User Adoption Strategies – Insights and Strategy


user adoption strategy
Fully adopted to his environment

The other day I was exchanging emails with a prior client. She was quite frustrated about the status of her project. User adoption of the new Business Analytics environment was still much lower than she had originally anticipated. Despite the amazing dashboards and planning models her team has built over the past two years, too many users are still relying on spreadsheets to get their daily work done.

This story is not unique and it happens across the board. User adoption is one of the toughest things to manage. But it shouldn’t be that hard. My prior client did some research and forwarded me some interesting insights by management coach Marshall Goldsmith.


Human beings do not like change. As a matter of fact, our typical default behavior is to continue doing what we have done in the past. Goldsmith points out a typical example: watching TV. When you are done watching a show chances are that you will zap the channels and continue watching something else. It’s as simple as that. Goldsmith states “The most reliable predictor of what you will be doing five minutes from now is what you are doing now.” And there is a negative impact. Goldsmith somberly continues “Very few people achieve positive, lasting change without ongoing follow-up.”


There is a keyword in the last sentence: ongoing follow-up. Goldsmith found the following to be true for most people: “On the other hand, if they know someone, like their coach, their coworkers, or their manager, is watching – in the form of paying attention to them, or caring about them, or evaluating them with follow-up questions – they are more likely to change. The key is measurement and follow-up, in all their myriad forms.”

If you think about it, this is not surprising. We all intuitively know this from our private lives: We only change our diet when we know that the Doctor is monitoring our progress. We start doing those grueling interval sessions on the track when our coach is watching us.

Unfortunately, these insights are hardly ever implemented in companies. Change management for systems implementations too often focuses on creating a few happy slides and t-shirts that are supposed to outline the benefits of using the new processes. Experience has clearly shown that this is highly ineffective.


Marshall Goldsmith’s insights are not surprising or new but they are crystal clear. I would like to propose that we leverage this for our current projects. There are a few simple user adoption strategies:

  • Pro-actively schedule quick coaching sessions with important users instead of letting them alone after go-live. Review their issues and help them work through difficulties. This will send a clear message.
  • Eliminate options. Inertia is holding people back and the default behavior is to continue doing what they have done forever. Do not offer that option. Way too many companies allow users to run parallel processes (for example: ability to develop the budget in the new system or in a spreadsheet) to help ‘ease the pain’ of having to change.
  • Monitor usage through system audit tools and publish the numbers. (‘great news – usage of the new Cognos 10 system has increased by 65% last month!’). This will send the message that people are indeed paying attention to this. If you want to loose weight you need to step on a scale, right?
  • Work with management to include system adoption in the annual goals. Make sure to be very specific: “Develop the annual budget in the new Cognos system.”

As always, it is critical to use careful judgement. Every organization is different and user adoption obviously requires proper system design and usability.

My prior client is trying some of these things right now. She has seen positive progress so far. What do you think?

P.S.: The ideas originate from Marshall Goldsmith’s book Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose It





4 responses to “User Adoption Strategies – Insights and Strategy”

  1. Jules

    Great suggestions Christoph!

  2. cpapenfuss

    Thanks much for your comment! User adoption is just one of those bigger problems.

  3. jan misun

    well written and absolutely agree