High Value or Cool Tool?

by Alli Polin on March 5, 2013

Leadership and Technology Adoption: High Value or Cool Tool

Three weeks ago my daughter came home from school with a note asking her to set up an account on a class website.  I imagined a tool the teacher would use to communicate reminders to the class and engage about the classroom learning to reinforce what they are doing at home and outside of the classroom.

Here’s the experience to date:

  • I registered my daughter using my email and have already received 100’s of updates from just a small subset of the class.   No option for digest updates, my email is constantly getting overwhelmed.
  • The kids are posting pictures of their dogs, birthday cakes and chatting it up about the latest Phineas and Ferb episode.
  • There is a constant stream of  “Anyone on here?  What are you doing?”  It’s like real-time chat and Facebook for 8 – 10 year olds.
  • No lessons on cyber-bullying or on-line safety were discussed with the class or parents prior to launch.

What’s the prob?

  • What is the WHY for the engagement on the site?
  • How does this deepen their learning or use their time well?
  • Are we teaching our kids to check online for comments every five minutes so they can grow up to be successful adult users of Social Media and check obsessively for comments like it’s online crack?

It’s a cool tool that’s being used just because it can, not because it adds value to the educational experience.   How many times have you seen this happen at work?

New tools and processes are rolled out and one of three things often happen:

1)   Nothing.  Nobody changes the way they’re working because they don’t see the value to the change.

2)   Early adopters jump on the bandwagon big time and are disappointed when it gets cut or changed due to lack of overall engagement.

3)   People embrace the changes, find their way to making it a useful part of their life at work but not always as originally designed.

As a leader, how do you increase the successful adoption of new technologies and processes?

Know and Communicate WHY

Enroll people in the vision and the intended outcomes.  Give them a compelling reason to get on board.   Don’t stop with your core audience but spread the word to all extended stakeholder groups.

Share Expectations up Front

Leaders need to know what success looks like and share it with the team.  Best practices should be communicated right away so people can maximize their results.

Show and Tell

More than words show our teams what’s expected of them.  Be a leader that is a role model for use of the new tools or processes.  If you’re going around the process, so will everyone else. 

Publicly Recognize the Good

When people are making a great effort or finding success not only tell them individually but also tell everyone.  Encourage future positive behaviors by recognizing them now.

Privately Criticize the Bad

Coach and mentor instead of immediate discipline.  Ask questions and listen to their answers about why they’re not doing what’s expected.  Never publicly make a negative example out of anyone on the team.

Throwing a tool or process out to the team without knowing desired outcomes is a waste of everyone’s time.  How do you know if it’s adding value if you don’t know what value-add looks like?  Trying new things and learning are important but not simply for the sake of embracing cool and new but because of the WHY, the vision and intended outcome. 

I honestly think it’s great that our daughter’s teacher is trying new things to complement and extend the learning but sadly, this one is off to a poor start.  We’ve discussed our concerns with her and appreciate the offer to opt-out.  Our family has decided that our daughter will opt-out of the online forum until we understand the value (forward the action and deepen the learning) and see the online engagement focused and managed by the leader, their teacher.  Instead, our daughter is reading books, spending time with family and friends, and playing learning games instead of developing an addiction to virtual social drop-ins 24/7.

What do you do when you’re not bought into the value of a new tool?  Do you talk about it?  Do you suck it up and hope that it goes away?   

(Photo credit)

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Forbes March 5, 2013 at 7:10 am

Alli, Great lesson and thanks for sharing it. It’s one thing to have a tool and it’s another thing to know how to use it.

Adults aren’t much different from kids. I’m in our local Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership program along with 40 others. The “reply all” emails are killing me and my inbox.


Alli Polin March 5, 2013 at 7:58 am

Reply all’s kill my inbox! The way people engage on technology makes all the difference between a groan when another message pops in our inbox and a smile knowing that it’s doing what it was intended to do. Many thanks for your comment, Dan!


Johann Gauthier March 5, 2013 at 7:25 am

Thanks for the great post Alli.

I have children as well and there are some very good lessons here for leaders and organizations.

I often say at the office: “the question is not so much why, but how”…when it comes to social media usage and adoption. But there’s a lot of raising awareness and educating that goes on and on…

Beautiful, thanks for sharing !


Alli Polin March 5, 2013 at 7:57 am

Thank you, Johann! Knowing the why helps inform the how that make the most sense for the team and organization. Social Media is evolving so quickly we’re all learning as we go! Appreciate your insights & comment!!


Vmax Team March 5, 2013 at 8:10 am

Great article Alli, thanks! Social media is a juggernaut of a bandwagon!

As a starting point, consider whether the tool will do one or other of the following:
1) Solve an existing PROBLEM
2) Introduce a BENEFICIAL new feature

If the answer is no to both, STOP (please!). If the answer to one or other is yes, you can then get down to the detail of how much benefit/how big a problem.

It’s amazing how many tools fail the first test!


Alli Polin March 5, 2013 at 6:25 pm

You have said it so simply and beautifully! Without passing the first test, I wish that more organizations would be willing to just say NO! Too many people feel like backing off makes them look bad and still continue forward with ideas and technologies that ultimately just cost the org time and $$ with limite ROI. Greatly appreciate this powerful and easy test. One to both use and share! Many thanks!


Blair March 5, 2013 at 10:42 am

Great post Alli. And I love how you see the metaphors and lessons of leadership in family life. I am currently examining this with couples who get married but really don’t know WHY, or what the marriage is for. I find when the task for something is so unclear, it naturally leads to an overload of electronic and /or emotional detritus.


Alli Polin March 5, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Blair – When you’re open to seeing them, leadership lessons are everywhere and, as you well know, not only in the office. I’m fascinated by the work that you’re doing. I never really thought about how married couples may be missing their WHY and the impact that would have on the success of the marriage. Just like a new technology in the classroom, without it, people are engaging but without any real direction or synergy. Now you’ve got me thinking! For that, I thank you! Appreciate the color that you’ve added to this post!


Karen Jolly March 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Great post Alli. I just watched Sugata Mitra, 2013 TED Prize Winner’s talk this week and your post reminded me about it. What great minds our children have when given a question or puzzle to figure out online. Giving them challenges for them to search and figure out together would be so much more affective than just a social outlet. If your school is finding a way for them to connect, why not make it stimulating for their growth? The WHY matters for all of us. You’ve got me thinking! 🙂


Alli Polin March 5, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Thanks, Karen! I 100% agree with you! Get them focused on solving a shared problem and engaging on the learning vs just social. She does give homework like “post what you’re having for dinner” and comment on someone else’s post. That drives posting activity but still misses the value mark for me. They WHY matters not only with technology but with everything we do. Appreciate your comment and I’m going to check out that TED talk!


Amber-Lee Dibble March 5, 2013 at 8:39 pm

What a great analogy and overall message!

Here’s where I am at. I have a 5.5 year old daughter that REFUSED to go to school. Never mind that I home-school my children (and always have, my son is in 9th grade at 14 years old now.), she wouldn’t have a thing to do with anything I got for Kindergarten.

~ Umm… have you ever heard of a child that hated KINDERGARTEN?? (sheesh)

Back to the kiddos. I spoke at length with the school’s advisers and counselors for the home-school kids and got nothing except more worries and frustration. One conversation kept coming back to me, so I mentioned it to the Super at the school as we spoke again about Bella. Bella is my own little me. By that I mean, she wants to do what I am doing, next to me. Hesitantly, I asked “what about a computer?”

Do they even make programs for children that young?

They do! And it all disguised as play (as it should be, I believe). Bella is reading, writing and is learning simple math, more, everyday! (Oh, thank you, Lord!) I was then worried, that she would zone out the world and get sucked into games and stuff… no! She loves her “games” as she refers to them. The Superintendent at the school is a mom of two young boys and she had a wonderful list of apps for me to try out as well as an awesome website to help me know what is right for her, age and emotionally.
FYI, in case you are interested: http://www.commonsensemedia.org

Bella has an iPad now and we are both happy about it. She is learning and that is such a pleasure (as any parent will agree) to watch.

I think that what is going on in your daughter’s classroom, but I would not be happy about it either. It seems highly unacceptable that there were no “danger” classes or information… Have you initiated a conversation with the school about this?


Alli Polin March 5, 2013 at 9:15 pm


First of all – that’s a great site! Thank you! Our children have ipads too with many learning games on them. I’ve been disappointed to see that some of the children in my daughter’s class have added the app for the online forum to their own ipads and are sending messages at 10:30 at night saying things like “I’m sad.” I can’t be the only parent to get all of the messages in my email. Thank you for encouraging me to not only talk about safety with my child but with the school. We’ve raised the issue with her teacher and she has promised a unit on it but it has not yet been covered. It should have been an up front priority.

LOVE your story about your daughter and engaging her in her learning online. My son is in 2nd grade now but since K has not been a fan of school. Now that he has online games he enjoys (like Mathletics) learning is starting to become fun. We want our children to love learning and love school not dump their time into on-line conversations instead of real-life connection & learning.

As always, appreciate your insights, sharing & enthusiasm! Many thanks!


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