As a CTO/CIO, have you ever had this reaction? "Stupid users. If only they would 'get it' already!" Bad news: it's never going to happen.

Users will always push back "irrationally" on any new tech initiative. It's up to you to show them the light.

Fortunately--or unfortunately, depending on how long you've been a CTO/CIO--you don't need a cattle prod to get users on your side.  You can use the following 17 tips to turn those "stupid users" into your evangelists.

1. Solve their problems.

Solve problems that are important to users, not problems that are important to IT.  Users don't care about making IT's job easier.  They only care about making their jobs easier.

2. Have a 15 second "stump speech".

If your initiative is like a presidential candidate, then this 15 second message is your stump speech.  You may have to repeat it a thousand times before you "win" (ie., get overwhelming support for your initiative).

Don't list features or try to teach them how to get started. In 15 seconds you don't have time to say anything except how your initiative will benefit the user.

Make sure everyone on the launch team has the stump speech down pat.

3. Minimize the disruption to the status quo.

No one likes to change their routines because of external forces.  Users' lives are already overflowing with stuff they need to keep track of, so try to squeeze yourself in there with as little ruckus as possible.

4. Make it really, really (really) easy for users.

While it's fun for you and your IT team to play with interesting new technology, normal users won't be happy with yet another thing they have to learn unless it's really worth it.  While you're pushing the benefits in your stump speech, you should also be making the new technology as easy as possible on the users.  Otherwise, you will encounter lots of resistance (or worse, apathy).

Having a great user interface and useful documentation are two ways to make it easy for users.

5. Use stats.

Numbers sell. 

Have answers to questions like... How much time per employee will the new technology save?  How many more units will the sales team be able to move if they had this new technology?  How much money do you save per transaction under the new system?

A single hard number can be more effective than a thousand words.

6. Showcase other companies that are already doing it.

Are your competitors or other big players (either within or outside your industry) already doing what you want your company to do?  Use that to convince the management team that you need to be doing the same.  Few things turn a CEO around faster than showing them something competitors are doing that your company isn't. 

7. Do a limited beta with key influencers.

Invite key influencers to preview the beta.  Even if they're not 100% convinced that your solution is the way to go, just by including them early in the process (and listening to them), they will feel respected and you will win influential evangelists. 

Get one of your company's most influential people to endorse your new technology, and you'll get 10, 20, 500 others to support you too.  Social proof and peer pressure work.

Be sure to invite:

  1. People with explicit authority like executives and managers.  You want these guys pushing your initiative, not fighting against it.   
  2. Thought leaders and company superstars.  If the top salesperson buys into your initiative, it will be a lot easier to get the rest of the sales team to come along.   
  3. Geeky early adopters.  There are probably technology-loving, early-adopting geeks outside your IT departments.  Get these guys excited about the new technology, and the non-geeks will follow.   
  4. Chatty / popular / friendly employees who have informal influence over a group of employees.  The more gregarious and popular they are, the bigger the group of "normal" users they'll bring along.

8. Let the announcement come from department heads so they "own" the initiative.

Give department heads and other middle managers early access, and let them announce the new technology to their team. 

There are several benefits to delegating the announcement to department heads:

  1. Middle managers will "own" the initiative.  Instead of complaining about your new technology to their teams, you'll have department heads evangelizing on your behalf.   
  2. Employees trust their immediate superiors a lot more than the IT guys.   
  3. Department heads will understand the needs of their teams better than you, and can craft an announcement that's better suited for their department's special circumstances.

9. Ask, listen, and respond to your users.  

In other words, engage the people who will be using the technology. Feedback from actual users is critical because what may be easy and intuitive to your test team might be incredibly confusing for the users. 

Survey users before, during and after launch -- and listen! -- to make sure you're delivering the right solution for the right problem.  Only the people using the technology everyday can tell you what you need to work on.

10. Make it easy for users to send you feedback.

Make it drop dead easy for beta testers to get feedback to your launch team.  Even after the beta phase, when you've launched to the entire company, be sure to continue to collect feedback from users. 

Users will love you (and subconsciously, the new technology) because you asked for and acted on their opinions.  When they give input on it, they become stakeholders in the technology.

11. Listen to front line help desk operators.

Similar to the previous point, tap employees who intimately know the technical needs (biggest problems) of the company's rank and file.  The techies who field calls and emails from end users know them much better than the programmers and sysadmins who don't have regular contact with users.

12. Stay on message (about the benefits to users).

In your emails, documentation, training seminars, video demo, hallway conversations -- basically, every message you put out there about the new technology -- hammer home the benefits of the new technology to users. 

Never miss an opportunity to remind users how much easier their jobs will be because of your initiative.

13. Connect the dots for users.

It may take you 2 seconds to see how new technology will solve specific problems and make the company healthier, but non-techies often can't make that connection on their own.  Sometimes they'll eventually get it, but mostly, you'll have to connect the dots for them.

14. Have insanely useful documentation.

Your goal is to make it so drop dead simple to understand that even your "slowest" user can be a power user. 

Some tips:

  1. Use a wiki, so users can help improve the docs.   
  2. Provide a forum. Let users ask each other (and members of the tech team) questions.   
  3. Lots and lots of pictures / screenshots.  Humans are visual creatures.  
  4. Use video, but don't force users to watch a 30 minute video.  Instead, provide 2-minute slices of specific topics.   
  5. Have demo sessions where you show how to use the technology and field questions. Record it and add the video to the docs.

15. Keep the information flowing.

Blog about bug fixes, new features, 3-month roadmaps, tips & tricks (would be nice if from users), and anything else you can think of that's related to the initiative.  Post every week, if not every day.

Keep everyone in the loop to keep users happy and excited about what you're doing.  The alternative is to piss off users with pronouncements from up high every once in a blue moon.

16. Sign up the technophobes.

Other employees will think, "Hey, if Joe the technophobe who can't even handle sending email can use this new thing, well then so can I."

17. Thank your evangelists profusely and publicly.

Thank people who helped you launch the initiative and make sure they feel good about helping you out.  Thank them directly for their help, mention their contribution to their superiors, and/or thank them in front of their peers (on the IT or internal product blog, perhaps). 

Show your appreciation and you'll turn those users into lifelong evangelists.