You Might Inhibit Change If…


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I think 2008 will be a year of profound technology change insofar as enterprise CRM early adopters are starting to feel real pain around legacy applications – which is to say anything that’s been in production for more than 5 minutes. Said pain stems from a variety of places, but it includes the impedance mismatch between application modernization initiatives (with which the Global 2000 will be rife in 2008 due to fundamental shifts in application architecture) and the vast amount of customization applied to packaged CRM applications when they were implemented. CIOs are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place when it comes to modernization: re-implement major customization to support indoctrinated but perhaps not business-differentiating processes or implement vanilla, possibly at the expense of competitive advantage. Making these tough design choices is as much about an organization’s culture as anything else. As such, I posit that CIOs must add “change agent” to their repertoire of personas.

Arguably, most successful CIOs are already acting as change agents on some level. However many are primarily facilitating technology change, and then largely focused on operational change. Many others are actually inhibiting change by staying so tactically focused that new ideas never see the light of day. To address the cultural change that will invariably result from application modernization and other customer-related initiatives, CIOs must become business change agents and get out of the data center and into the boardroom.

As an aside, I actually had a CIO tell me the other day that he didn’t want me to talk to “the business” (note the unhelpful “business vs. IT” divide) to assess opportunities for CRM. Rather, I should just “stay focused” on advising the project team handling the prototype for a call center migration (again, not loving the artificial divide between focus vs. innovation, as if it’s an “either/or”). I continue to scratch my head when I hear things like this because while the CIO believes this is “staying focused,” in reality it’s handicapping the organization from making some real customer-related breakthroughs.

Anyway, back to how to be a change agent. Like my CIO in the above example, the real irony is that many CIOs believe they ARE acting as change agents. And most don’t recognize the characteristics of someone who may actually be inhibiting change. So to lay out this archetype, let me channel Jeff Foxworthy, the comedian with the shtick around “how you might be a redneck if…”

So, the top 10 characteristics of change inhibitors (in no particular order):

– If you say you have an open door policy, but are rarely in your office with time to receive visitors, you might be a change inhibitor. (New ideas are often borne of unplanned brainstorming)

– If you prefer meetings where an agenda and Powerpoint slides have been provided the day before, you might be a change inhibitor. (Team members won’t feel comfortable appropriately “riffing” and you’ll probably miss lots of good ideas)

– If the grammar of your IT group includes “business and IT” as two distinct entities, then you might be a change inhibitor. (In truth, IT is just a different lens on the business, much like finance or marketing, which certainly don’t distinguish themselves from “the business.”)

– If the majority of your collaboration with individuals outside of your department is around the status of various IT projects, you might be change inhibitor. (You must be actively and frequently participating in the business community to understand how technology innovation can truly add value)

– If you don’t believe in alternative work modalities such as telecommuting because “out of sight, out of mind,” then you might be a change inhibitor. (Globalization has all but eradicated the notion that co-location is the only way to effectively collaborate)

– If the bulk of your organization-wide communication relates to operational issues such as staff changes or project accomplishments, then you might be a change inhibitor. (Broad communication is the Swiss Army Knife of IT and can be one of the most powerful tools in your toolkit. It can help with everything from easing enterprise restructuring to boosting employee morale).

– If your strategic vision has lots of details around operational goals, but very few details around innovation or strategy, then you may be a change inhibitor. (This gets back to the idea that the IT comfort zone is largely around the tangible such as the data center and application performance. Perceived intangibles such as innovation are often considered too “fluffy” for a CIO to deal with).

– If your leadership team rarely challenges you, or challenges only minor issues, you might be a change inhibitor. (Perhaps you’ve inadvertently created a culture of fear, where criticism –of course always respectful and constructive — is met with silence, subtle ridicule, or private disregard).

– If you don’t have a trusted “devil’s advocate,” then you may be a change inhibitor. (Having someone help you think outside your comfortable zone is ultimately good for the entire organization).

– If you still think, way deep down, that CRM is about systems implementations, you might be a change inhibitor. (I’m not even going to address this one….)

Oh, and one last thing: have a joyous holiday season!

Liz Roche
Hewlett-Packard Co.
Liz Roche is a senior leader with HP's Consulting and Integration practice and cofounder of Stamford, Connecticut-based Customers Incorporated. An industry-recognized CRM expert, she has 2 years of IT and business experience. Roche received a bachelor of arts from the George Washington University and an MBA from the University of Missouri.


  1. Liz,

    As you know, I always love your stuff. For those reading, Liz and I worked closely together at Meta Group for a long time. She was an analyst and I was in various sales and marketing roles.

    I have two comments, which I’d like to see two different blog entries, because I think they require bigger answers.

    1. Who appointed the CIO the change agent anyway?
    I know there is a lot of talk among the analyst community about the CIO being this big change agent (part of the argument is that they are one of the few organizations whose charter cuts across the silos of the organization), but why would IT be a good choice to lead a change effort in a large company anyway? How in the world is a CIO going to be able to use “the customer as the design point” (as you like to say), when they don’t deal with their issues on the front line? Also, what “change” is required? Personally, I think we need to be a lot more discrete about what needs to “change” to become a customer-centric organization. A few examples that come to mind:
    • [u]Breaking down organizational silos[/u] – IT can help enable than, but doesn’t this need to come from the top down?
    • [u]Changing the culture to be more client focused and less product oriented[/u] – I don’t see what role the CIO can really play there.
    • [u]Changing behavior so that CRM systems are better utilized [/u] – I can see a role for IT in this, but don’t you think they need help from groups who know how to communicate with people better than they do?
    I’d love to get your thoughts on this.

    2. “Use the customer as the design point” – she has been saying this for over a decade and I don’t think people fully understand the implications of this concept. When I work with accounts (for the record, my firm works with large enterprise B2B accounts) everyone thinks they have a good understanding of who their customers are, and will get insulted if you imply otherwise. However, most people only has a small point of view of a customer and each hve different definitions.

    For example, is a customer a person or an account? If it’s a person, is it the person who signs the check or the PO? The ultimate consumer of the product or service? The executive who approved it?

    When you deal with B2B accounts, there are so many different points of view that “using the customer as the design point” often creates havoc because there are so many different definitions of what a customer actually is. Considering that you’ve worked with so many different companies, could you please write some anecdotes about what a customer is and how some companies struggle? (I think some of your stories about how many different “customer” databases get created an how hard it is to get any clear view on any one customer would be a good starting point)

    Sorry to be acting like your editor here – ha. But, really – you have such great stuff that I think would be really valuable and would cut through a layer of the motherhood and apple pie ether that is often associated with “CRM”.

    Scott Santucci

  2. Liz and Scott,

    Liz, I hope you have posted this blog where CIO’s are likely to see it. Scott certainly CIO’s cannot be expected to lead the charge all new business strategies. But, on the other hand, they need to be part of the change, not the inertia. How can they avoid the trap of staying focused on the technology? How, by deliberately forcing themselves to gain different perspectives. I love the why Alan Kay puts it. “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”

    John I. Todor, Ph.D.
    Author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.

  3. Liz

    I tend to agree with Scott, when he says that CIOs are not always the best agents of change. And with John when he says that CIOs do need to be involved in most significant changes.

    The real change agents in most organisational change programmes are not C-level executives. They are lower to middle management. They are the ones who support staff making the changes work each day. They are also the ones who can kill a change programme dead in its tracks it it gets in the way of doing work. C-level executives have a different role to play. One of supporting the change programme over the longer (18-36 months) term.

    Peter Senge’s excellent book, ‘The Dance of Change’ describes a number of common ‘blockers of change’. And encourages change agents to actively plan to manage them away when they appear. We would all benefit from watching the blockers of change continuously during our own change programmes.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

    Gunning Fog Index: 9

  4. If CRM is to be a transformational business strategy (as opposed to an IT platform event), then I’d agree that CIOs shouldn’t be the change leader, except perhaps in his/her own organization.

    But Liz’s excellent article was about “inhibiting” change, not necessarily leading it. And I think her points might cause some IT executives to be more introspective about whether they are in fact hurting change efforts.

    As Graham suggests, making change happen is at least partly about getting rid of the obstacles.

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom

  5. Hello everyone, Awesome comments and points of view. This is a particularly timely conversation with “innovation” featured so heavily as a key IT issue for 2008.

    Let me shine a light on what I think these comments lead us to: at what level (if any) should the CIO be operating as a change agent relative to CRM?

    I think we need to define “change agent” to answer this question. Graham notes that that, “The real change agents in most organisational change programmes are not C-level executives. They are lower to middle management. They are the ones who support staff making the changes work each day.” I think he’s absolutely correct if he’s talking about those who EXECUTE change — change implementers if you will. However the role to which I referred in my piece was that of someone who creates an environment in which innovation, and thus change, can thrive – a change CONCEIVER if you will.

    I offer that executing innovation requires change, but there is nothign to actually change without some kind of innovation. So in this context, the term “change agent” refers to the operational role of implementing change. The strategic role of “innovation agent” for lack of a better term may have elements of change embedded, but it’s a visionary role.

    So, should the CIO be an innovation agent or a change agent? Yes. An innovation agent within IT and both an innovation and change agent at the business level. After all, a CIO’s highest and best use includes addressing business issues through a technology lens.

    Your thoughts?

  6. Just change a few of the details the piece from Liz and it could have been written ten years ago. Not much has changed and the debate continues. In my view some of the vendors have actually been making the situation worse. (I speak as an ex CRM Marketing Manager for a vendor). Most vendors come from the position that their technology is great, will perform excellently and be a very worthwhile buy for customers. If the customer, in the form of a CIO or business manager, can’t see that they must be mad and another route into the customer is needed. They must understand that the vendor is right.

    On the other hand a CIO’s behaviour is just like any other managers and their highest priorities are what they are measured on. It is hard to measure a change agent but easy to measure if someone is on budget or not. That’s why most businesses choose the later plus systems availability as their main metrics for CIO’s. Now imagine selling the CIO a solution that would help her/him meet budget and increase uptime. You would immediately have their interest.

    Sometimes we make life way too complicated for ourselves.

    Malcolm Wicks

  7. Great article Liz, and a complex one as Scott said. My thoughts, possibly echoing or supporting yours, are as follows:

    I believe an inhibitor to change is an environment that doesn’t encourage everyone to become “change agents,” and, for that matter, to become visionaries for innovation (i.e. identify customer focused changes and see them through). That includes the CIO, who is positioned to be, at least, an agent for certain activities that need to take place during the formulation and execution of change, such as selling ideas and operational needs to the CXO team and mentor/coach other surrogate agents on how to get things done. All this means, I believe, that most significant change – like CRM, due to its corporate strategic nature – need “sub-agents” working it at executive, middle management and individual contributor levels. Depending on the change initiative, the CIO could be the lead agent.

    Another inhibitor of change is if everyone, CIO included, in the company doesn’t take advantage of the insight CRM data provides. CRM activities include capturing customer issues which can turn into opportunities to add assets to the company’s total solution(s). If CIOs use the data captured, they can develop the insight to become visionaries – and, subsequently, change agents – for solutions that IT can be a large part of. For example, provide inertia to solutions that involve integrated supplier/customer/company processes, joint service solutions, and other non-product customer focused initiatives. [Note: Insight, which CRM facilitates, is the first step in the innovation process – develop insight and knowledge, identify opportunities, form ideas, create positive change initiatives, and implement to result in innovation.]

    The inability to recognize root causes is an inhibitor to change. That’s one of the skills CXO’s have; being able to identify root causes or, at least, drive the organization to find them. Visionaries rely on identifying root causes, the precursor to possible innovations and positive change. CRM data provides insight to root causes.

    The last inhibitor I’ll mention is when management doesn’t integrate change management activities into their everyday activities. In fact, management must integrate customer focus activities and quite a few others into their everyday activities. If CRM is to be successful then everyone in the company has to understand and organize their jobs to provide activities that create the desired outcome of the strategy, including the CIO.

    For example, Mr. Wicks says to gain their attention, sell them CRM systems that don’t break the budget and provides maximum up time. That’s where the integration comes in: balancing the budget is dependent on balancing, for example, managing CRM strategies and collaboration with the business side to understand customer issues and innovation/change management to build the needed IT solutions that could arise out solving the issues, etc. In fact, successfully balancing the budget is based on all of the CIO’s activities working in concert.

    Jonathan Narducci

    CornerStone Cubed
    Creating Positive Change


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