How to Roll Out a New Productivity Tool Without Killing Morale and Destroying Company Culture

Picking the right tool and implementing it properly will help employees improve their productivity, but being too quick to roll out tools and not gaining feedback could lead to frustrated teams that don’t trust management.
productivity tool

Getting employees to adopt a new productivity or task management tool can be a moment of reckoning for any company. According to one MIT study, 63 percent of leaders today want to increase the rate of technological change and adoption at their company, but they feel held back by either a lack of urgency from employees or their own inability to communicate the benefits of adoption.

The fact is that most people probably have very different priorities when it comes to new tools. Managers are most interested in team reporting; finance cares most about the value the tool will bring per head; engineering is worried whether this tool will mean more meetings; and IT and legal are worried about data security. For this reason, the process of getting teams to adopt a new tool can quickly turn into a minefield.

If leaders screw up implementation early on, employees could turn on managers and the tool (even if the tool actually works well). If leaders approach adoption too forcefully, employees will hate them. If leaders let their feet off the gas too early, no one will adopt. If leaders do this too often, they develop a reputation for being That Guy That Sucks at Implementing Tools, and the company will bleed talent. So how can managers effectively choose and implement new tools without alienating their teams? Let’s start with what they should not do.

Four easy ways to alienate a team:

1. Picking a tool that only works for one team and forcing other teams to use it.

In most companies, cross-team collaboration is a necessity. So, it makes sense that everyone should use the same tool, right?

Not so fast. If wanting two or more teams collaborating in one tool, leaders need to make sure it’s flexible enough to accommodate the working styles of both teams.

Too often, managers will arbitrarily pick one tool that one team happens to be using and then force all other teams in their organization to adopt the tool. Shoehorning teams that have different workflows into one workflow is a surefire way to frustrate team members and make them believe their work doesn’t matter to management.

Instead, leaders should take a step back, look at each team’s day-to-day tasks and try to find a tool that can accommodate everyone’s needs.

2. Over-estimating reporting needs.

It’s no secret that reports sell software, but as a rule of thumb, the more sophisticated the reporting gets, the harder the tool is to use. It’s important to remember that reporting only works if people actually use the tool. We live in the age of user experience, when every other tool people use in their personal and professional lives are designed for ease of use. Enterprise tools should be no different.

Many managers make the critical mistake of adopting a tool that works for them — providing them with the data they need to boost productivity — but is complicated and cumbersome for the end users. This ends up adding to, rather than reducing, their workload.

The best way to avoid this is to test run any potential tools with small sample groups from different teams in an organization and then listen to what employees say. It could mean the difference between helping them and making their lives miserable.

3. Adopting a new methodology without appropriate training.

There are countless projects and management methodologies designed for a wide range of functions, industries and team sizes. One of the most common mistakes in the tech world is when a company ambitiously applies a complicated methodology like Six Sigma or Waterfall, where a straightforward agile approach would do just fine.

Tools should complement a team’s processes, not work against them. And if leaders insist on transforming the way work gets done, they should invest in the change and do it properly. Managers cannot expect teams to learn on the fly if they don’t have the time, space and feedback to learn.

4. Ignoring the recommendations of end users.

Far too often companies will pay big bucks to fly in their teams from all over the country, assess their needs and wishes for new tools, and then ignore all of that information and make a decision based on their own intuition and criteria.

If employees don’t feel like leaders are listening to them, they’re less likely to return the favor. In a recent Forbes article, author Jacob Morgan argues that causing employees to feel like “cogs,” whose opinions aren’t valued, is one of the greatest causes of employee disengagement and discontent.

If leaders include employees in the decision-making process for new tools, they make sure to actually listen. Actively ignoring someone’s input can be worse than never having asked for someone’s input in the first place.

How To Roll Out a New Tool Without Ruining Everything

Once leaders have selected a tool, all they must do is fire off a few email invites and hope that everyone will just figure it out, right? Wrong. In terms of potential effects to team morale, leaders might as well tell everyone that they’re working on Thanksgiving.

If managers want teams to start on the right foot with new tools, they need to invest in training and tackle the task of adoption properly. To do so, call individual team meetings and roll out the tool in small groups. Learning with their peers in function-specific groups helps employees become comfortable with the tool in a way that is most relevant to their job role.

Rather than having groups working on a model, managers should add real projects with real tasks to the tool before these sessions. Collaboration is the best way to drive adoption, and the only way to get real collaboration going is to have real stakes. The only way to do that is to put real work into the tool.

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These groups should be as interactive as possible; people should be allowed to speak their minds, and managers should be encouraged to highlight real problems from the outset. This is the perfect time for managers to sell people on the new tool and explain its benefits, but it’s also the best time for people to put their objections out in the open.

Enterprise software is designed to bring teams closer together, speed up processes, improve communication and ultimately improve overall productivity. In a perfect world, enterprise software decreases the amount of time employees spend on busy work and increases the amount of time they have for real work. But we don’t live in a perfect world.

Take employee complaints and criticisms of the tool seriously. If leaders find themselves in a situation where employees aren’t taking the tool seriously, figure out why.

Do not punish employees for not using a tool: if a tool is good, employees should want to use it. The primary method of driving adoption should be training time and education. If those aren’t working, leaders might have to reconsider the tool.

On the flip side, if managers see team members adopting the tool, they shouldn’t hesitate to add wood to the fire. Instead, they should single out and reward employees and teams who are using the tool particularly effectively.

Know When to Pack It In

The No. 1 rule of adopting new productivity tools is that there’s no point in beating a dead horse. While adoption rates for enterprise software adoption are slowly improving, there’s still a good chance that the tool in mind simply isn’t a good fit.

Think about it this way: teams who have been properly trained and given ample time to try a new tool have every reason to give the new tool the benefit of the doubt. They want the tool to succeed. Who doesn’t want to become more productive?

When the tool becomes too complicated or tricky to manage, employees often have no choice but to return to their old ways. The new tool simply isn’t letting them be as productive as they once were, and they can’t afford to be less productive.

If there are a large number of stale (long overdue) tasks and projects piled up in the tool, or the IT department has started questioning how many employees actually use it, that’s another sign that it’s time to pack it in and take action.

At this point, even people who do stick with the tool can’t continue to because proper collaboration isn’t possible unless everyone is on the same tool. At this point, it’s wise to be decisive, to accept defeat graciously and move on before the tool starts driving a wedge between employees.

At the end of the day, it’s up to managers to notice the vultures circling and to move onto to a tool that better suits their teams as quickly and smoothly as possible.

One thing is for sure: if leaders have properly involved their team in tool selection from day one and then offered everyone the appropriate amount of training and support during adoption, it won’t matter that the tool didn’t stick. Failing properly can mean the difference between a satisfied team that knows leadership tried and a demoralized team that will be wary next time leaders come around with a shiny new tool.

Mark Henderson is the CEO of Flow. To comment, email