Helping Your Team Adopt a New Tool
A framework for respectfully (and successfully!) creating change and evangelizing new tools and processes.
Written by John Flynn
We’re often reminded to not waste time fixing something that isn’t broken. But what if the thing is simply ripe for improvement? For some people, change is met with optimism: the benefits of a new tool or process seem obvious, intuitive even. For others, change feels like punishment. New ways of doing things might seem totally unnecessary or worse, like a waste of time and energy. When it comes to the workplace, this balance is all the more precarious. After all, time is money. For the sake of this article, let’s say you know for certain that your new process is a winner. The challenge, then, is convincing everyone else. If you’ve already tried being an enthusiastic cheerleader of the cause or are struggling to secure that crucial executive sign-off, you’re going to need a new, collaborative strategy.
Forcing change on people isn’t a bad strategy — it’s what happens when you have no strategy at all
We’ve all been there: It’s Monday morning and you have an email in your inbox explaining the brand new tool or app you’re place of work is going to start using. Think about how you felt in that moment. Excited? Maybe. Annoyed? Totally possible. And for good reason: it’s probably going to mean change to the way you work.
It’s that uncertainty that really vexes people. Instead, loop your team members into a conversation. By treating the change that comes with using a new tool like any other project, and making sure you follow a few important steps, you can turn an unpleasant transition into a group success. Read on for some important frameworks that will help shape the conversation.
Here’s how this helps the business
This is the one that everyone talks about first. You’d never dream of rocking the boat without thinking about the clear benefits to your organization. It’s easy to sell people on how changing email services will let the business reach twice the users in half the time. And if your tool has a smaller impact? That’s OK: the next steps are way more important.
Here’s how it helps you
Your coworkers are humans, and us humans tend to have not only a keen sense of empathy, but also a bit of baseline selfishness..
The first real step to making a new tool’s benefits understandable is explaining honestly what it does to make your work easier. Instead of a slide with a bullet list of benefits on it, invite team members who will be using the new system to share their thoughts. Enthusiasm is infectious — and understanding how a new tool might solve real workflow issues will promote empathy and understanding across teams and departments.
Usually, if you do a good job of explaining why and how this new tool makes your life easier, others will be more curious to join the party.
What’s in it for me?
That empathy works both ways — by far, the most important step is to put on your teammate’s shoes and consider how the change affects them. Like any good marketing campaign, you’re selling a vision of the future. What will it look like? What kind of person will I be on the other side of this change? What kinds of inconveniences might I expect when adding this tool to my toolbox? Prepare them for these bumps in the road and they’re destined to be met with more humility and patience.
Make sure to consider your audience and remember that context is important. A pitch to a visual designer switching to Sketch — who’s swamped with exporting assets and needs to hear about how the tool can make that easier — is different than the pitch to their director, who wants to know about group licensing, support, or the availability of resources for employees switching to get up to speed quickly. And don’t skip the real talk: you’ll get more respect and understanding if you can speak about the risks, challenges, and costs your change will incur openly.
The power of collaboration is turning it from “my project” into “our project”
As designers, one of the most important lessons we’ve learned about collaboration is that amazing insights can come from anyone on the team — given the opportunity. More eyes (and a greater diversity of opinions) will help you spot pitfalls or uncover hidden benefits you hadn’t considered, and potentially win valuable support for your project. You may be excited to use Zapier to automate your social media posts, but did you know your coworker Ellie is over there manually updating spreadsheets full of customer feedback? She’s going to be very interested in how your project could automate some of that work, too — and now the tool benefits both of you, making it twice as valuable to the organization.
Day one support isn’t enough: show up with resources at the ready
A big part of going through the steps of incorporating a new tool or practice is treating it like a design problem. Putting yourself in those scenarios gives you a great deal of research and insight into the problems your teammates are likely to face as a result of this change.
Make sure resources are available early and often: instead of talking about how great symbol libraries would be, built example files with the brand’s graphic design work and supplement them with third-party UI kits. To make it easy to evaluate the tool, rebuild some frequently-used page designs for people to poke around in and compare directly. Rather than wait for questions, schedule some lunch-and-learn events to show demos ( and pizza). Hot tip: Changes are easier to stomach when they come with a free slice of pizza.
For success, give the process of change the respect it deserves
We’ll borrow from Henry Ford on this one:“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” Think back to that email in your inbox. Now, instead of that being the very first time you heard about the dreaded New Tool, imagine you’re seeing a project you personally helped take shape finally take its first baby steps into the world. Doesn’t that feel better?
Instead of focusing on minimizing change and moving fast (hard, we know!), accept its impact on others: take the time to do your research, hear people’s concerns, and plan your attack. It will help set your team up to for success.