If you were a teacher, which would you rather have – a class full of slow learners, or high achievers? Each group learns very differently, and conventional wisdom would say that each requires a distinct approach to teaching. There’s a lot of truth in that, but for some teachers, the opposite is the right answer. In other words, they would teach each group exactly the same way, with only a few nuances specific to each. Both scenarios can produce great results in the right hands, and it all comes down to the relationship teachers cultivate with their students.
You might dismiss these ideas since reality is never like this – classrooms almost always have a mix of learners, and teachers no doubt are endlessly challenged to cover all the bases. That probably describes your environment in terms what to do with UC, so that’s the level we have to work at. I’m sure there are times when you wish all your employees were Millennials and others when they were just old-school, but it’s more likely you’re surrounded by both.
This is perhaps the biggest thing that UC vendors did not take into account early on, and it’s the basis for many of their challenges to drive market adoption. For the foreseeable future, the workplace will have an evolving mix of digital natives and digital immigrants, and UC has to somehow resonate with both groups. The early UC developers were very much from the analog world, and it’s fair to say their offerings reflected that era. Millennials were not yet the force they are today, and in a few short years their rise has created a different kind of end user that UC vendors weren’t really ready for.
They’ve been scrambling ever since to figure that out, and over the next few years, that gap will close for two reasons. First, Millennials will soon become the majority of the workforce, at which point they will be driving the market more so than the older generations who are leaving the ranks by attrition. Second, Millennials will also become the drivers in the vendor community, making tomorrow’s UC very much of the present. They will move on from legacy applications such as email, telephony, fax, etc., and make UC resonate on a deeper level than what most employees experience today.
What about right now?
Exactly. The above crystal ball exercise tells you what’s coming, but what to do when most of your employees are basically technology laggards? If your company is pretty much all fresh-faced under-30s, there’s no need to read further unless you care to see how everyone else still struggles with the basics.
Most of the companies I come across in my research definitely fit this mold, and while they embrace UC for all the right reasons, they face an uphill struggle in getting the desired results. The do-nothing approach outlined in my recent posts will be risky for this audience, especially if the ROI bar has been set high for UC. They will only self-discover features and applications that fit in their comfort zone, and that may not be enough.
Think back to the student/teacher dynamic above. With this audience, you have to let the learning come from them, from which point you can do some gentle hand-holding to bring them along to the next level. How do you do this? Well, if you are seriously invested making UC a success, you have to be hands-on with employees and provide open channels of communication. Basically, you want them to share their learning with you, and based on the needs of their job, you can then steer them to something new that they can handle and will clearly be beneficial to them. They may never figure this out on their own, but with a light touch, you can teach them in a manner that suits their learning style.
Is this worth it?
Clearly, with an employee pool largely at this level, the learning will be incremental, but with each little success, they will become increasingly empowered. Eventually, the process becomes easier as they’re building on a foundation of knowledge and they’ve come to trust you as an effective enabler. Leaving them alone to sink or swim won’t be effective here, so you need patience and perseverance. You might even want to hire a retired teacher to facilitate the learning process.
There is no magic formula to follow, but you absolutely must establish the kind of relationship that is appropriate to their comfort level with new technology. Once you have that, success is much more contingent on managing that relationship than struggling with the technology. Remember, this is a process, and once you do it with basic UC applications, learning the more complex applications isn’t so hard. Furthermore, UC will never be finished, so as new applications come along, your chances of getting value from them is very much based on the strength of that relationship.
If that seems like too much work, this might not be the right time for UC. The situation is not permanent, as the ascendancy of Millennials ensures that technology laggards will become a shrinking pool of your workforce. So, if you can take on this mantle for what should be a short period of time, you stand to experience some great upside – not just for employee productivity, but also in the trust they have in IT to give them the best tools to do their jobs. That’s a pretty good payoff, and if I were you, I’d take it.