Technology Change: Preventing User Workarounds

By Emerson Associate Director, Chris Harper on April 26

Puzzle pieces with bandaid

I love MS Excel. And what’s not to love for a data-crunching geek like me who just loves all the dirty details? And, to boot, its power to create eye-popping charts and graphs is unsurpassed. But if you’re an IT leader who’s trying to implement a new reporting system that has the option to export the data to MS Excel, you probably don’t share my affection.

Companies invest millions each year in their reporting systems. To reap the rewards from these large investments, they need the users to actually use the system to its fullest capacity and not rely on workarounds (like using Excel). Why do users so often revert to the old ways of doing things? Well, it’s what they’re used to. Old habits and behaviors they exhibit are comfortable and reliable. The new way looks too hard and too risky. What’s an IT leader to do?

Take away MS Excel, of course.

Just kidding; the townspeople would storm the castle! How about we try something a little less drastic first.

  • Train them.The first thing most executives want to do is to train employees. On absolutely everything the new system can do. Instead, focus on the common, critical, and catastrophic. What are the business scenarios they will encounter most often? Which functions are most important to get right? And what happens to the business if they don’t use the system correctly? These are the things that will focus people on using the system as designed.
  • Practice. After training, employees need to practice the new behaviors on their own. Give them common scenarios or questions they will need to answer, and then let them loose in the system. Have experts on hand to support learners as they find their way, so they are successful. Orchestrating successes will make new users more confident in the system.
  • Reward them. Often, the most expert users can feel over-worked. They have to do their normal day job and then — on top of it all — they need to support their peers in completing their tasks. Reward expert uses for the work they do. Recognize the added burden and make them feel appreciated. They play a critical role in realizing the benefits of the new system.
  • Smooth out the rough spots. Sometimes people rely on workarounds because something is not working the way they want it to. Seek out these rough spots and work with employees to find a solution that works. Sometimes changing a system configuration or removing a process step can make all the difference.
  • Highlight success. When you see it, say it. Sometimes correctly logging into the system for the first time might be the most successful thing that happens that day. So say it! When someone pulls a report successfully, say that too. When everyone in the department is working in the system, celebrate that. The shared enthusiasm builds momentum. Before you know it, employees will dropping the old ways and adopting the new – and maybe looking for ways to make the new way even better!

While our first reaction might be to take away a valuable tool to avoid workarounds, simply focusing and redirecting performance toward new behaviors leads to a much better outcome.

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