Treat tech the way you treat people

Practices that make it easier for new employees to succeed can also apply to new technologies, columnist Douglas Brown writes.

Douglas Brown is an academic program manager in Post University’s MBA program and director of the university’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

It remains to be seen how new budget legislation will affect federal IT programs. But one thing is certain: IT decision-makers won’t be immune from the pressure to cut spending and ensure that every new investment delivers a worthwhile return.

Should a new technology initiative fail to immediately achieve its promise, decision-makers can expect to face criticism. However, that backlash is often misplaced because it might not be the technology that’s letting you down but rather your process for incorporating it into your organization.

You could increase the likelihood of success by adopting some of the tried-and-true concepts for hiring new employees. Organizations have a well-defined process for determining what new hires will do, identifying the right person for the job (based on current skills and potential), and providing training and support. Several of those components could improve the acquisition and deployment of new technology.

Here’s my recommended approach.

1. Identify a need. Create a “job description” for the new technology that goes beyond technical specifications. The new team member must also be flexible, have the ability to solve unforeseen problems, and most important, work well with others and fit into your culture. Have a clear idea about how the technology will be integrated into your organization, and identify obstacles that could reduce the chances for success. Then evaluate what’s available, and separate the qualified offerings from the unqualified ones, just as you would if you were evaluating résumés.

2. Set clear expectations. Users expect technology to perform at full capacity from the moment it’s implemented. When it doesn’t, users often deem it a bad choice, and the organization might even eliminate it. But as you would with a new employee, allow time for a learning curve and break-in period. Setting expectations for users and others affected by the technology is a key part of the process. Let them know what they can do to help the new technology succeed. Expect some speed bumps, and manage them just as you would for a new employee.

3. Train and reinforce. A common misstep for organizations is the implementation of new technology without adequate training for users and anyone else affected by the technology. When something doesn’t work as expected, users assume it’s a technological error. Therefore, it’s crucial to hold training sessions that reinforce and build on users’ knowledge. That approach helps employees learn to use the technology to meet their needs and helps keep training sessions focused and productive. Also consider the value of nontechnical super users — people within key user communities who become experts and advocate for new systems.

4. Review performance. Assess the technology’s performance after 30 to 90 days to determine if it is addressing your needs. Are you hitting your adoption benchmarks? What feedback are you getting from users? Identify what you’ve been able to achieve, what issues are outstanding and whether you’re on track to meet your goals. If the technology passes your review, consider new ways to build on what you’ve accomplished.

5. Use a performance improvement plan. If the technology fails to deliver its promised return on investment, determine what can be done to make it meet your needs before abandoning it. Consider the process you would use to help an underperforming employee meet expectations.

By approaching your technology acquisition and implementation process the way you do a new hire, you can better ensure you’re making the right decision from the outset, thereby avoiding losses and positioning your organization for long-term success.

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