Project shows there's no real change without buy-in

Any implementation must involve internal users, says Al Kuebler

It was about the rockiest start to a major IT initiative I've ever been involved in. Because I'd implemented IT marketing programs earlier in my career, the CIO charged me with doing the same for his organisation.

Of course, projects that sail along smoothly, with no resistance, are great. But it's the ones that throw lots of roadblocks in our way that end up teaching us things.

We were in trouble from the start. In a meeting with all of his direct reports (which included me), the CIO declared his intention to establish a CRM program. He didn't offer any reasons for this. He just announced that I would be directing the effort and stated that he expected everyone's full cooperation. The reaction from my peers was mostly silent, but I could feel the tension in the room. A few comments were made that made it clear why this initiative was receiving such a cold reaction. The one that best summed things up: "We're up to our necks in work, and we're now supposed to pony up resources and time to create whatever CRM is?"

I said that I would be answering the question of "whatever CRM is" at a meeting in a few days. I didn't sense much enthusiasm for that, either.

In the days that followed, several fellow IT managers called to ask about this "CRM thing." Most of them implied that we didn't need it at all. The more accommodating said it could wait until next year.

Negotiating buy-in

I could understand why some of my fellow managers might be panicking. We all had more than we could do already. Any new initiative was bound to sound like just another thing that we couldn't give the proper attention to.

It's been my experience that change can't be mandated. For it to really take hold and transform an organisation, you need buy-in. Tell a group of people that you plan to make some major changes in the way things are done, and the thought going through the head of each and every one of them will be, "What's in it for me?" We hadn't even attempted to answer that question yet, and as the days passed, there was nothing to stop the resistance from growing.

Winning buy-in from stakeholders can be tricky in the best of circumstances, but I had a taller wall to scale than normal, simply because there had been time for rumour and misinformation to foster discontent. I wasn't sure how to overcome the resistance that was building at my upcoming meeting, so I talked to another IT manager. She didn't hesitate. Her advice was to show our peers what happens in an IT organisation that doesn't have a CRM program and then show how things work in an IT organisation with a mature CRM program in place. Then, she said, "explain the differences and ask us which one we'd rather be." It was a brilliant idea.

I prepared my material, scheduled the meeting and informed everyone that I would identify the pros and cons of CRM programs. In an effort to ensure attendance, I said that each manager would be expected to tell me what they thought CRM would mean for their part of the IT organisation? in other words, they would be asked to vote.

At the meeting, I began by saying that, whether we had a CRM program or not, we should view our IT service organisation as a business and ourselves as its owners. While IT wasn't itself a profit centre, the decisions we took affected the costs of our clients on the business side. We had to seriously consider that our clients viewed outside IT service firms as our competition.

"So, CRM will help us prove we're the best alternative?" one manager asked.

"It will," I said, "but I don't expect you to take my word for it. Let me show you instead." I then laid out what defined us now, as an IT service organisation with no CRM program in place.

The CIO then called for discussion on these characteristics. Several managers were defensive at first, but the CIO was able to draw out a general acknowledgment that by really owning our service organisation, we could begin to address each of these undesirable traits.

That was my cue to move on to the characteristics of an IT service organisation with a mature CRM program in place.

Which one should we be?

Now the managers had two sharply differentiated organisational profiles to consider. What, the CIO wanted to know, were the pros and cons of each? The single advantage of staying as we were was simply that it was the easiest option ? in the short term. The cons were that clients went without information and were unhappy, that employees were frustrated, that clients felt that outsourcing would be preferable and that, despite knowing about our problems, we had done nothing about them.

On the plus side for changing were some simple facts: Our clients' experience with our IT service would improve dramatically, as would IT employees' understanding of their role in providing it, and IT service would improve. The only con we could think of was that until benchmarking was done, clients might see the CRM function as bureaucratic or an additional expense.

Then I made the choice more stark by posing two questions:

  • Which IT service organisation would you rather have serve you?
  • Which would you rather work for?

In the end, we had our buy-in; the entire management team fully endorsed the idea of CRM implementation.

As we moved on to execution of the plan, we staffed the CRM team with people proficient in interpersonal communications and consultative skills, and then we kept them focused on critical CRM processes. The client-focused transformation, once begun, was irreversible. Benchmarks gave us a basis for competitive comparisons and continued improvement. Service directory information was in demand the minute it became available. CRM gave rise to outside training initiatives, including industry best practices, for all IT professional staff. IT professionals started to feel more respected and proud of their contribution and value to the enterprise.

As for the "What's in it for me?" question, it gradually answered itself as our desired outcomes began to be achieved. It took a while, but our constant state of reaction was gradually replaced as more time became available to us and we were able to more favorably influence our future. Strategic discussions, previously rare (given the fact that our beepers would never shut up), became routine.

By the way, a key aspect of the CRM unit's communication plan urged the entire management team to get out of our offices much more often to meet with both clients and staff. It was an undeniably good idea, so we all agreed. And guess what. The CRM unit began tracking us to make sure we followed through.

Al Kuebler was CIO at AT&T Universal Card, Los Angeles County, Alcatel and McGraw-Hill and director of process engineering for Citicorp . He also directed the consulting activity for CSC Europe. He is now a general management and IT consultant. He can be reached at

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