Digital workplace

Who should take the lead on driving employee adoption of software?

Published Dec 16, 2021

In order for a business to thrive today, its employees have to feel comfortable using digital tools at work. Regardless of a company’s size, age, or purpose, more and more critical business functions depend on software. 

Managers are aware of this reality: In “Driving digital adoption for a competitive edge,” a new report by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services sponsored by Pendo, 89% of executives surveyed say that driving adoption of employee-facing software is a priority for them. At the same time, however, only 30% of executives say their organization is highly effective at doing it. What accounts for this disparity between aspiration and execution?

Poor leadership means poor adoption

Executives cite multiple barriers to driving adoption. Lack of a well-defined strategy, legacy software systems with frustrating interfaces, and insufficient expertise are top among them. Respondents also cite poor leadership–but whose exactly? Is there a best practice for who should be taking the lead on adoption efforts within companies? 

Historically, IT departments have been responsible for implementing software and driving adoption of new tools–along with managing the tech budget, handling support requests, and countless other tasks related to a company’s internal-facing tech stack. It’s thus no surprise that a plurality of leaders surveyed in the study (39%) say that IT should be in charge. Interestingly, however, nearly as many (35%) say that the responsibility should be shared across multiple departments. Which approach is correct? And is it really that clear a binary?

Don’t let responsibility become too siloed–or too scattered 

Many advocate a cross-functional approach to adoption with the nature of the project itself in mind. If getting your employees to take up software tools in a strategic way is really a company-wide initiative, then it follows that everyone should have a stake in it. As Alan Brown of the University of Exeter Business School explains, “When you put one department in charge, it’s easy for other people to abdicate responsibility. Companies need to make sure that responsibility transitions across the rest of the organization so that it doesn’t become siloed.”

In today’s work world, to silo a digital transformation effort is to almost guarantee it will fail. At the same time, however, organizations should also guard against a cross-functional approach that’s excessively decentralized. It’s just as likely to fail as a siloed adoption campaign, and for a similar reason. If ownership of driving adoption becomes too diffuse, the risk is that no one department or person will feel the need to take personal responsibility. As the report makes clear, “Even cross-functional teams require strong and decisive leadership.” 

Let IT drive a cross-functional effort

When it comes to driving adoption of software by your employees, the IT vs. cross-functional dichotomy is ultimately a false one. With its technical expertise, knowledge, and resources, IT is still in a prime position to own adoption efforts. But it can lead employees toward having great experiences with software with the help of others–for example, by seeking out executive sponsors and cultivating a “network of champions” across different departments. These “champions” will be closer in organizational proximity and authority to the employees adopting new software, and therefore in a better position to drive change among them day to day. 

Getting your employees to take up digital tools at work is no easy task, especially as remote and hybrid models of the workplace become more and more the norm and people change jobs at an unprecedented rate. But with the right kind of leadership involving IT and adoption advocates across the company, it’s a goal that’s within reach. 

The Software experience gap And why you need to close it.

Sometimes small changes in the world get intensely scrutinized while big ones just seem to… slip in unnoticed.

This is about
one of those big ones...


pretty huge

has happened to the world

and it directly impacts
everything you do

Here's what
we mean...

In the old days,

A bank was a

An insurance company was an insurance company…

And a car manufacturer was…

(you get the idea)

Today, it’s different. Today, every company is a software company.

Every. Company. is a software company.

For your customers:


Software is part (or all) of your products and services.

Software shapes — or defines — a huge part of the customer’s lifecycle.

For your employees:


Software is where
work happens.

Software governs every process and workflow.

Software defines
a huge part of your employee experience.

Window Background

In short,


Your business is the
sum of its software

But here’s the problem...

There's a huge

Software Experience Gap

between what users* expect from the software you
ask them to use

and what they actually experience.

*Users = your employees, customers, partners, and suppliers

The experience
users expect:

• Intuitive
• Simple
• Fast

The experience
users get:

• Clunky
• Bloated
• Frustrating

Now multiply the software experience
gap by the number of different
applications you deploy.

The average enterprise maintains 288 SaaS applications—around 10 applications per employee— and that’s growing
30% a year.

— Blissfully 2020 SaaS Trends report

And you start to see the scale of
this problem...

Since software touches every employee and customer: The software experience gap puts the brakes on every goal across your business.

All the things you care about

from sales, marketing, product
adoption, and customer loyalty

to employee efficiency,
productivity, and happiness

to strategic innovation and

They’re all held back by the software experience gap.

That's a lot of impact.

The impact


of software budgets
are spent on
applications that
nobody ever uses.

— Insight Enterprises


of digital
transformations fail
to hit their targets.

— Boston Consulting Group

And the software experience gap is
a key driver of McKinsey’s infamous

"Digital Achievement Gap."

"Digital Leaders grow 2-3x faster than competitors"

— McKinsey & Company

If you’re more moved by stories than data, here’s one:

A major international bank (okay, Citigroup), lost $500 million recently because of a confusing internal user interface in its loan operations software.


The good news:

When you close your software experience gaps, great things happen:

Customers get more value so you capture more value.

Lower cost of sale

Greater usage

Less churn

Employees adopt and use software more
so their work is happier.

Process excellence

Digital adoption

Faster transformation

Closing your gaps
also drives down
these costs:


new employees and customers.


so people turn software into value.

IT helpdesk support

for users and customers.

Custom software

and point solutions (that don’t scale).

All these costs go way down when you close your software experience gaps.

The really good news


Software experience is something you can control, even if you didn’t create the software.

It works in any software (whether you built it or bought it).

It’s a two-step thing.

First, you have to know how users are using the software.

Where they’re getting stuck.

Which features they use regularly and which they avoid.

Which steps are most important for the outcomes you want.

That’s the analytics and feedback part.

Then you can use that insight to help them...

With little guidance boxes.

And contextual tips.

And workflow helpers they see as they’re using the software.

That’s the
in-software guidance part.

And the analytics then let you see the impact of the guidance—an important feedback loop.

Okay, let’s wrap this thing up.

We all agreed that every company is a software company.

(including yours)

And we saw how the software experience gap hurts everything you value

product experience (for your customers) and

employee experience (for your people & partners)

In short:

A better software experience improves all the great things your company cares most about

Serving customers.

Helping employees do their jobs.

Minimizing frustration, mistakes and foul language.

Improving productivity, efficiency and whatever KPIs you’re tracking.

Accelerating digital transformation.

Driving down IT support and helpdesk costs.

Speeding up onboarding and training.

Creating a wonderful work experience for everyone.

All that, just by paying attention to how people experience the software that drives your business.


Your business is the
sum of its software.
Make it delightful.

We're Pendo

We help companies like yours give their customers and employees insanely great software experiences.

It’s kind of a mission.

If you’d like to explore ways to improve the software experience in your business - get in touch!

Not ready to talk? Take a look around our product.