When Right is Easy

Pearls of wisdom sometimes turn up in the unlikeliest of places. In this case, I was sitting through yet another vendor presentation when the voice behind the PowerPoint slides said: “Make doing the right thing the easy thing.” Brilliant.

When we deploy new technology or knowledge management systems, we have enormous influence over the users.  We set up the expectations of “normal” behavior and provide the tools.  In the course of our planning, we identify the optimal ways of using the tool and hope that our users will agree and use it as planned.  All too often, that doesn’t pan out.  Why?  Even assuming you’ve chosen the correct tool for the job, things can still go off the rails if you aren’t careful in your design.  Here are some of the usual problems that result:

  • The “right thing” is largely theoretical and is the product of over zealous but well-meaning people in IT and KM who haven’t had the front line experience of delivering service directly to a client of the firm.
  • The “right thing” requires so many steps that you’d have to be a plaster saint to comply.
  • The “right thing” addresses a “wrong thing” of which the users were blissfully ignorant.  If they don’t understand (or care about) the problem, they won’t assist with the solution.

On the other hand, since you’re the one setting up the system, you have a ton of flexibility (or at least as much as the vendor will provide) in organizing things for the convenience of your users.  Equally, with a little forethought you can help guide them to better behavior:

  • Change the default options so that the preferred behavior is the one that occurs automatically.  Interesting work has been done in the area of automatic enrollment for 401K programs, for example.  By changing the default from opt in to opt out, the number of participants has increased dramatically.  Unfortunately, since the default in many employer retirement programs assumes minimal contribution, people aren’t taking advantage of their total 401K opportunities.  Perhaps this is a place where further adjustment of the default setting might be helpful.
  • Be sure that your user interface assists rather than impedes doing the right thing.  More often than not, it’s the UI that frustrates the user so much that they just don’t have the energy to overcome it in order to do the right thing.
  • Demonstrate the rewards of doing the right things and keep track of the cost of doing the wrong thing.  These statistics can demonstrate the real impact on the enterprise of your planning and design choices.

Before you deploy any system, take a little extra time to confirm that you’ve identified what the “right thing” is AND that you’ve created a system that makes it easy to do that right thing.  If you haven’t, you might as well save yourself a boatload of pain and just go back to the drawing board now.

[Photo Credit:  Jungle Boy]

7 thoughts on “When Right is Easy

  1. I always like the analogy of active vs. passive safety. One of the factors behind the Three Mile Island near disaster is the reliance of active safety systems. That is, the systems had to work in order to prevent disaster.Passive systems are a better approach; in passive systems, if no action is taken, the system automatically fails to a safe state.

    1. Chris -That's a wonderful example of how setting the default can make a world of difference. Thanks for passing it along.- Mary

    2. Thanks, Chris -Thanks, Chris. That's a sobering reminder of why it makes sense to do itright the first time and not rely on finding the right fix later.- Mary

  2. Chris -That's a wonderful example of how setting the default can make a world of difference. Thanks for passing it along.- Mary

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