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As CIOs and CMOs of large enterprises know all too well, the adoption of enterprise technology is dismal. Convincing employees to embrace new work tools for internal communication, productivity, or tracking sales can be like pulling teeth. A study by MIT Sloan Management Review found that 63% of executives and managers think the pace of technology change in their organization is too slow, despite a consensus that “digital transformation” is critical for their organizations.

You’ve tried everything. Your IT department has chosen tools that are easy to use. You’ve offered a variety of training options for your teams based on their preferred way of working. You’ve celebrated wins and quick adoption. You’ve even implemented penalties.

And yet, your workforce has gone rogue. They’ve read about a great new messaging app, Slack, on TechCrunch, and they’re trying it out within small groups. They’re circumventing productivity tools you’ve spent a lot of money on because Google Docs is easier. They’re hacking together custom sales workflows because CRM tools today simply don’t meet their needs.

The consumerization of IT has made it easier for employees to pick and choose from the latest and greatest tools and create custom workspaces that work for them. It’s also led to a fragmented, broken environment for enterprise productivity.

Let’s face it – you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force him to drink. If business leaders want to transform their organizations and take part in the digital transformation they know is mission-critical, they have to let new work tool adoption occur naturally, from the bottom-up. That doesn’t mean you can’t standardize; it just means you give your employees greater ownership over the process of identifying, testing, and vetting the productivity tools your organization selects.

It’s no longer the IT department’s role to mandate the use of certain standardized work tools – their role must shift to one of curator.

Roping In The Wild West of Enterprise Tools

Giving up control may sound dangerous, but the challenges to adoption of workflow tools have a very real impact on your business. Your teams experience a very real productivity loss when they are coerced into using new systems, and for sales teams on the ground, time is quite literally money. Speed, control, and ease of use are most important for employees to do their work effectively and efficiently; and they know best what works and what doesn’t.

Just as the enterprise is moving to more open adoption software, which allows for better customization, it’s important to recognize that the tools should fit the company’s workflow and needs, not the other way around. Even if you have a champion for a system who is enthusiastic about bringing it to the company, the proof is in how it actually performs for other team members and their needs.

Most importantly, with this bottom-up approach, you improve adoption rates because individual employees have skin in the game. While a top-down approach can breed apathy and resentment, having ownership over which tools an organization adopts is motivating and empowering. Your employees have an opinion on how they like to work. Allowing them the freedom to lead the conversation motivates discussion, debate, and carefully formed opinions.

When you let your workforce bring in in the tools they’d like to use on a day-to-day basis, you also allow the users of the tools themselves to do the testing and vetting. Who better to test the functionalities of the latest CRM platform than your salespeople themselves? When the tools work for your team members, rest assured they will be used to get the job done better and more efficiently.  

You also free up your IT department with this bottom-up approach. Your IT people are no longer tasked with identifying, researching, and vetting various enterprise work tools. Instead, they can focus their efforts on higher-value activities, like curating the best of what employees bring in, and ensuring security across the entire system.

There’s money to be saved, too. You might spend less on big enterprise software when tools like Gmail and Evernote are already the preferred platforms for most of your employees.

Training costs virtually disappear since individuals are teaching themselves and their colleagues how to use the tools they prefer. Forget expensive two-day long training seminars or time-consuming, soul-sucking webinars. Let the learning process happen more naturally, and fill in the gaps as you observe them.

From Top-Down to Bottom-Up Adoption

In summary – giving your employees ownership over which tools you use in your organization can save time and money, and your workforce can be happier, more productive, and committed. Especially in today’s workforce in which 80% of millennials say that workplace tech has an influence over their decision to take a new job, now is the time to give your employees the keys to the type of technology and tools they use day to day.

Organizations no longer have the option to adopt new technologies slowly. So what’s to lose?

Start by encouraging individuals to share their existing workflow tools. You might be surprised by how many are already cobbling together their own custom workspaces. Then, encourage some structure around the testing and vetting process. Maybe it’s a weekly team meeting in which teams come together to demo the tools they use for their colleagues, and debate the merits and drawbacks of each. You might even consider providing a modest budget for employees to test out new tools themselves – after all, you’re likely saving a lot of money in the expensive, overbuilt enterprise tools in the long-run.

Have your IT team on standby and ready to help with questions, training, and integration into your existing systems.

This is an exciting time. We’re facing a digital transformation in the way that organizations operate. It’s time to reflect the realities of that transformation internally.

Posted by Henry Nothhaft, Jr.

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