How to Win Friends and Influence Users

How to Win Friends and Influence Users

The ability to handle tough users is a vital skill for CIOs, since the success of any enterprisewide implementation hinges on user adoption

Reader ROI

  • How to recruit technology champions to persuade recalcitrant peers
  • Why different categories of tough users require different approaches
  • How to make your implementation as user-friendly as possible

Almost every CIO can tell horror stories about her toughest users. Health-care CIOs would say that doctors are the most difficult users, while IT execs in the tech industry might argue that their techno-savvy employees are the most demanding. One truism emerges: the ability to handle tough users has become a vital skill for all CIOs, if only because the success of expensive enterprisewide IT projects ultimately hinges on user adoption.

There are a variety of reasons for user resistance. Some users may be technophobic or afraid of change. For example, Michael Armstrong, CIO of Des Moines, discovered that the capital city's civil servants thought they were doing just fine without IT. Some may be too busy or focused on their own priorities to see the importance of IT to their work. Michael Jones, corporate vice president and CIO of Children's Health System in Milwaukee, faced challenges when he tried to introduce a computerised physician order entry (CPOE) system to doctors there. Still others, like CIO Terry Milholland's user constituency at EDS, may be so knowledgeable about systems and business processes that they have their own ideas about what's best for the enterprise.

"There are a lot of reasons users can be difficult, but what we're really talking about is people that, for whatever reason, are blocking progress,"says Leigh Kelleher, global leader in the global learning practice at Braxton (formerly Deloitte Consulting) in New York City. "And it's the CIO's job to figure out who those people are and why they're reluctant."

Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

Des Moines' CIO didn't know how to win his users over right away. In fact, his first attempt was a disaster.

Armstrong wanted to implement a PeopleSoft application for financials and HR. He decided to do the project in nine months and introduce the financials and HR pieces all at once, hoping to get the pain over quickly, somewhat akin to ripping off a Band-Aid. But during the course of the nine-month rollout, 40 per cent of the employees in the finance department's accounting division left; some involved in the implementation simply got burned out by the long hours while others were scared off by the changes to their jobs. The HR department also lost a few employees. And halfway through the project, Armstrong realised his staff wasn't going to cut it in the new environment. He fired 60 per cent of his workers.

"The implementation was incredibly disruptive. We pretty much blew up three departments,"Armstrong explains. "I was not prepared for the depth to which it would affect the organisation."

It was a potentially disastrous situation for a CIO hoping to build a solid relationship with his already wary users. In fact, a botched project is one of the major reasons users get turned off to technology. "The most phobic users are people who have been burned by poor implementations,"Braxton's Kelleher says. "They may not be afraid of technology. They may not even be afraid of change. But they're afraid of poorly managed change. And that's the biggest concern that CIOs should have."

Armstrong attempted to ease tensions by admitting he messed up. "The best thing you can do is take the heat,"he says. And he learned some valuable lessons in how not to introduce a huge, new system to reluctant employees. He had rushed the implementation, promised more than he could deliver and underestimated the amount of change the city could absorb at once.

Two years later, he applied those lessons as he attempted to introduce technology that would automate how Des Moines received, managed and resolved requests from its 200,000 citizens.

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