How to inspire a colleague to improve their digital practice

Inspiring a colleague to improve their digital practice isn't straightforward but it can be done. You need to make it personal, choose one thing to focus on, keep it fluff-free, and be less helpful but still approachable.
Feb 02
Title: How to inspire a colleague to improve their digital practice

Your digital practice at work

I know what it is like to feel EXCITED about improving your digital practice to help you do your job better.

I also know what it is like to feel CRUSHED when your colleagues don’t feel the same way.

Even when you try to be helpful by showing your colleague how to turn a 10 step process into 3… your colleague doesn’t respond as you hoped. Instead of responding with enthusiasm they say

I know, but I’m used to doing it this way


I know, but I don’t do it that way all the time, only when I’m in a hurry

or perhaps they say

I know, but what’s the big deal?


In my experience, inspiring a colleague to improve their digital practice is about finding a way to close the gap – the gap between what they know, and what they do.

Think about it for a second.

Your colleague has been to the same training sessions as everyone else. Their response to your helpful suggestions (I know, but…) indicates that they already know what to do. So it is not a knowledge gap or a skills gap. It’s a motivation gap – they know what to do, but they lack the motivation to change.

Training and regular practice can close a knowledge or skills gap.

However closing a motivation gap isn’t that straightforward. But it can be done.

With care and personal, individual attention; it can be done.

Motivation matters

Last year I managed a project team to help lecturers become more copyright compliant when sharing resources with students. Some lecturers thought copyright didn’t apply to them. Other lecturers believed no one would notice.

Inspiring lecturers to improve their copyright practice meant:

  • visiting their office and offering to help;
  • showing them step-by-step what they needed to do for the papers they were teaching;
  • gently reminding them of what needed to be done; and
  • congratulating them on the changes they had made.

It was only after this intense personal encouragement, that lecturers realised copyright compliance was something they needed to (and could) be better at. It was only then, after we showed lecturers how much we cared, did they become motivated to improve their copyright practice.

We need colleagues to change – whether complying with copyright or improving their digital practice. But change is hard. And people are often reluctant – reluctant to change and reluctant to ask for help.1

We can overcome that reluctance and inspire colleagues to improve their digital practice by being the ‘most encouraging person you know’.

To inspire a colleague to improve their digital practice: Be 'the most encouraging person you know'. #TheLibraryBoss

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Make it personal

Workshops and training sessions are like mass marketing in that they raise awareness and provide general information about a product or service. But if mass marketing doesn’t motivate you to visit the store or ask your friends if they’ve tried it; then you will keep doing what you’ve always done.

Workshops and training sessions will show your colleague how they could benefit, but not how they will benefit. To show your colleague how improving their digital practice will benefit them you must answer the question ‘How can this help me?’.

To help lecturers become more copyright compliant we focussed on how we could help them.

  • We provided each lecturer with a specific recommendation for every compliance issue we identified;
  • We offered one-on-one training taking them step-by step through each recommendation; and
  • We visited their offices to more intimately understand their world - their needs, wants, fears and concerns.

It was hard work. But the benefits definitely outweighed the effort.

To inspire your colleague to improve their digital practice, find a way to make it personal.

Choose one thing to focus on

There is no doubt, a gazillion ways to improve your colleague's digital practice. But remember improving their digital practice is about them, not you.

It may pain you to show them how to improve their digital practice using Internet Explorer, but remember it is their favourite browser, it doesn’t matter if it isn't yours. Give your colleague an opportunity to practice with tools they are comfortable with.

It may pain you to watch them clumsily navigate a digital space. But unless you are showing them how to navigate that specific digital space, be patient. Give your colleague an opportunity to be in control.

It may pain you to show them how to take step one towards improving their digital practice when there are 3 better ways to achieve the same result. But start small with just one step. Give your colleague an opportunity to make that one step a habit.

A small improvement in their digital practice is always better than no improvement.

Don't overwhelm them. Choose one thing to focus on.

Keep if fluff-free

You want to inspire not bore them to tears! So stick to the essentials only. Your colleague doesn't want to know everything. Really. They don't.

Offer one tip to a single problem, at the time it is needed. Think of it like a Youtube video - if it takes more than 2 minutes…zzzzzzzz.

Help your colleague stay awake. And interested. Keep it fluff-free.2

Be less helpful

It is easy to give in to the temptation to be more helpful rather than letting your colleague figure things out for themselves. But that’s what your colleague has relied on in the past – for you to do the work rather than make the effort themselves.

Show them how, then let them try on their own.

Encourage them without taking over and doing the work for them.

Coach your colleague by asking probing questions that will lead them to determine the right answer. Ask them what options they have to choose from. Ask them what they think will happen if they take action A instead of action B.

Business consultant Sir John Whitmore once said, "To tell denies or negates another's intelligence. To ask, honors it."

Support them and have faith in them to figure it out. Be less helpful.

Be approachable

‘Being approachable’ is not the same as ‘being available’.

Being available is similar to ‘please get in touch if you’d like some help’.

However, being approachable is similar to ‘I noticed you made some changes, it looks great! What do you think?’

When we were helping lecturers with copyright compliance, the project team made an effort to work at various campuses and in various faculties. They made themselves visible in lunch rooms, attended staff meetings, and sent emails of encouragement.

Lecturers noticed how approachable they were and asked them for help.

If you want your colleague to put in an effort to improve their digital practice, then you also need to put in the effort to be approachable.


I wish I could say that if you picked one or two of the tips above, you would inspire your colleague to improve their digital practice. But the reality is, you won’t.

It’s a total package kind of thing, and you need to work on all of the tips above. Sure, doing one or two is better than doing none, but the intention is to inspire your colleague to feel EXCITED about learning new ways to do their job better, just like you do.3

Yes it is hard work, but if you and I can inspire one person to improve their digital practice in one small way, then the effort is worthwhile.

In what other ways can you inspire a colleague to improve their digital practice?

Spark Notes

  • 中文凰神 says:

    “In what other ways can you inspire a colleague to improve their digital practice?”

    The first approach that comes to mind is the utilitarian one. Essentially, showing how a certain skill saves time, reduces effort etc. This approach seems to be more effective because there is a clear return on investment.

    Another approach might be an appeal to principles. That is, to make the claim that it is responsibility of librarians to be digitally literate to be able to help others develop those skills. This approach is questionable given that each has their own views.

    Contrasting the two approaches, one is offering and one is challenging. One offers reason to engage, the other questions the legitimacy of one’s role.

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