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Software Adoption; Resistance, the 2nd Obstacle that Trips up Executive Sponsors

November 10, 2008

This is the second in a two series blog on thoughts about what routinely trips up executive sponsors in a software launch. 

The first blog addressed the obstacle represented by the tendency to under-estimate the resources needed to launch a software package that invokes changes in work style, including the tendency for the sponsor to under-estimate their internal resources to stay involved and see the launch successfully through to completion.

The focus of this blog is the second obstacle of resistance from others that trips up sponsors.   If under-estimating is an internal problem, most people think of this one as an external problem caused by staff other than the sponsor.  It is actually both an external and an internal issue, but more about that latter.  Bottom line, RESISTANCE prompts the executive sponsor to make avoidable mistakes.

If you’re that executive sponsor you might describe the obstacle as running into a “buzz saw” of direct resistance from one of your direct reports or peers.  They directly or indirectly don’t comply with using the new software.  Now what?  In fact at this point, it usually gets worse.  You end up feeling like your authority is being challenged on some level, and at the same time you get in touch with the anxiety that you can’t do without that person or group’s work contribution – welcome to the uncomfortable feeling of “being held over a barrel.” 

Wonderful, and all you wanted to do was have everyone use this cool, new software!

By-the-way, the buzz saw didn’t just emerge over the launch of the software – but it usually does break through the “I’d rather not address that or think about it” box.  What do I mean by that? 

More specifically, the introduction of new software and the accompanying request to work (plan, follow-up, document, coordinate) in some new way stirs up latent “you’re not going to tell me or my department how to work” reactions.  The launch doesn’t create the tension, it just surfaces the unresolved tension between executives, between manager and direct report, or employer and employee, etc. who both need each other, but haven’t clarified and/or typically worked through this one critical point – that any job includes more than responsibility for completing a task, it also includes the responsibility for adopting certain processes, tools and values while completing the task (e.g. following the rules of priorities often set by someone else).

The most common mistake I see sponsors make at this point looks like some combination of the following: a) you pull back the mandate to adopt the software,  or b) you quit following up and tracking adoption and just use the software yourself,  and/or c) you stop requiring software adoption for this person, or their group… and there goes the launch.

Executives and Managers who sponsor software adoption launches are apt to run into two predictable obstacles that threaten the success of the launch.  The second prominent obstacle that trips up executive sponsors is RESISTANCE often unaccompanied by denial and discomfort about it’s existence.  The resistance to using the new software, is championed by a “powerful” individual or group, who you can’t really afford to say, “Use the new tool or walk,” and so you feel “held over the barrel” and are tempted to start granting concessions – don’t!

Suggestions: If you run into this obstacle inquire, address and resolve, don’t avoid, the resistance.   Don’t end up looking like a case example for Edwin Friedman’s book, A Failure of Nerve(Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix).  The resistance represents at best something that needs clarification and attention, at worst it represents an unhealthy part of the culture and work relationships which is not only uncomfortable, but loses money.  

Dibachi’s book “Just Add Management” list 7 simple basics that will serve you well as a set of guide lines or topics to work through if you’re running into this obstacle.   They include: 1. Your job exists to make this company a success.  2. Yes, I am the boss, so my priorities over-rule your preferences.  3. The customer pays all of our salaries.  4. Do what matters.  5. Do it right. 6. Track your progress.  7. Work smart.

Bottom Line: Remember, the resistance to the software launch represents issues that you need to address, not avoid.  It may be a simple mis-understanding, it may be an outgrowth of not feeling included or recognized, or it may be a symptom of deeper seated conflicts (ex. “even though you’re the boss, and sign my pay check, I’m going to work the way I want to”).  Irregardless, it pays to address and work through this obstacle, from both a software launch and overall organizational culture and performance perspective – it gets worse over time if you don’t.


Software Adoption: The Two Hurdles that Trip up Executive Sponsors (1 of 2)

Consulting Sevices to Help Launch ManagePro Software


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