I really enjoy meeting customers. However, not every customer interaction is sunshine and lollipops.
Sometimes, the interactions can be tense at the beginning, but result in an extremely productive discussion.
I had one of those today, and — as I thought about it — I realized I’m starting to see this particular situation more often. It’s a harbinger of things to come.
It Started Out Rough
During a typical briefing, I’m usually asked to lead off the big technology strategy discussion. It’s usually 45 minutes of private cloud / VCE material, with plenty of time for discussion and debate.
Most of the time, it goes very well. Today, it didn’t.
About 3 minutes after I got started, I could tell by the body language that something was seriously wrong. After 5 minutes, the customer intervened.
They were polite, but firm. They didn’t want to hear about technology, or strategy, or anything like that.
They wanted to know how they were going to transform their organization.
Thus starts a nice post about change in an organization, how it happens and the process to accomplish it. More and more companies do not want to know what software to use. They want to know how to leverage their social network for change, making it easier to innovate.
They recognize that for things to work, the culture must change. But cultures are hard to change. So having an understanding of how people adopt a new idea and how it permeates an organization is critical for making the change successful.
And all of this works inside a human social network that must be used in order to accomplish change.
We started by sharing that communications — to all your stakeholders — is a do-or-die mission when contemplating significant organizational change. So much so that we’ve seen IT organizations appoint a communications professional (aka the marketing type) to engage and persuade people across a variety of functions.
I’d consider that a “best practice”, with one caveat. There are a lot of marketing people who know how to do nice newsletters and websites, but really don’t have much of a voice. Find a marketing person with a strong voice, and isn’t afraid of using it.
Yes, I know it sounds ludicrous that an IT organization would hire a marketing professional (don’t we have enough of those running around?) but they’d already considered this proposition on their own — we just confirmed their suspicions.
And, it logically follows that if you’re going to accelerate organizational change, you’re going to be doing a lot of communicating, and that can be a specialized skill.
First you have to engage individuals. Awareness and interest are the first two steps for anyone to pass through as they adopt an change in routine. Effective communication – marketing – is critical. Because the people you want to engage first, the innovators and early adopters, will also be the ones looking most to listen, if the message is presented properly. They are often the most aware and the most interested.
Then the next steps, evaluation and trial can be examined.
There seems to be two generic approaches to getting people to use new infrastructure and processes.
One is the classic “let’s move everything to the new world” approach. Big lists, complex plans, daunting obstacles, unknown risks — this stuff is very hard on the brain. You set yourself up for people to resist.
There are some situations where there is no other viable option, but — in many cases — there’s an incremental approach that has more to do with social engineering than project management. And I have personal experience that it works very well indeed.
Consider building the shiny new thing on a small scale — maybe a small, internal private cloud. Or, perhaps, a new self-service operational process. Anything at all that represents a significant departure from traditional approaches — it really doesn’t matter.
Put some cool people on it. Give it a nice internal brand. Use terms like “pilot” or “proof of concept” to keep people from jumping off cliffs. Communicate widely what you’re doing and why. Make it look like fun, rather than work.
When it’s ready, invite people to try it out. Enlist internal champions to provide coaching and feedback. Ask various executives to give the project a mention in their forums.
If these people like what they see, they’ll tell others, who will be curious as well. Communicate frequently, openly and transparently to anyone who’ll listen or read.
The shiny new thing will attract the innovators, who are always attracted by novelty. And the cool ones are simply another way of describing early adopters. Early adopters are critical for moving an innovation through a community because they are often the important leaders that will be listened to.
The majority of people will only adopt something new when advised to by someone they know and trust in the community. It turns out that early adopters fit this position because they have often had ideas that made everyone’s life easier. They have been successful harnringers of change before to the community. So they are listened to.
The sooner early adopters are on board, the faster things will change as they tell others.
There are many progressive IT organizations that embrace change. And there are more than a few who tend to resist any change whatsoever. This was a big concern for this particular customer.
It’s one thing to convince the business to look at IT differently. It’s another thing entirely to convince IT to look at IT differently. This somewhat paradoxical behavior is not unique to IT people: I’ve seen it in HR, legal, manufacturing, engineering, sales, etc., e.g. everyone has to change but me!
There’s a variety of techniques I’ve seen IT leaders use to combat this problem — rooting out the ringleaders, constant and patient communication, incentive and recognition programs — even bringing a small crew of managed services contractors to show how things *could* be done.
Frankly speaking, there’s nothing specific to IT in this discussion — the same techniques work for any organizational leader to bring the function along to a new world view. The simple approach is to acknowledge it’s a problem, and have a plan to deal with it.
There will always be laggards, those who change very slowly. By keeping communications open and transparent, some of these can be moved over. But there should be recognition that 100% satisfaction is unlikely.
So, find the innovators and early adopters. Move them to your side and help them change the system.
Some of the most impressive IT change agents I’ve met are networking experts.
If your mind immediately went to protocol stacks, you missed the point — these people are social animals. They build relationships across the organization in a variety of places, and they build relationships outside their company, hopefully with people who are doing much the same thing as they are doing.
The best change artists are connected to a very highly linked social network. These include the early adopters who not only have connections inside the community but many outside as well. They are looking for changes that will make their life easier. They are the easiest to get to adopt change, as long as the change is meaningful to their life and work.
Recognizing where people fall along the innovation curve, how rapidly they move through the 5 steps, is critical for making change happen. Find the innovators and early adopters. Give them the tools to help market the change, thus making the change happen from the demand of the community rather than as a mandate from above.
Facilitated change can permit a community to adopt innovations faster and become more productive while being less disrupted.