Thursday, November 17, 2011

Believe and persist in your advocacy

All IT and software deployment projects are change management problems to solve. If you don't handle the change management aspect very well, your deployment will fail. 

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In my change management class (which we formally call Leading Organizational Change), I always emphasize that the first step in advocating for change is to first believe in that change. Have you encountered salespeople who tried to sell you something but didn't really know what they were talking about? They came across as insincere and nothing they said could sway you to believing them.

In the same manner, if you don't believe in the change you're pushing (it could be an IT solution like an intranet, an information system, or even a community effort like a school feeding program), your target audience (aka intended users or stakeholders) will sense your insincerity. You will come across as fake and you will blow your chances of making change happen.

On the contrary, when you believe in the project you are rolling out, you will have a genuine concern for people who are resisting your efforts. You will ask them why they are not buying into your effort and you will find ways to convince them about it.

I had an epiphany when I was considering switching to a Mac. For about 23 years, I have been a user and staunch defender of PCs and Microsoft. A Mac store attendant tried to convince me to switch. He asked me what was making me hesitate and I told him that I feared the Windows tools I was using (like MS Project and Visio), wouldn't be on the Mac. Without speaking a word, he activated BootCamp and started up Windows on a Macbook. That was my turning point. It started with a store attendant being genuinely concerned about my issues.

When you believe, you win over people. More importantly, you gain another strength as a change advocate: persistence. Persistence will help you survive through resistance and opposition. 

As the person leading change, you are put in a dangerous position. Heifetz and Linsky point out in the book Leadership on the Line that your opposition will try to use politics, seduction (offer you distractions to divert you from your advocacy), and character assassination against you and/or your project.

Once, a livid representative from a customer company threatened to kick our team out of a project (that's a different story to tell). Our team thought the customer company would benefit a lot by using a new but very flexible Technology X. We found out later that Livid Representative was leading an in-house development team who was creating a similar solution using Technology Z. They probably wanted to claim credit for discovering and creating the solution for the company. Hence he threatened to kick us out of the contract. Of course, our team stood down and grudgingly supported what the in-house team was doing (after all, we were only contractors). It was a clunky and dirty technology -- we knew because we had a taste of the power of Technology X.

We swallowed our pride, but we persisted in using and promoting Technology X. Years later, the company rehired our team to deploy exactly what we previously recommended to them. It turns out that the company grew dissatisfied with their in-house team and the Solution Z. Desperate, they hired an independent IT consultant who recommended -- guess what? -- Technology X.

We secretly gloated and we knew we wouldn't have reached this goal if we gave up that early.

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