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Strategies to Ensure Successful User Adoption

25 Apr 2017 by Kelley Cleland

An emotional response accompanies all change. The larger the impact to an organization or individuals, the larger the emotional response risk and potential degrees of resistance. When introducing change across an organization, it's important to understand how the change could or will be perceived and tailor the strategy to ensure minimal emotional cycles or disruptions.

Just remember, once mass resistance surfaces, it's often difficult to sever the negative emotional tie. Understanding and keeping emotional response at the forefront of planning will increase the chance of a successful adoption.

When change is introduced, often the first questions asked are those tied to the initial emotional response, “Why do I care about this?” and, “How will the change impact me?” You must understand the unambiguous answers to these questions if you want to ensure success and drive adoption across your organization. Understanding these answers will also help identify emotional perceptions based on the individual or impact to the organization.

"Why do I care?" should be an easy question to answer. The decision to roll out change is one most often associated with business value. The answer to the question should be aligned with a business objective/goal and produce some type of measureable result.

A realized example of this is:

  • Business goal: Decrease email traffic by 30%
  • Action taken: Implemented instant messaging
  • Measured result: Email traffic decreased 34%, and productivity increased 6%

In the above example, the value was known by leadership well before the measurement (the action wouldn't have been taken if the desired results weren't expected to be positive) but not fully realized until after the rollout of the change. The measure is often tied to the effectiveness of the rollout strategy/adoption plan.

The impact of the change tends to have variation but can also be esaily answered depending on how management/executive engagement is factored into the plan. Think about messages from the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at your company — everyone is listening and tuned in to what's being communicated; most often, the message is impactful and aligned with the current direction of the company.

However, just knowing the answer to these questions won’t be enough. In order for adoption to be successful, it's critical to have a plan that outlines executive sponsorship, how the change will be communicated, marketing efforts to evoke excitement, training and a post-rollout strategy that keeps momentum elevated.

Let’s take a look at each of these success factors in more detail.

Executive sponsorship

There's nothing more powerful than executive sponsorship. Engagement by company leaders or executives is critical in achieving broad adoption. To get started, focus on promoting a positive user experience with an executive or company leader sending out at least one "Why we are changing?" message that aligns with the associated business values. Encourage executives and leaders to participate in activities such as a release party, other training or promotional events, and the most impactful: visibly adopting the change themselves.


When communications aren’t clear and concise, it often leads to uneasy feelings and vague recall. It's important to articulate the details of change the right way, the first time around, to avoid confusion and negative response.

The first step is to develop a communication plan. The goal of a communication plan is to detail the key communications to properly inform stakeholders, department managers, colleagues, etc. of progress, milestones and actions. A properly executed communication plan will help prepare stakeholders and department owners/managers for upcoming milestones and provide a head start for building competencies, ease support burden by eliminating confusion with regard to the change and getting support/help, and improve adoption by building awareness and participation throughout the change cycle.

It's also important to have all stakeholders involved early to assist with alignment of expectations and participation. For example, department owners will be accountable for hosting trainings, and end users will be accountable for attending the trainings. A communication schedule should also be developed and shared with key stakeholders to ensure key communication dates are known in advance and when participation is needed.


  • There’s nothing more powerful than an executive message.
  • Evoke positive responses to the two most commonly asked questions (Why do I care about this? and How will this change impact me?).
  • Be able to answer these additional questions:
    • What is changing or what’s different?
    • When is the change occurring?
    • Why is the change occurring?
    • Who will the change impact?
    • What's important day 1, week 1, month 1, day 60, day 90, 1 year?
    • Where should colleagues get more information?
  • Always consider the following when drafting communications:
    • Avoid terms or language colleagues may not be familiar with.
    • Avoid vague descriptions or open-ended communications that require additional follow-up.
    • Add examples where relevant and applicable.
    • Pay attention to sensitivities (eligibility, generational gaps, lack of support, etc.).


There's nothing worse than having an amazing rollout, only to discover the general consensus among peers is lackluster because marketing was completely void. There needs to be excitement and anticipation that guides individuals toward positive response.

Imagine how interesting Apple products would be without the marketing efforts associated with each release. Apple is a leader in the electronics space regarding the way it markets new features and improvements. Think about the anticipation and marketing efforts around the latest iPhone — some examples of this are: proposed feature leak months in advance, sold-out live release event, live webcasting overloaded with hungry consumers trying to get a taste of what’s to come, and pre-sales that are almost unparalleled.

Although change in your organization might not compare to the iPhone, it's still important to market the change in a way that will build anticipation and generate excitement across the organization. In order to be successful, you need to understand who's impacted (your target market), how you'll position the change with positive response association, how you'll use various media methods to communicate and how you'll keep the buzz interesting with a mix of events or rewards.


  • Use a spotlight or announcements to keep colleagues informed about key dates, features, process, upcoming events, etc.
  • Use video to communicate a message from the CEO about the change, demo key features and show how the change will improve productivity, etc.
  • Post a feature article about the change in the company newsletter or on the intranet homepage and promote the article through word of mouth (Did you read that article?) and various other communication methods (Yammer, Office 365 Groups, department team sites, etc.)
  • Everyone loves a good contest. A contest can be anything related to the change that should encourage the most participation — naming (example: new intranet name), user with the most Yammer posts about the upcoming change, and department/role adoption race (after the rollout), etc. Prizes are encouraged to increase the number of responses (people love free stuff), and the bigger the prize, the greater the participation.
  • Mascots are loved (Mickey Mouse, Michelin Man, Poppin’ Fresh Doughboy, Aflac Duck, Energizer Bunny … just to name a few). The mascot should attend events and be spotted in articles and spotlights. People love to get their picture taken with a mascot — it could become something fun at your organization that brings people together.
  • Logos go a long way, and free logo-adorned swag goes even further. To revisit the Apple example, think about how many times you see the Apple logo in one day. People have Apple T-shirts, Apple stickers, Apple phones, Apple laptops, etc., all bearing the Apple icon without the word Apple.
  • Use live events to your advantage. Promotional events happen all around us — car dealerships entice us with a key that could open a door to a new car, people flock when there's free food and drinks, swag gets trade show attendees at booths, and the list goes on and on. Remember to promote with a purpose, such as a preview to encourage excitement, showcase of upcoming trainings that are available, surfacing of ambassadors, meet the new mascot and learn a new feature, etc.


Training is usually not a one-size-fits-all approach — roles, departments, permission levels and even generations, etc. need to be taken into consideration when developing a training plan. Different people across the organization are going to have different needs and digest change at different paces and in different ways. In addition to building a customized approach, it's also important to plan beyond the initial how-to trainings. New employee onboarding and introduction of subsequent change requires another level of training to ensure continued adoption success.


  • Develop a schedule of initial how-to trainings, which are customized based on roles, departments, permissions, etc. Don’t forget to have takeaways available that will aid in adoption — quick reference guides, experts to answer questions, additional trainings, support site, etc.
  • Include how-to training in new employee onboarding materials/trainings.
  • Host ongoing trainings/presentations to keep end users engaged and informed.
    • Monthly lunch and learns
    • Teaching Tuesdays
    • On-demand weekly or monthly live webcasts (with expert Q&A)
    • Quarterly knowledge share sessions

Keeping the momentum

Post-rollout strategy is often the most overlooked but is a key element in keeping the adoption rates high and preventing the associated business value measure from declining. Set small post-engagement goals to start (you don’t want to overwhelm your colleagues — adaptation/adoption ease is often the best approach), but remember engagement frequency is an important factor in keeping information at the top of minds.


  • Although you won’t need a promotion schedule as heavy as the initial rollout, it's still important to engage colleagues — keeping excitement and adoption peaked (think events, mascot sightings, social posts, etc.).
  • Don’t forget the importance of ongoing training. Needs change constantly, and improvements are warranted. Stay on top of the change, and keep existing and new colleagues current.
  • Remember, summarized notes are always appreciated and easy to digest. Methods for communicating tips and tricks include, but aren't limited to, podcasts/radio show, articles, Yammer groups, Office 365 Groups, SharePoint spotlight/announcements, etc. Additionally, don’t let the communications fall flat — keep them fresh and interesting.
  • Find your experts and promote them to ambassadors. It’s a title to brag about, entice them with swag, involve them in promotions and trainings, and encourage them to start user groups, etc. Having experts available to answer questions also cuts down on help desk tickets. They become the go-to experts in your organization and your biggest advocates.
  • Use surveys to capture feedback — what’s working and what needs improvement (get that enhancement backlog started). In addition, start a committee to gather the feedback and help with the continuous improvement.

Each of the above success factors are dependent — all must be successful in order for user adoption to be successful. Unfortunately, the beloved quote from "Field of Dreams," “If you build it, he will come.” rarely rings true when it comes to user adoption. If you build or change it, my advice is to have a plan that establishes a strong grip through the above-mentioned success factors and with positive emotional response.

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About Kelley Cleland
Senior Project Manager

Kelley is passionate about her pursuit to continuously deliver successful projects.

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