Ask for a better tool to increase employees’ autonomy and perceptions of their systems & tools.
Leave it up to someone on your team to find a tool to solve an acknowledged problem on your team. Ask for a better tool when people express frustration with their existing tools.
Why We Ask for a Better Tool
People want to feel that their job is important. Knowledge workers, especially, want to feel that their knowledge and experience are important. Asking team members to choose their own tools lets them demonstrate the value of their knowledge and experience.
How to Ask for a Better Tool
Ask your team member what tools they currently use. See if there are any that stick out in their mind as insufficient or inferior to known alternatives. If nothing sticks out, ask the team member what pain points they currently experience in their everyday work. Once you have a pain point or inefficiency identified, you can ask if they’re aware of any tools that may solve the problem.
Even if they don’t have an idea of what tools they’d like to use right this moment, you can ask them to investigate options and report back. It’s a simple exercise, but explicitly granting permission—tasking the team member with the responsibility—to find a better tool may spur them to action. It’s important to ask your team member how much time they believe they will need to identify a tool, and to then hold them accountable to the timeline. Set a calendar reminder for yourself to check in on their progress to demonstrate that you care about their search for better tools.
Once the employee identifies a tool, ask them questions. Do they understand the cost structure compared to whatever solution is currently used by the team? Is the tool licensed appropriately for your commercial use? Have they actually used the tool yet? Have they shared the tool with their peers to ensure there is buy-in on the rest of the team?
Once you’ve validated that the tool should be a good fit and the team member has considered their options, purchase the tool. Don’t abandon this process at a purchase decision, however: the team member may need assistance in integrating the tool into the team’s workflow. Ask them how the two of you can ensure the team adopts this tool. Plan out specific actions—assigned to specific team members, yourself included—that should be taken to promote adoption of the new tool.
As a final step, follow up with your team members to determine whether the tool has been successfully adopted. Are things better or worse with the tool? Does it have a material impact on efficiency or productivity? Are people happier now that they have the tool and can make use of it in their everyday work?
Once you ask for a better tool, your employee should feel a stronger sense of ownership in their work. You have granted them the autonomy to positively change their tools and workflow, and it is now the team member’s responsibility to select and use the best tools for the job.
Example of Asking for a Better Tool
Consider a sales team that has difficulty reporting on their key metrics. Bob is the VP of Sales and wants to ensure that his sales manager, Carl, has everything he needs help his team understand their sales pipeline. Carl is unable to tell Bob the value of the sales pipeline, the value of closed deals per sales representative, or their confidence in projected sales for the next quarter. Carl may identify that the current customer relationship management (CRM) tool is not able to report on these metrics.
Bob: Carl, do you feel that our CRM is giving you what you need for our weekly sales reports?
Carl: Not really. The CRM has reports, but the reports don't show the metrics we say are important to the business. I can't tell you the value of contracts any specific sales representative has signed. I also have no way to easily identify which deals we are confident will close in the next quarter.
Bob: Are you aware of any CRM tools that would give us those types of insight?
Carl: Yes, actually. There's a new CRM called Sales Team Pro that can do the job. It lets you customize sales workflows, assign deals to specific sales representatives, and rank your confidence in closing each deal. It would give us everything we would need for our weekly sales reports.
Bob: Interesting. Do you think your sales representatives would use the tool? Have they ever looked into it before?
Carl: None of us on the sales team have used it before, but we did see a demo video of it in action last week. I think it's worth trying.
Bob: What does it cost?
Carl: It has a per-user pricing model, so its cost scales with our team. It's a little more expensive than our current CRM, but not too bad. About $20 per sales representative per month.
Bob: That sounds reasonable. Is there anything Sales Team Pro doesn't do that our current CRM does?
Carl: Nothing we'd miss. There's a few differences in the software, so we'd need to spend an hour or two training all of the sales representatives on how to use the new CRM. But that's something I'm willing to do if it means automating my weekly sales report.
Bob: Excellent. Is there anything you believe your sales representatives will miss from the current CRM? Anything they won't like about the new CRM?
Carl: I'm sure we'll have things come up, but in terms of doing the job, Sales Team Pro has everything they need. And it looks like it's pretty simple to use. We may hear complaints after migrating, but I can address those and see if there are any deal-breakers. We could have a few people move to the new CRM for a week or two to catch any massive problems before moving the whole team over. During that trial period, I can manually update deals in our existing CRM so we still have a single CRM for reporting until we're ready to make the switch.
Bob: That sounds like a great plan. When do you plan to start the trial, and how long do you think it will take you to reach a decision?
Carl: We can start the trial next week, and I'd say we'll know whether we want to switch everyone over by the end of the month.
Bob: Awesome! Let's give it a shot, then. Do you need anything from me to get started?
Carl: I don't believe so. But thank you for asking about this and helping me think through how we might adopt a better solution.
Bob: I'm happy to help!
Notice how Bob facilitated decision-making but did not make a decision himself. He asked Carl critical questions that prompted Carl to use the knowledge he had to improve a key aspect of his job. Bob’s responsibility was in making it possible for Carl to utilize his knowledge to improve his work. Carl’s responsibility was in affecting responsible and considerate change in his team’s choice of tools in order to meet business goals and objectives. After adopting a tool of his choosing, Carl has a sense of ownership in the CRM and will work to ensure its adoption is a success in his team.