The HR leaders among you probably know more about digital adoption than the CIOs.
Why? Because digital adoption isn’t really about technology. It’s about human behavior.
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This is why digital adoption managers the world over are seeking inspiration from the fields of psychology and neuroscience.
The psychological principles behind digital adoption
Digital adoption is a process of change. When approaching digital adoption — a core component of digital transformation — enterprises need to apply contemporary change management principles.
Lewin, Kotter, Prosci — they all offer great models for managing organizational change. But change management also has a lot to learn from the study of psychology.
McKinsey notes that companies have an opportunity to “transform the attitudes and behavior of their employees by applying psychological breakthroughs.”
When implementing digital tools to improve performance, enterprises are in effect asking employees to think differently about their jobs.
They’re asking employees to change their mindsets about the tasks they perform, their corporate culture, and their individual responsibilities.
This is a huge ask.
Digital transformation is an enormous undertaking. For traditional enterprises, it involves a massive cultural shift in order to align with the digital revolution. Sales, marketing, operations, everything has changed with the advent of digital.
“Since the collective culture of an organization, strictly speaking, is an aggregate of what is common to all of its group and individual mind-sets, such a transformation entails changing the minds of hundreds or thousands of people.” Emily Lawson & Colin Price, McKinsey
Digital transformation cannot be successful without digital adoption. What good is it rolling out new platforms and tools that nobody understands how to use properly?
Successful digital adoption happens when the behaviors of individuals are changed such that they use digital tools “to their fullest extent.”
Psychology shows us that behaviors can’t be changed without mindsets being changed. This is the reason why digital adoption managers must learn to apply psychological principles to their work.
1. People need something to believe in
Stanford psychologist Leon Festinger brought “cognitive dissonance” to psychology. This is the distress that arises when people find their beliefs to be inconsistent with their actions, to psychology.
To avoid cognitive dissonance within an organization, its purpose and the actions of its people must be aligned.
2. Behavior change needs regular reinforcement and evaluation
B. F. Skinner is known for his positive reinforcement experiments with rats. He noted that, over time, the rats tired of their positive reinforcement. They also began to ignore the negative conditioning.
In order for enterprises to sustain high performance, digital adoption processes must constantly be evaluated. They can then be updated to maintain efficacy.
3. Adults have a complex learning cycle
David Kolb developed his four-phase adult-learning cycle in the 1980s. He showed that adults don’t learn effectively by simply listening to instructions. They absorb information by using it and integrating it with their existing knowledge.
This is why the Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) is proving to be so effective when teaching people how to use new systems and platforms.
4. Role models are as important for adults as children
Paediatrician Benjamin Spock’s work was around the importance of role models in children’s learning. It’s generally accepted that this also applies to adults.
Within any enterprise, individuals model their behavior on that of others they see as influential. These people exist at all levels of organizational structure, not just at the top.
Not only that, but groups of influence must be taken into consideration. This is why digital adoption relies on enough people throughout the layers of the organization all “walking the talk”.
Why digital adoption also needs neuroscience
It doesn’t stop there. Digital adoption managers could also benefit from studying a bit of neuroscience.
Resistance is one of the biggest threats to digital adoption. It’s so common because humans are literally hardwired to feel reluctant about change.
The trillions of neurons and synapses in our brains create patterns of thinking. These form behavioral habits.
“Babies are born with many more neurons than they will need,” writes clinical psychologist Mona Fishbane.
“…it is the creation of networks and the pruning of disconnected neurons that shape brains and determine function. […] This process underlies habits, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.”
So in order for new habits to be created, new neural networks must not only be formed, they must be activated over and over again.
Some final words
Philip Kushmaro writes in CIO.com, “Organizations looking to complete digital transformation processes…require buy-in and adoption from their users…”
Yet, many enterprises are experiencing poor adoption results. Why digital adoption is unsuccessful could be due to a lack of understanding about human behavior and how the brain processes change.
Business leaders must adopt a people-focused approach to their digital transformation efforts in order to see good adoption results.