Government // Enterprise Architecture
10:43 AM
Michael Sampson
Michael Sampson
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A Collaboration Strategy For The Change-Averse

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 or +64 3 317 9484 (New Zealand).

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User Rank: Apprentice
6/9/2011 | 1:27:15 AM
re: A Collaboration Strategy For The Change-Averse
I think working backwards always presents risks, inability to meet client expectations due to lack of resources to drive social business deployment, end user adoption and participation programs as one example.. We also make use of full end-to-end job-role based 'day in the life' scenarios to help internal workforces understand 'what's in it for me' and 'what's in it for my customers and partners.'
User Rank: Apprentice
6/8/2011 | 8:33:55 PM
re: A Collaboration Strategy For The Change-Averse
I think this strategy depends on how it is done. If it clearly is an end-around on users, than it will backfire. However, if it is clearly providing value to customers, and in the end helping with sales and productivity, then it has a good chance of succeeding.

Jim Rapoza is an InformationWeek Contributing Editor
User Rank: Apprentice
6/8/2011 | 3:24:22 PM
re: A Collaboration Strategy For The Change-Averse

Another way to use a pull strategy is to find and leverage your internal champions--these are typically people who are high influencers, that others follow because they are liked and respected. By getting them to buy in and successfully pilot some new tools, you are likely to get more "grass roots" adoption. And, when it comes to customers, they won't feel as if they are ahead of those in your company. I think the combination of both sides would be very compelling and extremely difficult for all but the most entrenched to ignore.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/7/2011 | 5:25:53 PM
re: A Collaboration Strategy For The Change-Averse
I agree with leveraging the customer-centric collaborative experience as a driver for modifying behaviors internally, but this is a very dangerous path as it could lead to active resistance from internal personal...for going "behind their backs"

I prefer to demonstrate how enhanced collaboration with customers, partners, etc can lead to improved customer & partner relationships.. and then creating "Day-in-the-Life" scenarios to build use cases. Not to say your method will not work, but I would look deeply into the culture of the organization, the CMO's beliefs, and the current challenges experienced by the sales\marketing teams with collaboration.
Alex Dunne
Alex Dunne,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/7/2011 | 5:07:01 PM
re: A Collaboration Strategy For The Change-Averse
I think going around your employees and using your clients to drive the use of tools could backfire. I'm not sure I'd like it if someone did that to me - that doesn't strike me as collaborative. I understand the reasoning, and agree that this could get more employees to use the tool (client pull is really effective in changing behavior). But I think getting clients to change your org's behavior could create a lot of internal tension. You should involve employees in this process and get their buy-in, not go behind their backs.
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