Business leaders are perpetually assessing strategies that will make their company more competitive, more efficient and more innovative. That is the essence of the job. If an organization isn’t dynamically adjusting to the market, they are likely not going to last very long. The recent coronavirus-related downturn only exacerbates the need to move quickly, develop a strategy and then execute efficiently.
One of the areas that has received significant attention from business leaders as a result of the latest downturn is an assessment of the technology platforms being used across a company. Common questions include:
“Is our infrastructure robust enough to handle staff working from home?”
“Do they have the tools to effectively communicate with clients?”
“Is our eCommerce strategy working?”
“Are we leveraging our data to make faster, more informed decisions?”
I don’t think there is a single business that’s ignoring how to leverage technology to keep them competitive.
So, everyone is considering technology options, but not every company is created equal in terms of the ability to assess, implement, adopt and ultimately drive long-term meaningful benefit from a digital solution. I have a unique perspective here, as I spent more than 20 years working in B2B industrial organizations of various sizes, in a variety of operational, technology, sales and management roles. I’ve seen technology projects both succeed and fail in magnificent style, all with the best intentions.
Having recently shifted to a role as a digital solution provider, I’ve had the opportunity to engage a number of B2B prospects. I can see the same issues that are likely to determine success or failure play out again and again. We get brought in to discuss the features and benefits of our solution, we identify the value it can bring, and everyone gets excited: “This would be a game changer!” However, time and again, there are four key conditions that tend to determine success or failure, and invariably their presence (or lack thereof) can sink a project at various points along the way. Like a good algorithm, you can see the patterns and usually predict the outcome.
No. 1: Organizational Readiness
In a competition of obvious statements, this might be the winner. However, the surface element of this point can mask some fundamental issues that are not so straightforward. Clearly a company won’t actively seek out a solution for a problem they don’t feel they have. But even in the case where leadership recognizes an issue and knows that it requires attention, the company might not be ready to implement it. The obstacles can take on a variety of forms: infrastructure, culture, timing, whatever. The part that makes organizational readiness so challenging to determine internally is that companies don’t necessarily know what to look for. Different divisions and departments, while working together on the core mission, often lack an understanding of the nuances of how new technology might impact the other teams. This is where a technology provider that is truly interested in the long-term success of a project/relationship should be guiding a potential client to determine if they are ready for the solution they are about to recommend. The provider should identify which stakeholders are important to engage early on and be brutally honest about real obstacles that would prohibit success.
“Two facets of organizational readiness for change are described: change commitment, or the extent to which organizational members exhibit shared resolve or determination to implement the change; and change efficacy, or the extent to which organizational members share a sense of confidence in their collective capabilities to implement change.” (Elgaronline)
No. 2: A Mobilizer
A company needs to be ready for change but, at some point, someone inside that company needs to pick up the mantle and drive that change. Organizational inertia is a very real, strong, metaphysical force. Some companies are better than others at developing a culture of change, but left to its own natural tendencies, status quo is the status quo. Of the four concepts laid out here, this might be the greatest among equals. If you don’t have someone filling this role, it’s likely a project will fail to launch. Harvard Business Review groups mobilizers into three types: go-getters, teachers and skeptics. Each has their own approach to driving change; but they find that these types of people are the ones that can navigate the politics, build consensus, educate others and develop a “what-if” vision for leaders and stakeholders alike. They are not afraid to stake their reputation for what they know will be an improved outcome.
As someone that is working with a company assessing our solution, you can tell right away when you are dealing with a mobilizer. They ask for tools to help communicate internally, they partner with you on executive readouts, push you on statements of value and will test you to make sure you truly understand the problem their organization is solving for. If they are going to put their neck on the line, they are going to make darn sure your product isn’t the chopping block! A good technology partner seeks these people out, even if they are not the person that brought them into the opportunity. Without them, your odds of getting past go are significantly lower.
No. 3: Alignment with the Strategy
This probably seems like a repeat of the first point – organizational readiness. But organizational readiness and alignment with the strategy are not the same. Organizational readiness is an issue of culture and infrastructure alignment. Alignment to the strategy is an issue of resources and focus. It brings to mind the classic triple constraint of project management: scope, cost and time. You can only pick two. Similarly, with technology projects, if the core issue being solved is not aligned with one of the key strategic corporate plans it is unlikely to move forward. This usually presents itself when it is time for a company to decide to fund a new technology, which can be after considerable resources have been spent assessing organizational readiness, building support, educating key stakeholders and even potentially designing a solution that has been successfully piloted.
Working with a mobilizer to gain access to executives early in the assessment phase of a project can help determine if there is strategic alignment. While a project might be seen as useful to a company, if it becomes clear that the issue being addressed doesn’t line up with the key corporate initiatives, it will likely get passed over when it comes time for funding.
Projects that are aligned with strategy are more successful. According to the PMI, aligned projects are:
a. 57% more likely to achieve their business goal
b. 50% more likely to finish on time
c. 45% more likely to finish on budget
No. 4: Senior Leadership Commitment and Follow-Through
If the first two concepts help determine success for starting a project and the third determines the ability to get it off the ground, the follow-through of senior leadership is what determines long-term benefit and success. Habits are sneaky. Anyone that has embarked on a diet and exercise regimen knows that you can determine you need to get healthy, motivate yourself to take action, learn new ways to eat and workout and have success … for a while. But those old behaviors have a nasty way of working themselves back into existence.
What’s the phrase that always gets used when starting a new healthy regimen? “It’s a lifestyle change.” Technology projects are not all that different. I have participated in corporate-wide new technology launches. There are kick-off calls, multi-day training, t-shirts are printed, awards are given to the folks that got this technology off the ground, the energy is amazing! And then, in a side conversation between leadership and management when asked about the project, there is some eye-rolling and a subtle, “Just do what you need to do to get the job done.” This is code for, “If this technology is uncomfortable or inconvenient, just do the minimum and go back to whatever system you used before.”
“Fortune magazine has reported that nine out of ten corporate strategies devised on the executive level never come to fruition (Cabanis-Brewin, 2000). One reason for this is found in a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative: 73 percent of polled organizations said they had a clearly articulated strategic direction, but only 44 percent of them communicated that strategy well to the employees who must implement it. These companies “are like a body whose brain is unable to tell it what to do.” (Mullich, 2003). Perhaps out of frustration with these failures, many companies are spending less time on strategy; research has shown that 60 percent don’t link strategy and budgeting; and 85 percent of management teams spend less than one hour a month discussing strategy (Hope & Fraser, 2001)”
Conversely, after the hoopla, if adoption metrics are developed, and everyone from frontline workers to management are held to account, real change can occur. Adjustments might need to be made; additional training might be required. But if conviction to drive change into the DNA is present at the senior leadership level it is much more likely to take hold throughout the organization. Technology partners should be a part of this process. Customer Success should be an integral part of any solution provider’s service offering. Like a personal trainer, a dedicated success team can help track improvements, alter the approach and partner as a long-term resource, dramatically boosting the odds that the lifestyle change will stick.
While none of the above concepts are groundbreaking, a quick inventory of where your company sits in these four areas can be useful in determining your likelihood for success in launching new technology. Zilliant’s engagement approach is centered around helping our customers assess these elements during the discovery, design, implementation and long-term customer support phases. If you would like to learn more, please contact us or connect with me on LinkedIn.
About the Author
Mick Naughton, M.S., MBA, is a sales director at Zilliant where he helps global B2B companies realize improved financial performance using advanced technology. Prior to joining Zilliant Mick spent 20 years in the life sciences industry in a variety of pricing, sales and technology roles.More Content by Mick Naughton