You just spent a pile of money on a great new piece of software. It promises to streamline your operations, save money, grow revenues, improve quality or increase customer satisfaction.

But only if you can get your people to use it!

How do you motivate people to use your software?

Many organizations underestimate the critical impact of employee motivation for adopting new technology has on IT system success.  The prevailing attitude is that employees will have “no choice” but to use the system.  

The reality is that users have a wide variety of choices about if, when and how they will use your software.  

The myth of “They will have no choice”

For example, each individual decides:

  • If they are going to follow “business rules” (after all, rules are indeed made to be broken)
  • If they will keep information outside of the system (i.e. using personal Excel or Word files)
  • When they will enter/share data
    • Do your users enter data right away so others can use it?
    • Do they wait for days, weeks or months before they finally put in the system?

Once you realize that each user has an extensive choice in the manner, degree and time in which they use your system you can begin to focus on the more important issue – how do you motivate people to use the system in a way that delivers maximum benefits?

3 Approaches to Motivating User Adoption of Software

Many IT projects suffer from a lack of a clear understanding of how to best motive desired user behavior.  People often use terms like “carrots and sticks”, “ensure compliance”, moving people along the “commitment curve”, and “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)”, but they typically do not understand the fundamental nature of these terms and their implications for motivating desired behavior.

Let’s take a quick look:

1. “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM)  

WIIFM appeals to individuals’ self-interests without regard to achieving a larger shared goal.  The underlying principle is, “If you do X you personally will get benefit Y – regardless of what others do.”   

WIIFM motivation:

  • Appeals to the selfish side of individuals
  • Requires you understand the individuals’ actual goals, motivations, and priorities.  Unfortunately, these vary from person to person and they change over time
  • Ceases to motivate once the individuals’ self-interests are fulfilled or there is no perceived marginal value for providing additional discretionary effort
  • Encourages individuals to focus on their own interests and does not necessarily encourage them to work towards larger, enterprise goals
Camera and Fences

2. “Compliance” and “Sticks”  

In its essence, this is a negative approach focused on maximizing fear and punishment.  The underlying principle is, “if you don’t do what I say, you will suffer.” 

Compliance driven motivation is:

  • Based on consequences/punishment
  • Only effective with rigorous enforcement
  • Only works when people think you are watching
  • Only drives minimum effort required to meet minimum criteria – there is no incentive to go beyond the bare minimum

3. “Commitment” 

Appealing to individuals’ commitment is a positive approach that taps into their internal drives and desires to achieve a shared goal.  The underlying principle is, “if we all pull together, we can achieve something great.”  

Commitment driven motivation:

  • Is based on a desire to achieve a goal bigger than oneself
  • Is “self-driving”
  • Works without external monitoring
  • Requires trust and shared values
  • Encourages people to give discretionary effort above the bare minimum
  • Taps into individuals’ creativity to overcome obstacles and achieve goals

Software only delivers value when it is used

Modern software is about helping people collaborate and perform their jobs in a way that everyone benefits from the use of the system. However, for it to deliver on its promise, it requires everyone to use it as intended and as designed.

Achieving IT and organizational success requires people to work toward a common, shared goal.  You should focus the majority of your effort on maximizing the commitment of all employees to achieving that goal. 

Drive commitment to using software to achieve a greater goal

Clearly demonstrate the link between the individuals’ technology adoption and how their behavior impacts goal achievement.  While in some situations (such as when there specific legal requirements/regulations) you may need to clearly define minimum accepted system use, you should minimize your focus on compliance and WIIFM and instead try to maximize the commitment of your users.