Unified Communications Success Depends on Changing Employee Habits

CIOs offer tips for getting employees to change their most ingrained habits and adopt new unified communications tools.

Disrupting the way employees interact is often risky. And deploying unified communications (UC) tools can be riskier than other enterprise software rollouts because it affects employees’ ingrained habits. “People move at their own pace around [this] technology,” observes Barry Libenson, CIO of Land O’Lakes. “It’s not like a new ERP system.”

Installing Cisco’s UC suite during the next few months is critical to the $13 billion butter maker’s efforts to expand globally. One feature lets employees program their phones to forward calls to other locations, or to their iPhones, based on where their calendars say they will be. Another lets people launch a videoconference by clicking on a colleague’s name in the company directory.

But UC tools create new expectations for how people will work together. Art Schoeller, an analyst at Forrester Research, says that makes it easy for UC deployments to fail because employees may not value the tools as highly as management does. “Users can ignore you and you lose the benefits,” he says. “You have to establish and [invest] in a change-management program.”

Selling Change

To sell the new capabilities, Libenson took a tip from Cisco and set up more than a dozen flat-screen monitors that display weekly messages informing the company’s 3,000 users about upcoming changes. He followed up the messages with paper mail and email, and offered demos for groups of 10. Then during each deployment (the tools were rolled out to Land O’Lakes’ two biggest facilities last month and are scheduled for use in its main dairy plant in February) Libenson designated IT staffers to wear orange vests and walk around answering questions or helping coworkers individually.

Libenson says he’ll judge how well the rollout succeeds by how employees use the new tools. “It’s a failure if people still only use the [technology] traditionally.”

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