“Adoption is the new innovation” is a pithy reference I made by accident on an industry event stage a couple of years ago. The fast follow to that reference was “this is what we’ve learned the hard way.”

I was calling attention to the realities of enterprise software I’ve witnessed firsthand at companies big and small over many years. Too often a great new product is purchased for its productivity promises but disappoints upon delivery because it isn’t used. Fingers are pointed, frustration builds. Here I’m looking at all firms and all associates and digging deeper into the much needed issue of technology “adoption.”

There are myriad explanations for the phenomenon I call “adopter’s palsy.” The most common one is that the buyers and users of tech are different people—think of the corporate IT department dropping a new app on a firm’s financial advisors at the behest of headquarter management. The understanding of how the product will be used frequently eludes the IT people, who buy the software but are not responsible for its use. The HQ management is sold on the potential but does not have an adoption plan. The advisors weren’t asking for another system to learn in the first place, so the new intro gets ignored to death.

Another frequent foil to software adoption is that the company has budgeted for the software but not for the cost of training people to use it adequately. Confident that “our team can do it,” optimistic but otherwise unengaged managers claim credit for saving the company cash, only to learn over time they have actually increased costs, including those for human time. Any company selling solutions must be smart about the “full” cost of their capability. Most are not, and they end up with unhappy customers.

Of course, there is another trend that is also a significant cause of adopter’s palsy. The average age of financial advisors has been rising fast, alongside that of the clients, and many advisors are racing their clients to the retirement goal line. And why not? Aging advisors may be slowing down by farming out smaller clients or taking on junior partners. Not too many have the energy to take on a tech tool learning curve.

Every business has a critical need to integrate new digital tools. Besides hiring and retaining top people, I can’t think of anything more important and impactful for a firm today than software integration. Tech frees people to do things only people can do. It’s the biggest blind spot of management in this era that they often fail to understand that value relationship.

In May, Tom Bradley, the managing director of Schwab Advisor Services, spoke at the Next Chapter Rockin’ Retirement conference (sponsored by Financial Advisor magazine, the Execution Project and the Money Management Institute). Bradley said he sees better technology adoption rates at smaller firms than most big firms. That suggests that urgency to adopt is a function of proximity. But when we look broadly, we see other factors as well.

So what does it take to create adoption?

1. Demand by the End Consumer
For any new anything there must be an impact on the results of the organization. And the only reliable objective is more and better business. So whatever you are trying to deploy, it has to be easily linked to better outcomes. That means saying to your staff, “We are not asking you to use the new CRM because we want to make you crazy. We are doing it because it allows us to do more business. And do it better. And much easier. And here’s how …”

2. The Ease of Doing Business
In my experience, you earn a loyal following in business if you make people’s jobs simpler and easier. Even more than money, people value the respect they get from a company trying to make their lives better. The pandemic has turned employee job satisfaction into Management Job No. 1. When you can walk that talk with better tools and procedures, you earn employees’ goodwill and that makes them more receptive to new initiatives. You can pass the benefits to consumers as well because you have made it easier to do business with them and forged critical partnerships. You know those partnerships are working when both parties report less friction and better results.

3. Industry and Internal Collaboration
Once you have a clear eye for the impact of technology on both consumers and your associates, it’s time to seize new opportunities in new business categories. Maybe you want to spread into managed accounts, financial planning or retirement counseling. To grow in a new category and get out of a silo, firms will require the broad support of the industry ecosystem, including connectivity with other capabilities and companies.

The “go it alone” approach likely won’t work.

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