If internal people resist new ways of working, should you go around them to their customers?
I've been in a couple of meetings recently with IT leaders who are trying to get their companies' employees to work in new ways using collaboration tools. Rather than address their companies' various groups directly about the benefits of working in new collaborative ways using new technology, the IT leaders are taking the approach of selling the benefits to their companies' customers, and seeking a "pull-through" way of adoption.
For example, the IT leader at a law firm we're working with wants the firm's lawyers to use the SharePoint extranet sites the IT team created for sharing documents, tasks, and meeting times. Facing resistance, the IT leader started working with marketing to make use of the extranet sites a standard part of how the firm works with new clients. The hope is that as new clients come on board, they would demand that their lawyers use the sites, because that's what they had been promised during the selling process as standard practice.
As with any user adoption strategy, this one has its pros and cons. Let's consider both.
Among the benefits, this strategy hinges on people outside the IT organization--outside your company, for that matter--asking for behavioral and technology changes. And because those people are clients, they wield more clout with your groups than any internal IT adviser. It also signifies that the new working methods and tools have relevance beyond your company. It's "real world" affirmation of the approach you want to take.
Also, by adopting the preferred work practices and collaboration tools of your customers, you build trust and loyalty. You have shown customers that you're willing to explore using new, more effective ways of working together.
Then there are the downsides. As an IT adviser, you could lose the respect of your internal groups if you go behind their backs and stimulate demand for tools or working methods that they fundamentally disagree with. In the worst case scenario, you create conflict between people in your company and their clients, because the clients--thanks to your meddling--now demand something that groups within your company have no intention of ever doing.
And offering customers something of this scale for free, especially when you're not the person to pay the internal bill of rewiring how a group works, is dangerous. If there's no cost per se to customers, or no equal change and commitment required on their part, you've struck an unfair bargain, further undermining your relationship with internal groups.
Have you used the client-pull strategy to encourage change in user behavior within your organization? What worked well and what didn't? Drop me a note at the address below.
Michael Sampson is a collaboration strategist and author. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or +64 3 317 9484 (New Zealand).
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