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April 24, 2009

Snow Boots and Bad Driving

I grew up with hand-me-downs. The winter boots were the worst of all. I had no problem with learning to play on my brother’s old trumpet. I was quite pleased to accept another brother’s old wet suit. But, sledding all day with winter boots that did not fit and were not all that insulated brought me close to frostbite on more than one occasion. I should have complained, but using things that were handed down from an older sibling was just the way things worked when you were the youngest of seven.

When you are running a global CRM program there are going to be countries that become the oldest sibling and there will be countries that become the youngest sibling. The countries in the middle might get less attention, as can also happen in a large family.

The biggest risk of this birth order situation in the world of CRM is that sometimes the hand-me-downs don’t fit very well. This usually works something like this. A CRM program starts with a larger well-funded country and the design is a bit too centered on the needs of that dominating geography. For example, the system is built to fit the U.S. postal code system and cannot accommodate other postal code structures. This situation can result in a couple of problems – either the later implemented smaller country has to use a workaround or extra resources have to be expended to get the postal code field correct. When this happens to a hundred small things the situation also leads to bitterness and resentment of the CRM colonialism.

Rectifying this situation is both easy and hard. It is easy to build your CRM program to begin with a global design approach. It can be hard to satisfy everyone during design. Ultimately it boils down to regional differences. Some differences are real, like postal codes, and need to be taken into account. Some differences are not so real. I have seen many situations where there was a strong perception that things were very different between countries. However, on closer, objective examination – primarily focused at the process level – it has been shown that differences are negligible and can be easily worked out.

Sometimes differences are based on maturity of the business. Some countries have been at it longer than others and have developed further. I think that it is best to build the CRM approach to fit the most mature businesses and let the developing regions grow into it – much like the hand-me-down thing. I have also seen that some geographies have different personalities. Some prefer structure and discipline and some prefer to keep things pretty flexible. It can be a simple solution to build the system to enable the discipline and then allow the rules to be broken in those regions that take it a bit looser. Having just spent a week of driving the Amalfi coastline in Italy I have a good handle on this dynamic. The EU has agreed on many driving and traffic rules, but they get fairly ignored in this region.

Latin Curves

On the other hand, sometimes differences are substantial. There are regulations or market size restrictions forcing business models to differ. Some geographies sell directly and some sell through distribution partners. These circumstances demand that the processes and system be designed to accommodate. And, this can be harder.

On the less hard on of the continuum is the approach of satisfying differences by using the power of the technology to enable different access or different views. This requires more resources to accomplish, but has been a successful solution for many businesses working across borders. A more extreme approach, but one growing in popularity is to build the primary CRM system to satisfy the larger portions of the business and utilize hosted systems to accommodate the special needs of the minority. Sometimes one-size-fits-all is a bad approach. This hybrid CRM model can be more complex, but it ultimately has the best chance of satisfying the business in a global enterprise.

So, in conclusion, don’t force everyone where the same pair of snow boots. And, don’t go over the speed limit in Switzerland, but in Italy don’t expect to go below it.

April 17, 2009

Organizational Food Groups

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Poor Richard’s recommendation from the pseudonymous almanac seems like relatively sound advice. Apples were a great tool for helping keep teeth somewhat clean plus the nutrients and fiber were a great supplement for the sketchy diet of the 18th century common man. Today, on the other hand, is another story. I couldn’t keep the doctor away if I ate a bushel of apples a day. High cholesterol, acid reflux, allergies, and creaky joints require all kinds of supplements that apples alone can’t deliver.

Fruit aside for the moment, when I first got into the field of IT consulting I was very pleased that the People / Process / Technology axiom was so well understood and accepted. My training as an organizational psychologist focused much on the multiple factors required to get changes to work. Companies have a bunch of moving parts and expecting that you can just switch out new technology and assume that everything will be fine is a well established myth. In the early days of IT consulting it was fine to use the People / Process / Technology concept as a mechanism for getting clients to pay attention to more than just the technology portion of the equation.

But, when this consulting apple-a-day type aphorism was first introduced, IT consulting was at a stage more equivalent to Ben Franklin’s understanding of medicine. We have progressed substantially in the last couple of decades, and I think we need to advance past the People / Process / Technology thing – just like we can’t rely on simply apples to stay healthy – insufficiently simplistic.

Yes, it is great that we go beyond just a focus on the gadget when it comes to introducing improved technology into the organization. The people factor is one to reckon with. Folks need the skills to utilize the technology correctly, plus there is the whole attitude thing. Users can be resistant to change and we have to do all kinds of things to get their acceptance and adoption. So, great, the people thing is cool. Then there is the whole issue of business processes. Most of the time the technology will have a mind numbing impact on the way things are done. We usually have to rethink the work tasks a bit and get them sorted out to be in synch with the technology. Great again, that makes a bunch of sense.

What about strategy – are we working the right objectives and is everyone at the top of the org chart on board? What about measurement – do we have the ability to actually monitor if we are making improvements with all the investments? What about the company’s ability to manage all these variables – do we have the right project management capability and the expertise to provide the training needed for these new skills that the people require?

I think the whole P/P/T thing served a great purpose back in its day. Now we need a more complete model to make sure we have all the variables attended to. My suggestion is to look at the five areas below to make sure you have everything needed to make your CRM program successful:
- Alignment – clear direction with harmonious objectives and management support
- Capability – the needed business processes and skill that support the direction
- Intelligence – mechanisms for measuring the correct metrics that monitor achievement
- Technology – the tools that appropriately enable the processes necessary for success
- Transformation – the ability to manage these changes from both a technology and organizational perspective
Certainly five variables is a bit more complicated to oversee than just three, but the broader focus increases your likelihood of success. You are doing more than just consuming the apple, you got the whole range of food groups covered.

Bon appétit!

Spoetzle Bernese

April 10, 2009

Get the Message?

When was the last time you listened to an emergency briefing aboard a plane? The airlines try to get you to pay attention, but they don’t try hard enough. Reports I have read from the water landing incident on the Hudson River earlier this year would indicate that folks on board were not paying attention to theirs, as some passengers flagrantly violated some of the safety rules. The incident ultimately had a happy ending but a few variables could have easily led to some passengers going down with the ship.

There are many occasions that I am the deliverer of messaging, similar to those on board safety briefings, for the CRM programs that I help to lead. However, recently the tables were turned and I was the recipient of messaging for a change within my own company. I was required to attend a communication session that provided information on how to use a new business system. It was both interesting and educational – not the messaging in the session, rather, getting a chance to observe things from the other side.

A number of things did not work well:
- The timing of sessions never fit my availability
- The content did not fit my situation
- Information was presented that was important to the presenter, but not to the recipient
- Because I got bored I started multi-tasking and probably missed something important
All in all, I felt it was a total waste of my time, but more importantly, it re-sensitized me to be more aware of my audiences when I am the deliverer of similar mandatory messaging. I wonder how many times I have caused people to feel just like I did? I much prefer a better outcome for my audiences.

So, I spent a bit of time thinking about this and have some suggestions. Chances are you will need to deliver a communication to a captive audience and you too may fall into the same trap. Here are just a few ideas:

Zone Out Factors – Test your messaging to identify what content is going to cause your audience to quit listening. Make a change to your delivery either by changing the content to be more relevant or the approach to be more interesting.

Audience Centrism – You need to provide this information to improve the success of your program, but is it useful to your audience? Find a way to make it useful by evaluating the content from their perspective.

Enticing Media – I was at a meeting yesterday where the shortest presentation before I came onto the agenda was 138 slides. This is death by PowerPoint. Don’t kill your audience with your media. Use it to capture them.

Reward Attention – Can you do something to reward those who actually listen to you? Yes, and it can be pretty simple to do. Try handing out candy to those who answer a quiz question correctly and watch others perk up.

You can get many ideas on better communication from the gazillion books on effective presentations that line the virtual shelves at amazon.com, so I won’t go into more suggestions here. I think the important thing is to evaluate your messaging and make sure that you are not just handing out mandatory content and checking people off the list. This will increase your chances of having the communication serve less than positive value. Do a test run with someone outside of your program team and get straight feedback. You will improve the value of your communication efforts.

And remember, in the unlikely event of a water landing, your seat cushion can serve as a flotation device.

Wet Landing

April 03, 2009

Conditions for Change

One of the interesting things about our new presidential administration is that it is being inundated with behavioral scientists. We heard a lot about the term “change” during the campaign, but now there are folks who specialize in making change happen who are helping guide policy making for everything from economics to nutrition.

This is great news for a number of reasons. Too often in the past policy has been formulated through special interest. I am not naïve enough to believe this will go away, but I am encouraged that individuals who understand the science of change are getting a chance to influence outcomes successfully. Additionally, as a fellow behavioral scientist, I am glad that my profession is getting a little time in the press.

My experience is that when folks hear the term “change management” they think of fluffy stuff like encounter workshops where people can express feelings but not much else gets accomplished. Of course, then there is also the old joke: “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but the light bulb has to want to change!” Hopefully, those working with the Obama cabinet will provide some positive exposure to this discipline that is a true science.

Psych Institute

What we have learned about this team of specialists so far is that they are making recommendations that involve fundamental change management concepts that apply equally to societal changes as well as organizational changes. Few CRM programs are exempt from these dynamics. So, following along with what is going on in Washington will be educational for managing organizational changes within CRM.

The principal conditions for effective change management include the following:
• Clear Direction – CRM programs will have a better chance of success when it is clear what the program is attempting to achieve and how it supports business strategy.
• Compelling Rationale – When people understand the reasons why change is required and the benefits it will bring, they will have more inclination to go along with the changes.
• Leader Sponsorship – Individuals in leadership roles have a strong positive influence over program success if they visibly and actively support the changes.
• Cultural Conformity – Peer pressure is a real factor when it comes to change and employees are more likely to conform if they believe their co-workers are doing it too.
• Minimum Barriers – The process of change is difficult enough and even less effective when programs create complexities in processes or technology – simple and easy is best.
• Personal Competency – In the end, change comes down to the individual and assuring that they have the capability to perform new tasks is essential to success.

I truly find it interesting that these same conditions for change are being built into policy development in the Beltway focused on the economy, healthcare and energy management. We won’t know how well they are working for some months to come, but you don’t need to wait to build these into your CRM program now.