We at Microsoft deliver some of the best practices around adoption and change management, especially as it relates to customer success. In this article, I’m going to share some of the insights I have gained in my role as CSM.

So, let’s jump right in.

The aims for this article

  • What is adoption and change management?
  • Why should I care?
  • How does it actually work in practice?
  • Key takeaways

Before we dive in, I’m going to give you a bit of background on me and my expertise.

About me

I'm a customer success manager at Microsoft. I focus on business applications, and I've been in the CSM role for the past four years.

I’ve spent around two years at Microsoft, and I used to be at Zendesk before that. I also spent several years consulting in Singapore prior to that. I hope my experience will give you valuable insights into adoption and change management.

Let’s talk about adoption and change management

Don’t worry, it’s not rocket science. 🚀

Maybe it’s best to start with what adoption isn’t.

What adoption isn’t

It's not an email on Monday that’s gonna lead to an important launch on Friday. This is absolutely the opposite of good adoption and change management. Unfortunately, we do see this in a lot of companies. Change management is kind of a forgotten stepchild. There's very limited focus on it.

There's usually some token training that's provided, a couple of emails are sent out and people just assume users are ready to go live. But that's very, very far from what actually works in practice.

What adoption is

The key term here is 'individual choice', which essentially means that every individual really understands why they are implementing change.

They're empowered, and they have the knowledge to figure out how it has to be done. What change entails is the ability to do it in practice. Most importantly, it’s the willingness to continue doing it. Once you roll out the change, how do you reinforce it?

How do you make sure it's sustainable? And how do you make sure that your users have actually adopted the change? This is absolutely crucial, especially in a CSM context.


This is whether your customers have activated something that they’re entitled to, e.g, licenses activated, features enabled, training completed. If they don’t activate it, they cannot adopt it.

Depth of adoption

You're using X number of licenses, but is it being used in a healthy manner? What's the percentage of licenses? You have 100 licenses, but what is the actual percentage that you're using?

Breadth of adoption

Even if you're using a license, there are going to be multiple features and functionalities within it. How many of these are actually being used? Are you using the right set of features?

What is change management?

A lot of people think of change management as just training. I train my users, and I'm all set, right? Not quite. This is how we define it at Microsoft.

It's the process, tools, and techniques used to manage the 'people side' of change.

The emphasis is on people to achieve the required business outcomes. The people side of change is absolutely key.

Change is a process

We all know what a journey is. You're in your current state, and then there is going to be a transition.

Change is a process: current state, to transition state, to future state

Your future state looks quite different, right? It really is a journey. It's up to us to be the champions of coaching and helping our customers through this entire change.

People are different

Organisations don't change... PEOPLE do

I think we all know that people are different, which means you can't have a blanket approach that works for everyone. You need to tailor your approach. You need to treat everyone as an individual and not as a mass group.

It's very natural for people to resist change. The essential question they're going to be asking is, “what's in it for me?” Anytime there's a change in our day-to-day work, all of us care about what's in it for us. How does this make my life better? We do try and emphasize this with our customers as well.

We really need to drill down on what's in it for our end users. Why should they support this change?

Why should I really care about adoption and change management?

A lot of project managers will say they have technology and process challenges. A lot of those can actually be overcome. The single biggest reason why projects fail is really lack of adoption.

I think we as CSMs have a really crucial role in actually driving that, and ensuring the success of any project or any transformation. Customer success depends on realizing value.

Customers are successful if they are realizing value from your product or solution. The value that's realized depends on adoption and usage. If you're not using the system, if it's sitting idle, you're not really realizing value from it.

Adoption and usage depend on preparing, equipping, and supporting your end-users or employees through their personal change journeys. I want to highlight how closely tied together value realization, customer success and adoption are.

You can't have one without the other. How do you empower your end-users through their personal journeys?

And why do this?

  • Increase the odds of the project's success.
  • It helps you to manage pushback and resistance from employees.
  • You capture ROI.
  • Build change competency in the organization.
Increase probability of project success, manage employee resistance to change, capture people dependent-ROI and build change competency into the organization

Anyone who's gone through a complex transformation and been involved on the change side of things is going to leverage those skills for future projects as well. It's a long-term skill that you're building within your organization.

What does change look like?

Current + transition + future = benefits

The graphic at the top is really what we think change looks like. You have your current state, your transition future state, and you get all the benefits that you were promised when you embarked on this journey.

The reality is a bit different. During the transition, you have your upheavals and your ups and downs. The future state ends up looking like a Lego block or a block of cheese. There are holes in there that need to be plugged.

A lot of it is because the adoption and change journey has not been managed properly.

Increasing resistance/decreasing productivity vs. time

The Y-axis represents increases and decreases in resistance. The X-axis is just time. The key layers are essentially your comfort zone, worry, and flight/risk.

Typically, any time there is a change that's happening, you're in your comfort zone, you hear about the change, and you worry. You think, “Is it going to impact my day-to-day work? Is it going to impact my job?”

This can lead to dissatisfaction and a loss of productivity. You expect some of that any time you roll out a change. That's not uncommon at all.

The challenge often is this 👇

Increasing resistance/decreasing productivity vs. time

You have different teams and different departments reacting to things very differently. You could have a department that gets back on track really quickly. You could have a department where maybe you didn't manage the change. That leads to the bottom of the red zone. This is something you want to absolutely avoid, which is turnover.

This is a tangible impact. Your end customers are actively resisting. People actively push back on the change, they voice their discontent, refuse to use the new system or platform, and actively opt-out of the change.

This is why it is so crucial to actually have a robust change and comms plan.

How can it work in practice?

How do you actually get your hands dirty? When you start off on any new transformation, there are a few questions that you need to answer:

  • Why are we changing?
  • What are the risks of not changing?
  • What's in it for me?
  • How will my team be impacted?

These are some of the key things that you need to think through and prepare for at the start of a change. Very often we focus on the specific details of the change: here's what's changing, here's how you do it, etc.

But we also need to focus on the ‘why’ and the ‘what's in it for me?’ Any change in a comms plan must first address the first few questions that the employee directly cares about before moving into the specific details of what the change is all about.

Adoption is a cycle

I think most CSMs' adoption plans look a bit like this. 👆

It's a very simple process. You create the plan and you decide on what the goals are:

  • You create the adoption plans.
  • You execute on them.
  • You measure success.
  • You remember it's a cycle– you monitor, repeat and keep repeating.

The most crucial thing here is the last step, change management doesn't stop.

Even if the project is over, you still need an ongoing change champion or change leader to really drive that ongoing change management activity.

The five building blocks for successful change

Building blocks

At Microsoft, we have a framework called ADKAR. It stands for:

  • Awareness
  • Desire
  • Knowledge
  • Ability
  • Reinforcement

These are typically the different stages that you go through anytime you introduce a new change.

  • The first step is making everyone is aware of what the change is.
  • The second step is building that desire.
  • The third thing is the knowledge, where your training comes in.
  • The fourth thing is the ability – how do you actually get your hands dirty.
  • Finally, keep reinforcing the change.

The final step is really key, any new messaging needs to be repeated five to seven times for it to be actually absorbed by your end users.

It might seem like overkill, but there’s enough research to show that it actually works. It’s good to use different modalities, comms boards, email videos, and WhatsApp groups.

Traditional vs user-centric approach

The traditional approach used to be one-size-fits-all, e.g, “Here's how you roll out a tool, everyone's using it."

Traditional approach / User-centric approach

That often led to a huge gap between business and IT. I think all of us are moving to a more user-centric approach. We’re focusing more on the individuals and specific jobs that are impacted.

What are the differences between different functions, different teams, and different end-users? This really leads to a closer alignment between IT and business.

Change doesn't just happen

There's enough research to show that around 84% of your end users are going to eventually get used to the new ways of working. There will still be 15-16% who are laggards, who will push back and resist.

There's a spectrum there. You have your early adopters, you have the early majority and late majority. How do you make sure that you're covering all of these different personality types?

It’s absolutely key in change management strategy.

8 change levers to drive adoption

These are the eight change levers that help drive adoption and change management.

Executive sponsorship

This is the single most important factor in making sure a project is successful. Having that exec sponsor, and having an active exec sponsor is absolutely key.


Having managers and supervisors deliver coaching. It’s essential that we foster a culture of mentorship.

Communication and training

Leading on from the last lever, you want to make sure that as well as mentorship, everyone has the skills to embrace change. Training is critical for this.

Resistance management.

People are always going to resist. It's perfectly natural, but how do you plan for it?

And how do you mitigate that risk?


This is all about peer-to-peer mentorship. It’s vital that we keep all champions motivated and engaged.


How are you measuring the whole process via user groups, feedback, and surveys?


How are you rewarding good behaviors? How would you recognize certain users who adopt the system early? Having goals and rewards provides essential incentives, and they make change fun.

Key takeaways

Be ready for the question, “what's in it for me?”

From an end-user perspective, expect pushback, expect resistance, but resistance can be appeased with effort.  

Change is difficult for everyone, but as long as you plan for it, and as long as you accept that there is no one-size-fits-all, you can effectively deliver on change adoption.