take their feedback and either make the requested changes to the system, or make sure that the issue is properly addressed in the Training with workarounds and solutions that will meet the need without adding undue stresses. These "GoLive Champions" will make or break your rollout, so make sure that you are prepared, flexible, and show them that your commitment is to making the users lives easier.

The other issue to consider is motivating the user community, to not only learn, but to adopt the new system and processes as soon as possible. I see a number of good ways to accomplish this, and assuming that there will be many Training sessions required, word of mouth will help set the tone for the rest of the trainees after the first class is held, so it had better be well planned. Provide drinks, maybe lunch, and make it fun. I always make sure to have giveaways that I use to help to make the training interactive, in fact I have been known for throwing small chocolates, small goofy toys, or in one company I raided the Marketing department for corporate advertising trinkets that I allowed trainees to earn by answering and asking excellent questions. Having contests for the trainees both during and after training is also a great way to get people interested and "into it". Getting a pre-approved budget for this effort will give you an idea of the kinds of things that you can do and offer to make the experience a positive one for everyone involved. A properly structured "test" per day for the chance to win an iPad, a gift certificate, or even an additional day off can go a long way to get the user community involved and excited about learning.

Another consideration if possible is to provide true hands on training. Arrange for your users to be trained in a way that allows them individually to walk through the application while you show them step by step what you are talking about. This does take more hardware and bandwidth, but definitely gives the users a more practical understanding of what you are talking about as well as allowing you the opportunity to head off common errors at the pass. After all, nothing is the same as actually doing something – all of the words or pictures in the world just won't provide the same experience.

Another suggestion that I strongly recommend is training from the top down – get the Departmental Management involved and excited - develop them as additional champions, and make sure that they REALLY understand the application as you may be able to use them as "support trainers" in their individual Departments – with an added benefit being that doing so could take some of the weight off the deployment support team.

In my experience user resistance is rooted in a fear of failure, as well as a concern that adopting something new poses a threat to productivity and therefore performance. No one wants to fail, so if you provide numerous ways to cut through their fear as well as rewards to boost excitement and morale it will result in an easier adoption of your system.

Margaret de Haan, MBA, PMP

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