We all love cake. Well, most of us love cake, and if we hear there is cake somewhere, we will get to the cake. We will find out what we need in order to be allowed to have cake, we will find the cake, we will eat the cake. I was recently reminded of the inherent value of cake, and how we can take the lessons of a delicious piece of cake to help us understand technology user adoption and engagement. It all starts with how we learn.

When learning about new technology platforms, we tend to get caught up in the details of technology, forgetting the reasons we want to use the technology in the first place. What are we trying to do? What will the technology enable us to accomplish? How will our work become easier as a result of this new technology we are trying to learn?

When I teach users about Yammer, the Microsoft enterprise social networking platform, I talk about relatable concepts like openness, trust and transparency. I try to avoid discussing potentially confusing terms like Azure AD, single sign-on or Sharepoint document libraries. The more technical the lessons get, the more opportunities we have to lose people along the way.

I was recently talking to a group of educators about Yammer. I talked about how to make a post, how to review the newsfeed, and how to share a document. I emphasized the challenges. Simply pushing information out is not enough. We have to engage our users, and give them a reason to visit the groups in which valuable information is being shared. We have to compel people to use the technology, not because their user profile information will easily be accessible through an active directory link and resources are automatically updated from their Sharepoint document libraries, but because this is space where important information is shared. The information will not be delivered to them in an inter-office manilla envelope, as an email or as part of a one-one-one conversation. This valuable information will be in their Yammer group (or intranet, or website, or Slack channel). It will be in their Yammer group, and only in their Yammer group. There is community there. There is work. Because of this space, people will be involved, engaged and successful.

While I was giving my presentation to this committed group of educators, there were a hundred teenagers downstairs participating in a community event. The advisor of the group popped her head into my presentation as I was trying to teach about Yammer and information sharing and said, “There’s no rush, but when all of you are done, I could use your help with the kids downstairs. Also, we’re serving cake, so come down when you have a chance.” My presentation continued, and the educators continued to challenge me on how to bring people to their Yammer group.

We feel the need to deliver information to people, and not to bring people to the information. Bringing people to one place (where they will find all the information, conversation and community they will need) means we are working smarter. With everyone in one place, we now know that everyone is reviewing the same exact data. Documents are not being sent to different people for different reasons, and conversation is not hidden behind the wall of email forwarding and blind copying.

The concerns continued. What if people don’t want to use the software? What if they don’t check the group enough? What if they are disconnected from the conversation? What if they can’t get the work done?

I reminded them about the cake.

When the advisor popped her head in, she was not there to offer cake, she was there to get help from the educators with the hundred teenagers she was trying to control downstairs. She compelled (bribed?) the educators to join her by offering cake, but the cake stayed in the room where she wanted the educators to be. If she had brought the cake to the educators, they would not feel quite so compelled to go downstairs. We can use the same technique in Yammer, or any online space you are hosting.

  1. Make sure people know there is a group where work is being done, and that there is information (cake) for them in that group. Bring your users to the ONE place.
  2. Make sure the information (cake) in the group is easy to find. Don’t keep it hidden by by incoherent file names and complicated instructions. Serve it up on a silver platter. Make the information accessible.
  3. Make sure the information (cake) is important, valuable and usable. Your users want the very best you have to share, and they want their time to be well spent. If they are going eat cake, that cake should be really, really delicious.

After my presentation, we all went downstairs to work with the kids and enjoyed a piece of cake. When you need people to engage with your work, think about ways to bring them to the place where everyone is connecting to the people and information they will need to do their job. Their life will be easier as a result, and so will yours. Enjoy the cake!

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