What is a common and fairly regular feature of Digital Transformation and Customer Success initiatives? I am sure you have seen it before. It starts with a CEO presentation on stage at the annual Company All-Hands, where they present the company’s focus or the new vision. This announcement could be linked to the Big Tthe company is engaged on like becoming a digital-first business or putting the customer at the heart of everything the company does.

But then when you speak to the people on the inside, they will tell you a completely different story. Digital First or Customer Success is a big announcement that is not translated on the ground in the day to day life of the company. The announcement is just that, a PowerPoint slide.

I have always been interested in these cases as they massively impact the success and adoption of solutions brought in to support the business in this transformation.

I discussed the topic with Professor Stan Maklan at Cranfield University and he introduced me to the academic concept of “Ceremonial Adoption”. It is surprisingly not a very popular topic and I could not find a lot of content on the subject, except a few academic papers like this study published in 2011 by Bas Hillebrand from University of Nijmegen (Holland).

Here is the definition of Ceremonial Adoption and it sums up a lot of what I have personally experienced: “Ceremonial adoption involves gaining legitimacy benefits of being an ostensible adopter of a new and innovative practice while performing little or none of the activities typically associated with that practice. Typically Ceremonial adopters lack “internalisation” of the practice” for two key reasons:

  • They are not convinced of the value/importance of the change and are only adopting to respond to mimetic/social pressures
  • They fail to understand the demands and requirements of the changes they are promoting

As a result, they will not fully embrace fully the transformation and stick towards a basic implementation of the solutions with little customisation. Ceremonial adoption therefore means the business is compromising the economic effectiveness and the ROI of the technology.

I also found a classification to describe this concept in a bit more details looking at the interaction between implementation and internalisation to define the adoption typologies (Source: “The Adoption of Human Resource Management Practices & Perceived Performance of Foreign Subsidiaries” by Dr Maura Sheehan):

 

  • Where there is minimal implementation and internalisation the adoption is ‘minimal’
  • Where implementation is high but internalisation is low then there is likely to only be ‘ceremonial’ adoption
  • Where there is low implementation but high internalisation, the adoption of the practice is likely to be in ‘assent’
  • And where there is both a high level of implementation and internalisation there will be ‘active’ adoption.

Any major transformation cannot stay high level, it does require some internal changes in the organisational model, a rethinking of processes and the up-skilling or hiring of the necessary people. The lack of internalisation is something we have witnessed first hands with several clients in their Digital Transformation journey. Unless the business realises the imperative to have subject matter experts from within, the project is likely to be incomplete or even fail.

For any software vendor, the risk of Ceremonial Adoption is of importance as it would lead to minimal adoption and a lack of ROI since the solution would only like be partially implemented and our customers will not achieve the value they expected.

I am really keen to get your feedback on the concept of Ceremonial Adoption. What’s your experience of it, either within your company, with partners, providers or customers? How do we ensure our customers actively adopt the changes required by our technology? What does it take for the business to go beyond the ceremonial announcement?