What’s Wrong With WIIFM – Get Some Answers

Observation – What’s Wrong With WIIFM?

For years many pundits have said that the best way to motivate user adoption is to “sell” people on what they get for using the new system. They argue that you need to constantly tell each person, “What’s In It For Me?”(WIIFM). So, after many years of organizations beating the WIIFM drum, we find that most IT systems still suffer from low or ineffective user adoption.

Is it time to re-think WIIFM? I strongly suspect that the people who first came up with WIIFM were management consultants, not psychologists.
Back in the1960s Yale psychologist Victor Vroom developed the Expectancy Theory that basically states that employees will be motivated to take action if:

  • There is a positive correlation between efforts and performance
  • The favorable performance will result in a desirable reward
  • The reward will satisfy an important need
  • The desire to satisfy the need is strong enough to make an effort worthwhile

The problem is that the WIIFM message – as it is typically applied – rarely meets these criteria. Here’s why:

  • The reward for adopting the system needs to be meaningful and desirable to each individual employee. Many IT projects do not actually take the time to learn what is meaningful to the individual and just issue a one-size-fits-all WIIFM message.
  • The rewards that we desire change over time and vary from person to person. For example, what motivates a young employee is very different from what motivates an older employee who is close to retirement.
  • Organizations with a poor track record implementing systems often lack credibility. Quite simply, employees don’t believe the system will deliver the anticipated benefits or that they will benefit from using the system.
  • WIIFM messages often push the benefits of adopting new systems while ignoring the costs/effort involved. Many times it just “isn’t worth it” to the employees to go through the pain of adopting the new technology.

Consider This

Instead of trying to sell employees on WIIFM, help them focus on the need to shift their behavior. The psychological theory of Cognitive Dissonance shows us that when people hold conflicting views on a subject, they are motivated to change (or justify) their attitudes, beliefs, or behavior.

For us, this means we need to help people realize that the business needs, environment, performance requirements, and management expectations have changed and that the behaviors that made them successful before need to shift.

Things to Think About

  • How can you set the expectation that it is no longer business as usual and that employees need to change their behavior in order to succeed in the future?
  • Have you explicitly stated what has changed and what are the new expectations for employee performance? For example, have you developed communications that state things like:
    • Changes in the economy require that we become more competitive by doing X
    • New government regulations require we do X, Y, and Z
    • In order to be eco-friendly and good corporate citizens, we need everyone to do A, B, and C
  • How can you shift from primarily 1-way, passive communications to better engage employees in 2-way discussions? Do you engage employees in dialogue and ask them questions so that they are forced to think about what has changed and how they need to adjust their behavior to be successful in the new reality?
  • Have you explicitly stated that how you perform your job is just as important as how well you perform? Do you communicate that it is no longer sufficient to be a great individual performer if the way you utilize systems and processes prevents others from excelling in their jobs?