User Adoption Insights From Tri Tuns


By Jason Whitehead


Many organizations underestimate the critical impact employee motivation for adopting new technology has on IT system success.  The prevailing attitude is that employees will have “no choice” but to use the system.  The reality is that employees have many choices in user adoption.  They decide if the are going to follow business rules, if they will keep information outside of the system (using personal Excel or Word files), when they enter/share data (do they enter data right away so others can use it or do they will wait for a more convenient time to share information), etc.  Once you realize that each user has extensive choice in the manner, degree and time in which they use your system you can begin to focus on the more important issue – how do you motivate people to use the system in a way that delivers maximum benefits?

Many IT projects suffer from a lack of clear understanding of how to best motive desired user behavior.  People often use terms like “carrots and sticks”, “ensure compliance”, moving people along the “commitment curve”, and “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)”, but they typically do not understand the fundamental nature of these terms and their implications for motivating desired behavior.

Let’s take a quick look:

“Compliance” and “Sticks”  In its essence, this is negative approach focused on maximizing fear and punishment.  The underlying principle is, “if you don’t do what I say, you will suffer.”  Compliance driven motivation is:
  • Based on consequences/punishment
  • Only effective with rigorous enforcement
  • Only works when people think you are watching
  • Only drives minimum effort required to meet minimum criteria – there is no incentive to go beyond bare minimum
“Commitment”  Appealing to individuals’ commitment is a positive approach that taps into their internal drives and desires to achieve a shared goal.  The underlying principle is, “if we all pull together we can achieve something great.”  Commitment driven motivation:
  • Is based on desire to achieve a goal bigger than oneself
  • Is “Self Driving”
  • Works without external monitoring
  • Requires trust, relationship, shared values
  • Encourages people to give discretionary effort above bare minimum
  • Taps into individuals’ creativity to overcome obstacles and achieve goals
“What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM)  WIIFM appeals to individuals’ self-interests without regard to achieving a larger shared goal.  The underlying principle is, “If you do X you personally will get benefit Y – regardless of what others do.”   WIIFM motivation:
  • Appeals to the selfish side of individuals
  • Requires you understand the individuals’ actual goals, motivations and priorities.  Unfortunately, these vary from person to person and they change over time
  • Ceases to motivate once the individuals’ self interests are fulfilled or there is no perceived marginal value for providing additional discretionary effort
  • Encourages individuals to focus on their own interests and does not necessarily encourage them to work towards larger, enterprise goals


Achieving IT and organizational success requires people to work toward a common, shared goal.  You should focus the majority of your effort on maximizing commitment of all employees to achieving that goal.  Clearly demonstrate the link between the individuals’ technology adoption and how their behavior impacts goal achievement.  While in some situations (such as when there specific legal requirements/regulations) you may need to clearly define minimum accepted system use, you should minimize your focus on compliance and WIIFM.


  • Do you focus on commitment, compliance, or WIIFM in your current IT efforts?  How effective has it been on driving user adoption?
  • How do you increase employee commitment to achieving shared goals?  What are the skills and tools needed to increase commitment?
  • Are your organizational leaders effective at motivating employees and driving commitment to organizational goals?  If not, what can you do to develop your leaders’ skills and abilities in this area?
  • Have you clearly established the link between effective user adoption and its impact on achieving shared goals?  Do people believe that their behavior/IT adoption has a meaningful impact on achieving shared goals?