One of the gating factors for any new technology initiative is the pace at which users embrace the technology. Their reasons for embracing the technology are numerous: It makes their jobs easier, moves mundane tasks from them to the system, allows the company to minimize cost through standardization, yada, yada, yada. But the reason for the slow pace of adoption for most new technologies has nothing to do with what the company wants or needs. It has to do with one simple thing—overcoming the fears of the users.

And when you boil these fears down to their most fundamental elements, you’ll again find a common thread. Most people fear what they don’t understand. Helping people understand technology will quiet their fears and thus help your company adopt new technologies more rapidly. Given that the pace of change is more likely to accelerate than decelerate in the coming years, it would be a good idea to begin mitigating some of that fear now. In this column, we’ll look at two ways to help employees outside of the IT shop embrace technological change rather than fight it.

Internal training on personal technology
Corporate America has a little myopia when it comes to providing training on technology. Most companies provide training directed at their key technology objectives (e.g., PeopleSoft training for an HR rollout). I’m not arguing that this should go away, but I think it’s foolish to expect that we can dump new technology training on our employees every three to six months and expect that they will absorb it without the proper interest or background. Providing training on personal technologies has the potential to raise interest and provide the necessary background.

I propose that companies start holding technology fairs and hands-on training seminars geared toward the use of personal technology—technology designed to improve a person’s overall quality of life. These are subjects not normally taught by a company but discussed by employees over lunch and around the coffee machine. Focus on simple uses of technology, such as:

  • Creating a home budget with Excel or Quicken.
  • Ripping CDs, playing them on a PC, and burning CDs.
  • Using a digital camera to print and store photographs.
  • Upgrading or building a home PC.
  • Creating wired or wireless PC networks for the home.
  • Building and maintaining simple Web sites.

So what’s the difference between a technology fair and a training seminar? A technology fair is an opportunity for people to ask questions individually about technology. You can set up rooms or stations with particular technologies, such as a digital camera station or a CD ripping station. People can come by at their leisure, see a short technology demonstration, and then ask questions about their own situations. The goal of a technology fair is to generate interest, not to provide individual training.

Training seminars are planned, one- to three-hour presentations with content and demonstrations designed to teach people how to use the technology. They should leave the seminar with a clear idea of how to use the product or service demonstrated. One of the best seminars you can hold is one that teaches people how to create and maintain Web pages. Your employees can use this knowledge—with your company’s help—to take advantage of my second recommendation for breaking down technology barriers for your employees.

Offer a company-hosted Web site for employees and/or charities
My employees and associates often ask me questions about creating and maintaining Web sites for their families or civic organizations. By providing a mechanism for your employees to ply their newly developed skills for themselves or the organizations they serve, you become their partner and helper rather than the computer guru in the ivory tower. The goal here is not to be in the Web-hosting business but to give your employees a place to play.

If they want to develop sites for their church youth group or local charity, they need to understand that it’s their responsibility to support them. Make it clear that they are to do this work on their own time—evenings and weekends—and that there’s no guarantee that the site will be live 24/7.

The sites themselves shouldn’t reside on your internal servers. You can rent the server space by colocating a box with a local ISP or managed services provider. If you consume a significant amount of services from your existing provider, you may be able to make a deal with them to provide a Web server for your employees. Any sites that need to move to a production Web server (i.e., a paid site) are likely to move to that provider anyway since the domain registration and DNS entries already point there. This is also good training for your IT staff. Many of them may not have had the opportunity to support a server that is exposed to the outside world. Use this as a training exercise for them as well.

Is it worth the effort?
These ideas may not work for you. You may not have the internal talent to deliver the training, or your company policies may be too strict to allow you to implement shared Web services managed by your employees. Don’t be afraid to ask local computer businesses who cater to consumers (like CompUSA, Best Buy, or the local PC clone shop) to come in and do some of this work for you. Many of them would jump at the idea of having a captive audience. You can also use lunch hours or evenings to do the training, so that it doesn’t interfere with normal work hours.

But if you can pull off these fairs and training sessions, the rewards you reap will be huge. Having a workforce outside of IT that is jazzed about using technology because it improves their quality of life will certainly translate into more innovative use of technology on the job. And increasing the positive interaction between your technical staff and the people they serve will also make future business interactions more productive.

Is this “personal technology training” plan feasible for your company?

Would this enhance or eclipse your current training program for employees? Would your staff members be more favorably inclined toward this kind of training? Send us your opinion on this proposal.