“Can my manager make me fill in my profile?”
The Guardian featured this question in a workplace column called "Dear Jeremy." The profile was for the person's intranet (which sounded a lot like a SharePoint My Site) and the reader worried that strangers would see their personal information. They couldn’t understand why team leaders, who already knew them, would mandate such a thing.
The comments underneath the article offered largely hostile advice. Some warned that it was a tool for firing people, or dismissed it as “one of those fluffy ideas to improve culture” and advised subversion.
Those of us who work on intranets and enterprise social networks know that there is more to it than this, but how do you encourage people to participate when faced with similar fears and doubts?
Everyone Isn't an Early Adopter
If you’ve ever heard of people described as "Early Adopters" or "Late Majority" then you understand the basic idea of Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation model. This model talks about the voluntary uptake of a new way of doing things.
Many businesses impose enterprise technology changes on employees who have no alternative, for example new HR or CRM systems. In these cases, the change management element is more about helping people accept the change and move on.
Collaboration and social tools are usually more optional: if you coerce people they will do the minimum possible or just play along, so you don’t get the sought-after benefits.
Rogers recognized that different groups of people need different approaches to help them adapt. Early adopters, for example, want privileged access and recognition as thought leaders. The late majority want reassurance that the risks are low.
Yet often when organizations roll out an employee finder and ask them to fill in details about skills, interests and past projects they use the same campaign for everyone.
The 5 Stages of Employee Adoption
Let’s take a look at how Rogers' model can help:
Innovators take risks. They will experiment with filling in their profile just to see what happens. Usually this group take little persuasion, but they are small (typically 2.5 percent of a population). To recruit innovators early, look for employees who are active on external social media and giving them early access.
Unlike innovators, early adopters want to know the reason why they should try the new software out. Not necessarily in a “what’s in it for me” sense, they may take part if convinced it's for the good of the group.
However, early adopters also like to be viewed as opinion leaders, so you can motivate them by giving them visibility: for example, a “Profile of the week” on the intranet. Anything that embeds the profile in the digital workplace helps too — display it on news comments, discussions and collaboration tools.
You can also appeal to early adopters by making it fun. Some organizations have ‘movember’ or ‘cartoonify’ competitions around profiles to create a buzz, for example. A gamification approach — such as badges for ‘levels’ of profile completion — can also appeal to early adopters.
This group will watch the early adopters to see how they get on, so wait until later in your adoption campaign before you address them. They want to see tangible evidence of benefit, so look for and publicize success stories from the first two groups. Appointing champions from the early adopters group can work well too because they can explain the advantages one to one and address any concerns.
Formal incentives, such as making the profile part of an annual appraisal or making it the method by which you select people for attractive projects, can boost the perceived benefits too.
Some companies have offered to make a token donation to a charity for every profile filled in. While this may reduce early inertia, it probably won’t motivate people to create great profiles.
Pre-populating profiles with existing information — e.g., from an HR system — can reduce the "cost" side of the equation. Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck provided a connector for employees to pull in their LinkedIn profile profiles into their internal people finder.
The early majority want to feel that they are in ‘good company’ when they opt-in. Leaders and managers completing their profiles to model the desired behavior will have the biggest effect here. It makes filling in details such as skills — and even hobbies — an acceptable thing to do.
Target one community at a time, such as one department or everyone in one office, to amplify the sense that ‘everyone else does it.’ Facebook did the same thing in its very early days: it aimed for critical mass, campus by campus.
The Late Majority tends to focus more on risks than benefits. Make it clear to them how far the company has come, for example showing statistics on the number of profiles people filled in (and tacitly, that nobody was marched out of the office with a cardboard box in their hands as a result).
Offer drop-in sessions, which provide training and guidance on appropriate use, to further reduce the risk for individuals. Assure them that there is a back-out option, so they can undo anything that they put up, or even give a sandbox environment to create a practice profile first. Some companies invite makeover artists and professional photographers to take really good head shots. After all, nobody wants their profile to show the “First Day daze-out” shot from their security badge.
And finally, there are the laggards. They hold firm beliefs that the old way was the best.
You may never change this.
The cost of onboarding this group may outweigh the benefit. Although you may not win them over, you also can’t ignore them: they influence the late majority and will tell them about all the risks. The best thing to do is listen to these risks and address them — after all, they may be right and it will improve your approach.