“Experience is one of the most valuable things we can offer.”
Jan van Vledder
User adoption, change management and training are very complex topics. To become real experts, a long-term experience is needed for professionals. You cannot learn in books how to deal with these topics, nor someone can just tell you the magic formula. How do user adoption trainers and change managers face these issues in the real life? To answer this question, we interviewed Jan van Vledder, a training consultant with over 25 years of experience in training, change management, and user adoption fields.
Q: Can you tell us something about yourself, background, position?
A: Well… I started working a long time ago at the Philips Research Laboratory during which period I studied for a Bachelor degree in physics. But after five years of working there, I wanted to do something else. I wanted to work in telecommunications. After a few years in Philips Telecommunications, I was offered the opportunity to work in product sales training and I became their sales training manager. I started organizing trainings, creating content in collaboration with the product managers and a more structured training curriculum. In 2003 I started my own company to provide training services and training consultancy. My first client was a satellite communications company, where I was asked to support them with the introduction of their new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) application, Axapta. So, I started to design workshops and work instructions to help users with the new software, especially for finance, sales, legal and marketing staff and I created a simple but effective communication campaign. So, that’s where I started working with change management and user adoption. From that experience, my career in change management and user adoption developed. Later, after joining SES and working as a process manager, I was made responsible for change management specifically. When IBM Connections was introduced in the company, I soon was an enthusiastic user and created a comprehensive wiki, resulting in an integrated digital learning environment on SAP CRM and related business processes.
My motto is: “Towards an enhanced learning experience”. I have always used this quote because I want to provide people with a good learning experience.
Q: Oh, that’s impressive, you are always developing and building up new skills and experiences in different fields.
A: Yes, and what I appreciate so much is that through the years I have learned a lot, always new skills. I can say I am an example of life-long learning. Also during the last years with SES, I had the opportunity to learn and use new tools. It’s not that I reached the retirement age and didn’t want to experiment new things anymore. No, the contrary for me. And now, for example, I am experimenting with Office 365, to see how I can use that platform for user training. I really like my job and I’m still full of energy.
Q: So, in your career, you managed to design and build training for the user adoption of SAP CRM and Axapta. So, from your experience, what do you think is needed to reach a positive rate of user adoption?
A: Erm…in general, it’s all about software: a new program, software, a platform. To get people to feel confident about it, you have not only to teach them how it works but also, and most importantly, they have to start appreciating it. You need to communicate with them what it means for them, what are the benefits for them and then give real concrete examples. And you need a step by step approach, not everything in one session, otherwise, it is useless. Also, you have to focus on the most important things and functionalities that will be used in the company, not on every possibility offered by the software. And speaking the users’ language is very important, fundamental.
Q: So, in the end, will you say that technology is about people first?
A: Definitely yes, technology is about people first. Most people are not experts in technology, they only need to work with it, and do their job with the new technology. Speaking their language, so that they can understand the technology is very important, but also doing a lot of training because they have to understand and learn how to use it. So, from my experience training is about making it as easy as possible for the users. Also, you should make somebody responsible for this adoption process who is a real expert on the topic.
Q: So in your opinion is also about finding the right people, the real experts, to give the training and hold workshops, using the right language and attitude according to the audience?
A: Oh yes, yes. And you have to do everything you can to make it easy for people to learn. Then in small steps, they will learn and appreciate the tool, instead of just saying: “here it is, the new tool, from tomorrow you have to use it”. You have to really hold their hands and accompany them in the adoption process.
Q: So, if you have to summarize your user adoption strategy, your formula would be…?
A: Erm…with respect to user training, a media mix I would say, so not just workshops, videos, e-learning or written materials, but a combination of these methods. Everything that is needed to help people and give them the support they need, so they don’t feel alone in the process. Also, the contents of all training materials must be valuable and consistent and also look good visually. People should recognize that a lot of effort has been put into all material to make it as easy as possible for them. Therefore, I like to use the phrase “towards an enhanced learning experience”.
Q: We also read a nice quote you stated in your LinkedIn profile “where technology meets people”, can you elaborate on that?
A: Yes, technology and people are often a clash, since you are forced to work with something new that, you’re not familiar with, but still, you need to use it. Technology develops also fast and people cannot go along with it in many cases. To help people to work with a new technology, you need experts who understand the technology, but also are able to explain the functionality in normal language to the users.
Q: And according to your experience, which are the main difficulties that users have during the process of user adoption of a new technology?
A: Erm…So first there is reluctance like if it is a new tool, it cannot be good. I heard so many times “if it’s SAP it cannot be good”. So people believe the new application is not good for them or not useful, or too complex. The other difficulty is those people that have a problem with change. I remember a colleague that often said “I hate change”, but she managed to become a superuser because she discovered and learned to appreciate functionalities that really helped her in her job. Of course, there is this well-known technology adaption curve, but these are two examples of difficulties I had to deal with.
From Jan’s experience, a successful formula for reaching a positive rate of user adoption of a new technology always starts with learning. The users’ learning experience has a great impact on the results of the adoption process. That’s why consultants and trainers should follow Jan’s motto “towards an enhanced learning experience”. Consequently, they have to work hard to offer users the best learning experience using different tools and methods. In the end, the success of a user adoption strategy depends highly on the efforts, passion, and experience that consultants and trainers have to offer.