Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution. – Albert Einstein
That is excellent advice, but when you are a software implementer, sometimes you don’t have a choice in who you work with – so you have to plot a new course that works within these constraints.
A few years back, my team was attempting to implement Enterprise Software with a reluctant Creative team. Unfortunately, this team did not directly purchase our software. Instead, their parent company evaluated and purchased our software. Once they did, they selected this Creative team as the recipient, and then the parent company walked out of the engagement. This is not a great position for an implementer. And, honestly, it wasn’t a great position for the Creative team, either.
From our initial conversations with this Creative team, no matter how much empathy or guidance we imparted, we faced a team that didn’t want our tool and didn’t even understand why they might benefit from it. In short, from the start, we were working with a team that was neither motivated nor accountable for successfully implementing the software.
So, our challenge for this engagement was not technical. It was entirely cultural. How did we change an environment that was not our own? How did we implement change in an atmosphere of detractors? Well, it wasn’t easy.
There is no magic bullet for this one, but we had two clear options.
Option 1: Walk away and fight another day.
Option 2: Double down and invest some time to see if there is an implementation for this customer.
We chose option 2.
Here was our approach to this situation:
Phase 1: Understanding the Environment
Goal: To know the environment from detractors to champions while understanding and showcasing Value to the Organization.
- Sell the Value Repeatedly – We transitioned our approach into part sales motion and part implementation. Every meeting started with a value metric attached to a pain point of the individuals in the room. Note: We had done this before, so we knew how to approximate pain points. And as the audience changed, the value metrics/pain points changed. This allowed us to achieve the following:
- Find the bright spots – If we can identify the areas of success and encourage and build within, we may have a chance at being successful. First, however, we needed to meet with enough people to locate these individuals.
- Find the actual detractors – As we discovered early, there were a lot of politics in the building, but not everyone was against us. Several factions of end-users were strangely against everything we said – there was little subtlety in their objection to our presence. It turned out that this group of end-users, who were also our selected administrators for the application we were implementing, were directly involved in the current process that our software would replace. So, they weren’t happy that we were there to potentially put them and their exceedingly manual processes at risk. The team was invested in actually making our product and implementation fail. Once we were able to understand this dynamic (which they didn’t share directly with us) – we worked to remove this team from the implementation immediately.
Phase 2: Define Fixed Targets and Implement Fast
Goal: To build and show Value fast while establishing a clear path for an increased desire to expand the software’s Value to the end-users and Sponsors.
- Restart – Once we identified the individuals and the pains to address in our implementation – we began again.
- Build Accountability – Once we presented enough times, we could locate our true Champions and Sponsor for the success of this implementation. Although it took a bit to find a sponsor willing to stick their neck out, we re-established a pattern to success. This meant working with this leader to identify the right person to help facilitate shared accountability across both teams (Their creative team and our implementation team). Although we tried – we also wanted to tie some incentives to ensure the politics didn’t creep back into the engagement.
- Champion Development – When we did our initial assessment of the organization, two individuals stood out that were invested in making the implementation successful – and that was enough. We spent 10x the time we ordinarily would to turn these champions into experts. But, we knew their expertise would offset any politically-charged feedback in the long run.
- Regular Sponsor Check-ins – Although this should be standard, we couldn’t get anything from the initially assigned Executive Sponsor. He had no skin in the game, as they say. So, once we found someone who understood the goal and supported the change – we needed to ensure their regular engagement.
Once we followed the above phases, we were able to launch. We were also reasonable; the internal politicking would not go away – so full adoption was not the goal initially. However, we were getting enough data to that Executive Sponsor for them to begin seeing Value AND see who, in their org, was not leveraging the new software. From there, we needed to exercise patience while we waited to see what would happen. Either the Sponsor would push for more adoption or remove the experience entirely. In the end, they decided to go for more data and, thus, more engagement from his teams, and that was the moment we wanted from the start – but we got there. Eventually.