5 Steps to Increase Accountability for Software User Adoption and ROI

When working with clients to increase software adoption of their IT systems, I always hear, “there is no culture of accountability here.” They tell me that leaders will make a big speech about how things are going to change or announcing a new policy, but when it comes time to actually hold people accountable or enforce the policy, nothing happens. End-users, managers, and senior executives tell me that we can come up with all the user adoption goals we want, or we can try to adjust the rewards and incentive systems, but without fixing the leadership support and accountability culture (or lack thereof) problem, it won’t matter.

A strong culture of accountability encourages technology adoption. That begins at the leadership level. People understand what they do matters. And they adjust their behavior and performance accordingly. Similarly, if there is no real accountability, it sends the message that it doesn’t really matter if people adopt the technology or not, no matter what the leaders say during big speeches. So why would they?

Do you know how to increase accountability and adoption? The answer is visible and active senior leadership support, not just “Buy-In.”

When I ask people what they plan to do to increase accountability in their organization, I often face a lot of blank stares. Many times they simply don’t even know where to begin. Creating a culture and practice of holding people accountable for their actions and performance is complex and takes time, but it begins at the top, especially where software/technology adoption is concerned.

Here are five ways you can start to increase executive support and organizational accountability in your organization:

1. Create an infrastructure for accountability: Real Senior Leadership Support

There are many reasons why a given individual may not hold themselves or others accountable. The person may be a conflict avoider; there may be ambiguity about what goals or expected behaviors they’re expected to hold people accountable for; they may not be clear on their role, responsibility, or authority level in holding others accountable, or they are not sure when or how to take action.

This happens most often where there is a lack of clear leadership message and understanding of goals.

The first step is to make explicitly clear exactly what accountability truly means in your organization and how it will be put into action at all levels. Leaders need to know and communicate the goals and then hold people accountable for their delivery. If a senior executive doesn’t even know about a strategic software deployment’s detail, their ability to support it is clearly limited. The project owners need to be sure that they have sought and secured senior management participation and support for their project.

There are a lot of small tools, and practices organizations can easily adopt to create an infrastructure for enabling accountability. This may include defining policies, processes, templates, formal roles, and responsibilities, or employing management tools like SMART goals, RACI charts, and similar items so that people have the organizational support they need to take action with confidence.

2. Measure results

Surprisingly simple, yet frequently overlooked! It is amazing how often companies don’t bother to measure the results of their initiatives. If results aren’t measured, how can you hold people accountable for achieving them? And how will you know whether you’ve reached your goals?

Executive measure things. Senior leadership needs to know your plan and know your adoption metrics.

While working on a $100+ million dollar technology project for a Fortune 100 company, I asked the executive when after go-live, they plan to measure their actual adoption results against the forecasted ROI we had defined in the business case. His response was, “well, we aren’t really good at that.” It turns out that people only looked at the numbers when it came to making a project funding decision, and not what reality was once the project was launched.

How can organizations make sure they’re getting the outcomes they want (e.g., ROI from a technology investment) when all they are focused on is the inputs (e.g., cost to acquire and deploy technology)? Adoption project teams need to communicate their goals and definitions of success in order to get viable support from senior leadership.

When setting goals – whether for IT investments, special projects, or just ongoing operations – it’s best to define up-front exactly what will be measured, when it will be measured, who will measure it, and how and when you will analyze results and take action to enforce accountability and maintain support.

3. Make it public, make it visible, and share

When conducting focus groups and interviews with another client, I was informed that years ago, they used to generate multiple reports that showed how well individuals, departments, and the organization as a whole was performing. However, people started to complain because they didn’t think others should have a view into how their individual or department performance compared to others. Eventually, the decision was made to restrict access to reports and only show each department head their own departmental performance.

What emerged was quite interesting. There were several executives who were not comfortable with conflict and didn’t want to embarrass non-performing department managers in front of their peers. Not only did the restricting of reports NOT improve performance in the troubled departments, but it also increased staff resentment for the executives across the board. The staff explained that it was one thing if management didn’t know about performance problems; it was another thing entirely to have reports that highlight the problem and then do nothing about it. This can become problematic, especially for high-cost, strategic software roll-outs that can impact a companies bottom line very negatively if they fail or perform poorly at the organizational level.

The reality is that people talk, and people always know which of their coworkers are not performing. Instead of trying to hide information – that people already know – you’re better off at least acknowledging, if not outright, sharing the information and then taking appropriate action.

The IT can work fine, but if people don’t use it as designed and in the time-frame needed, the result is negative. This is the goal of leadership support, get people to migrate to the new system quickly and use it as designed in the shortest possible time-frame, and hold them accountable for doing so.

4. Explain yourself

Once results are publicly shared, the actions taken now become a question of leadership, judgment, and integrity. If people did not deliver on their commitments, you need to decide if you are going to hold people accountable or make exceptions. There may be extenuating circumstances that are justifiable reasons for relieving people of accountability. Or this may be a “moment of truth” when you need to take unpleasant, though necessary action.

What is important is that whatever action you take – and doing nothing is an action – you need to make sure people understand why you did what you did. Everyone will take their cues about how they need to behave in the future by the actions taken, so make sure everyone is clear on the reasons for those actions and what the expectations are going forward. In a blog entry on leadership, I talk about how “we judge others by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions.”

This becomes extremely important when creating a culture of accountability. If there are special circumstances that justify not taking action, but no one knows it, they may jump to the (erroneous) conclusion that they will not be held accountable in the future.

5. Ask for help

Accountability doesn’t just happen from the top down, but it has to have that component. Coworkers at the peer level can hold each other accountable. However, many times people don’t want to “cause trouble” with their coworkers, so they won’t speak up without your clearly expressed request.

If you want people to help hold each other accountable, a good place to start is by asking for their help. When you explicitly ask for help, you give everyone permission to raise potentially sensitive topics. There can also be an agreement in advance as to how exactly people can support one another and hold each other accountable. Executives should encourage this type of behavior and make it clear that “asking” for help is a valuable time saver and a best practice.

For example, I have friends who are “gym buddies.” They made a commitment to show up at the gym at some ridiculously early hour, and they do it because they know the other person is counting on them. They tell me they feel accountable to the other person because they made a commitment to them and didn’t want to let them down.

How could you apply the gym buddies concept in your organization to increase accountability?

Most software projects fail to deliver the expected business outcomes because of the approach the buyer takes to getting the system live and driving adoption. Most buyer’s organizations don’t have the expertise, tools, and capacity to deliver their own success.

If you are looking to help software buyers create their own internal software success programs, Success Chain can help. Contact us to find out what we can do for you.