Secrets to Successful Change Management: User Adoption

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Secrets to Successful Change Management: User Adoption

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It is an inevitable step for any growing business to undergo a digital transformation to support the ever-increasing number of transactions and reports. Unfortunately, system implementations of the past have often taken the form of a mysterious new technology pushed by consultants that worked predominantly with executives and SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) and had little to no contact with the end-users. An employee could show up one Monday morning and be told, “Hey, by the way, they replaced our spreadsheets and paper with this new computer. Here’s a manual on how to use it.” Not sure about you, but I would need more than just a second cup of coffee after hearing that.

One will often hear that the key to a successful implementation is “change management.” This may seem foreign to some, but not managing expectations and not listening to your employees will set you up for failure on day 1. If you do not have buy-in from stakeholders on all levels, your project will likely fail in user adoption, even if the system solution is flawless. The three core groups you will need to influence are the leadership, the teams, and the individuals.

The Leadership

Start from the top. Without the support of management behind the project, adoption at all levels will erode. If the project budget or approval gets pushed by one or a few of the management team, make sure that you have all members’ buy-in before kicking off the project. Your first efforts should go to understanding the perspective of all stakeholders with a role of leadership. Take into consideration their vision of the company and note important pain points.

With help from your sponsor(s), your ultimate goal is to convince management to actively support you to create change. Simply stepping aside to let you do your thing will bring eventual resistance; they must be on-board and push their teams in the same direction towards acceptance. Teams and individuals prioritize leadership, so having leadership actively advocating the importance of your project will go a long way.

When management has concerns about the project’s viability, make sure to address them as soon as possible. In most cases, this will be high-level, demonstrating how they will be enabled to use the new system’s tools and functions to scale their business. A new system and processes are implemented to give more visibility to decision-makers on the factors that influence their business. Demonstrate reports and key performance indicators (KPIs) that will provide them increased visibility and be more efficient in managing their teams.

One of the main actions that will need to be performed by management in support of your efforts will be ongoing communication with the company at all levels. For example:

  • Have a project kick-off meeting for all employees to communicate the purpose and scope of the project.
  • Have bi-weekly or monthly status updates with the entire project team.
  • Encourage weekly scrums within each project group (by functional area or business process) as a platform for users to voice their questions or concerns.
  • Give regular steering committee updates so that management is confident in and aware of the progress and issues with the project.

The Teams

It is safe to assume that team leaders or department heads have been with the business for at least a few years. That means that they are used to the processes,\ and may have witnessed some successful attempts at change in the past and some unsuccessful ones. They may have led or contributed to one or more of those projects. Their enthusiastic support is essential as they will likely be your subject matter experts and process owners. Furthermore, you will probably be spending most of your time during the project interacting with these persons.

These senior resources may present more resistance to change depending on their experiences. They are likely comfortable with their existing systems and processes; a new system forces them to learn something new and perhaps relinquish control of current responsibilities. The type of pushback you can expect from someone with many years in their business can be considerable and grounded in “this is how we’ve always done it,” which you know may not always be best practices. They are also often the ones who have the strongest opinions about what does NOT work.

You will be in a position to leverage their emotional attachment to their department and day-to-day activities to win them over. These team leaders often love gushing about their processes, business, and pain points. Let them speak while you listen and take note of their requirements and concerns. Then, demonstrate how the new system(s) will improve their department’s processes to bring them over to your side. Follow by cultivating their ownership of solutions that you have developed and tested together. Simultaneously, you will be nudging them towards best practices and eliminating wasteful processes.

Remember that you are not alone in these tasks. When facing extreme resistance, rely on the management team that should be backing you on tough decisions.

The Individuals

The final group you will interact with are the end-users. These are often those that will be performing day-to-day transactional or clerical tasks within the system. They may have been in the company for a very short or very long time. In either case, they may not be experienced with their company’s business, but only with their specific tasks and responsibilities. Often you will encounter end-users that understand how to complete their tasks, but ultimately not how their current system functions as a whole. When presented with change, these end-users may react in various ways.

One common reaction to a new system implementation is fear: Fear of losing their job because the system was sold as being more efficient, or perhaps because they do not learn the new technology quickly enough.

Some may have little to no experience with computers or information systems and may be frustrated, confused, or embarrassed. Others may be annoyed at needing to change their ways and learn something new, especially if they feel ownership of their improvements to the existing system.

When running working sessions or training with end-users for the first time, you need to put yourselves in their shoes. Use your empathy to connect with them, detect their concerns, and address them appropriately. Make sure to inform management to address any concerns regarding the fear of layoffs. One suggestion is to focus on growth, not efficiency. Successful change management means that these people can do more with their time, helping the company grow. The intention is often not to reduce staff but to increase sales. And they can be an active part of that growth.

The key is patience. When sitting down with an end-user, adapt to their pace of learning. You need to pay attention, not speak down to them, or make them feel inadequate or uncomfortable with you. Be cordial and smile. Explain to the level they seem to understand.

Slowly but surely, focus on winning the end-users to your side by showing them that some of their daily clerical pain points will be simplified or eliminated with the new system. This optimization should almost always be the case; companies do not implement systems to become less efficient. In cases where transactions become longer, there is often an accompanying process change that requires additional information gathering. Explain this requirement to the end-user. It will be much easier for them to accept the extra work if they understand the why behind the request.


We explored the three main levels of stakeholders involved in a systems implementation project. Each has its interests in a new system, as well as concerns. Show off the appropriate system solutions to win over each stakeholder.

Remember that each stakeholder will be able to influence their neighbors. You or management must communicate with all potential stakeholders to not keep any in the dark. Individuals kept in the dark until later in the project may become bastions of resistance because they felt left out and may influence others to turn the tide against adoption. Even worse, they may have valuable process information that was not considered earlier in the project.


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