Failure to Thrive

After hearing how champions programs drive widespread, lasting change adoption, you were all fired up and ready to transform your organization from the bottom up. You followed the steps to create your very own champions program and . . . nothing really changed.

Or maybe things started out great, but over time, your champions lost their oomph and your program just fizzled out.

What went wrong?

How to Kill a Champions Program

If you’ve ever tried to take care of someone’s plant while they’re on vacation, you probably know the surefire ways to kill a plant. Likewise, there are surefire ways to kill a champions program—and if your program is struggling, you’ll recognize some of these behaviors.

As you read this, if you get a sense of déjà vu, take the steps to fix the problems before you decide to scrap the whole program.

Mistake 1: Assign people to be champions.

In your eagerness to start a champions program and see real results in your adoption initiative, maybe you tapped certain people to be champions—or went a bit further. Maybe they had all the right characteristics and would make great champions, so you assigned them to the program.

No matter how good your intentions were, that’s the opposite of what makes a good champions program. Champions should be volunteers, not voluntold.

When champions choose to participate, they bring an enthusiasm and energy that you won’t typically see in assigned employees. And it’s that enthusiasm that makes champions so effective! Without it, you’ve shot your program in the foot.

A triangular flag with "Champ" spelled on it

The fix: Let champions volunteer to join the program.

Ask for volunteers, or work with managers to identify good candidates—but don’t pressure them into volunteering.

If people aren’t responding to your call for volunteers, take a look at you how you’re asking—and be prepared to sweeten the deal a little bit. Explain that champions have access to new technology and tools, opportunities to upskill with advanced training and build a circle of influence. Even if they’re not interested in adoption, they’re probably interested in their own professional development.

A word of caution: don’t overdo the incentives. And don’t offer monetary enticements. Be up front about the opportunities and let people choose to participate.

Mistake 2: Give your champions the spiel and leave them to it.

You gave your champions the intro about your company’s adoption goals and explained their responsibilities and resources. Everyone seemed to be on board at the time, but since then, you haven’t seen any real impact from your champions. They seem to be floundering. What gives?

Maybe it’s an issue of how you framed the issue. If you explained their roles as champions solely in the context of getting X percentage of users to adopt by such-and-such a time, you might have missed the mark. Champions want to make a difference in your organization—not just hit the executive-dictated goals for the year.

The fix: Give your champions a mission.

Champions thrive on purpose. So, give them a purpose! Your company is pushing adoption for a reason—what is it? Make it personal.

How will adoption improve your employees’ experience? Prove to them that whatever it is you’re trying to do, it will benefit everyone, not just the overall bottom line.

Make sure they have a clear objective and know how to get there. Give them specific challenges—and be sure to follow up. Consider using Microsoft’s Power Platform to create a leaderboard for champions activities. Have them compete to stay on top by hosting training events, forwarding adoption communications, recruiting more champions, etc.

Continue to remind your champions that they’re a part of something important, something that matters. When you see progress, let them know so they can see how their actions are making a difference. Help them feel a sense of ownership for the project and its success.

Mistake 3: Support your champions with just one phone call a month.

Maybe you did frame the program well and allowed people to volunteer, but you’re still not seeing the results you’d hoped for. You check in with them every month on your champions’ conference call, but it seems like they’re just spinning their wheels and not getting anywhere.

One of the great things about champions is how they connect and work with other people. If you aren’t providing them with opportunities to connect with each other, you’re depriving them of much-needed support and making your own job harder.

The fix: Give champions a self-support network.

When it comes to connecting people, tools like Yammer and Microsoft Teams are super helpful. If you have a team space for the adoption project team, add your champions—and give the champions their own channel or Yammer group to interact with and support each other.

But it’s not enough just to set up the space: let them know that they have a responsibility in the success of this endeavor. You can’t be the only one posting in these groups! Remind them that you don’t know everything and that you expect them to contribute so you can all learn and progress together. When everyone participates, everyone benefits.

Mistake 4: Send your champions off and then focus on more important stuff.

You’ve given your rousing pep talks, hyped up the program, given them all the tools they could possibly need—check, check, and check.

Now you can leave them to it and get back to your “real” job, right?

Not quite. Just because this is a bottom-up change management strategy doesn’t mean that your champions don’t need your involvement in the program. They may be the ones pushing the change adoption in their teams, but they still need your support. If you’re not engaged in the program, how can you expect them to be?

Triangular flag with "Champ" spelled on it in a blog post about champions

The fix: Champion your champions.

The most successful champions programs invest in their employees by giving them what they need and then getting out of their way.

Make sure you:

  • Deliver on your promises. If your promised new tech and training, make it happen!
  • Listen to and act on feedback. Not actioning on feedback is a community killer.
  • Recognize their efforts. Have an executive sponsor highlight a champion’s accomplishments every now and then.

Mistake 5: Reinvent the training wheel.

If your project team is pushing software adoption, you’re probably under pressure to provide walkthroughs and tech resources for your champions. The champions are the ones on the ground, teaching people how to use the tools they have, so you have to make sure they know all the ins and outs of the software.

Well, yes—and no. You absolutely need to provide your champions with the resources they need to help their teams utilize the software, but you don’t have to start from scratch.

The fix: Send your champions (and users) to QuickHelp

This isn’t just some sales gimmick at the end of an informational article—this is all about feeding bottom-up change adoption. QuickHelp is the online learning platform that helps users build specific technology skills as well as soft skills like organization and productivity for long-term learning and change.

When you pair your champions with QuickHelp, users are the real winners. They get quick, helpful answers to their tech questions and relevant examples of how their software can transform the way they work. And when users change, your organization changes—it’s as simple as that!


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