Lessons on Driving Adoption (of Slack Or Anything New)

“SIX” by Brian Atchley. The original acrylic on canvas is currently showcased at LAPIZ’s 27ft.gallery, a space to promote upcoming artists like Brian. If you’re in Chicago, come see the work of this incredible autodidact painter or: www.27ft.gallery

I always wonder why one of the most exciting experiences can also be so painful. Driving adoption, that is, of new behaviors or tools is a mysterious thing. Human beings have a fascination with change: they feel both attracted to it and threatened. And when it’s you who’s promoting a new behavior, chances are you’ll become the threat.

Why one of the most exciting experiences can also be so painful?

SLACK is a perfect example. I purposefully avoided bragging about early adoption two years or so ago. Having experimenting with Slack for a long time and gone through full deployment across our organization, I want to share our learnings. On how we created Slack adoption and how to drive adoption on anything new.

It wasn’t hard falling in love with Slack’s super user-friendly interface from the get-go. But what I loved the most was the potential of this tool to accelerate certain behaviors among our LAPIZ team. I always try to contextualize why we want to introduce something new: outlining the behaviors we want to improve rather than making the tool the hero. We have to be careful about that thin line. Resistance always manifests as an attack to the tool itself (even though new behaviors are what people resist). And we all get caught (I’m guilty too) in “defending” the tool versus back to reminding what behaviors we want to inspire. Hope this piece helps keep that present.

Understand The Behaviors You Want to Replace

Most people would agree that email has become an evil tool, a major cause of the busyness syndrome. Yet the problem is not with email but how organizations allow (even encourage) toxic behaviors. We definitely have no patience for those not-so-cool behaviors, that’s why we thought Slack could become a great ally:

CC’ng all to cover “asses” or to avoid taking responsibility is not good, we wanted to involve only those that needed the communication.

BCC’ng, or digital backstabbing, has become a norm in corporate America, rather than throwing someone under the bus without them knowing, we wanted to encourage full transparent communication.

Email chaining: long email chains drive confusion, especially when people are added half-way. A chat-like tool eases that pain and avoids people responding to something that’s old-news as the chain continues to grow

Passive aggressiveness happens when people are not included in the loop or direct conversation is avoided. By creating team channels, Slack helps make sure everyone who’s on a particular project would have access to ALL communication as well as encourage to actively participate.

Replying to all: when everyone is answering at the same time (most of the cases with same information), we wanted to protect people’s “Inbox” and, most importantly, time.

In a nutshell, we wanted to promote healthier collaboration. Reminding ourselves that we interact with smart human beings, treating them (and their time) with respect, to communicate with a purpose -rather than as an excuse- and to address tensions face to face.

Driving Adoption The Slack Way

If you present something new as optional, it will always be an option. When rolling out new “things” organizations need to convey conviction: in the case of Slack we forced everyone to download both the desktop and mobile apps and declared it the “official” way to communicate moving forward. But that wasn’t enough.

In retrospective, I realized the approach was similar to the what I used in the past to promote adoption of new behaviors. Here’s how we promoted full- adoption of Slack by testing and adapting. Some things were planned, others were born out of luck. Don’t take these as recipes I’m trying to sell you; I want to inspire you to lead the path of change in your own organization.

a. FOMO: Who wants to miss free-food, cool projects to work on and other news that might impact your job? We explicitly limited those agency-wide announcements to happen via Slack. We also encouraged a no-email reply from the senior leaders. If people reached out via email, they were simply ignored. Sounds nasty, right? Every time you try to change something, people will test your conviction: a consistent behavior says more than a “motivational” speech.

b. A tool with benefits: we started a flex-time policy under the notion of “inform, don’t ask for permission” tied to Slack. Taking a day off? Let everyone know in the Slack #OOO/ Vacation channel. Working from home, let know people how to reach out. Food poison? Recover soon, someone will take care of your work.

c. Find a collective enemy: turning the “old thing” –in this case the email- into the enemy can backfire you: rather than letting go of it, people might increase their attachment. We identified “uncool behaviors” as the enemy to be fought. A whiteboard was left unclean? Food leftovers abandoned in a conference room? Someone borrowing something without asking the owner for permission? Use the #SlackShame channel and put those bad behaviors (not necessarily the offender) on the spot in a friendly way.

d. Scarcity: offering free-tickets, limiting opportunities to attend a training or accepting only the first 10 people who volunteer via Slack to work on of the coolest project. The instantaneous speed of Slack turns scarcity into a superpower.

e. Suspense: when we launched “Put Your Ideas To Work”, an initiative to promote entrepreneurship to launch personal projects, we purposefully delayed the announcement of who won. We could feel everyone’s expectations, and how the screams and congratulations to the winner took over our place when the winner was finally announced via Slack.

f. Cadence: change requires creating a culture not just the introduction of something new. Many times organizations fail because the new tool or process are perceived as one-offs. A constant flow of launching new things is critical. People might resist the new thing but it will be hard for them to fight the why. In our case, they are clear about our obsession around constant exploration and improvement. (…and have embraced it.)

Progress is not a linear path and ours is far from being perfect. Are some people abusing our flexible OOO policy? Do we sometimes over-communicate via #general channel? Yes, most probably. The good thing is that slacking has turned into a good verb for us. Slacking now stands for a culture of transparency, collaboration and accountability.

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