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Software Adoption; The Two Hurdles that Trip up Executives and Business Managers

November 08, 2008

After writing the past couple of weeks on some of the emotional processing we all go through when deciding to adopt new software, I wanted to take a moment and comment on two hurdles that routinely trip up executives and business managers, that a are sponsoring a software launch.  This is the first of two part blog.

While on the road last week I was thinking that if you were ever in the position to launch software across your group of direct reports, or a team or a business group or division – you would probably want to know what are the two obstacles that most frequently trip up executives in this position.  Doing face plants are frustrating, expensive, embarrassing and no fun.

I see the same two obstacles emere over and over again, and I’ve run into them when doing launches for large organizations like the United Nations in Rome, international firms in Asia, as well as in small, owner operated businesses in the US. Funny how it is the same regardless of where I go in the world.

So let’s get into this topic.  Executive sponsored software launches get stalled or have a marginal success rate for one of two reasons. What would you guess?

– It’s not trying to find just the right software, that stalls the process before you ever get to a launch.

– It’s not software features, and it’s not training, interestingly enough.

The first obstacle is INTERNAL or resides within the executive sponsor – and it prompts a very avoidable mistake.  If you’re that executive you:

a) Underestimate how much effort it will take to launch the software. You’ve usually embedded some pretty significant culture change requirements in the use of the “new” software package and you’re in a fair state of denial about how much work it will take to get people to change their work style so that they can effectively use the new software.

We see this all the time with ManagePro. Essentially ManagePro requires that people document progress updates and to-dos in order to work in a more coordinated, collaborative manner. If your business group is used to doing very little documentation and handle most things by phone calls or meetings… adoption of a software product like ManagePro represents a significant change in the work culture.

I don’t mean to represent that software adoption is something that most teams can’t accomplish – they can, you can. And it can generate very high returns, sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars in quick order, but you need to evaluate what degree of forward step it represents for your group. Instead of minimizing or under-estimating the required resources, you may need to “buckle up” before launching the program when it involves the stressors associated with CHANGE an innovation.

b) The under-estimating often seems related to how much interest you the executive have in the change process. If you don’t like that sort of thing, you’ll find that it can quickly get more time consuming than you enjoy or are prepared to give.   What typically happens next is that you get busy on “next” early in the software adoption process, lose interest as it “drags” on, and don’t keep actively sponsoring the adoption process and removing obstacles that emerge. Actually you may be rather bored with the whole change process which surfaces when you introduce new software.

We consistently find that if this is you, you, as a sponsor, run out of interest or attending before the launch of new software is securely established. You may assign the responsibility to someone else, typically someone who isn’t as invested as yourself in the outcome, and who may not have the resources to complete the task.

One final side note.  Many of the people in the launch recognize this on some level (recognize that the sponsoring executive or manager will run out of interest pretty early in the game), and mirror the executive in pulling back from the effort as well. There goes the launch!

Bottom Line:

Executives and Managers who sponsor software adoption launches are apt to run into two predictable obstacles that threaten the success of the launch. Here’s a summary of the first obstacle and briefly what to do about it.

1. The most prominent obstacle that lies within the sponsor is UNDER-ESTIMATION.   Under-estimating the amount of effort required to launch new software because of the change factor involved, and under-estimating of the strength of their own continued interest and active sponsorship. The resulting fall-out is a software launch that is under-resourced, and for which existing +resources are front-end loaded.

Suggestions: Plan and resource software adoption as the expensive and valuable process improvement project it is. Make sure you are not the only sponsor and that you have multiple, highly involved, powerful sponsors that will help you drive the process… unless you like to climb steep mountains all by yourself.  Make sure you have the resouces to go the distance.

Talk with you in the next blog – send me your reactions.


The Emotions Behind Decision Making

Politics, Emotions and Software Buy-in

4 Comments. Leave new

julian mendoza
November 10, 2008 8:13 am

Why do the best sales seminars say you have to “sell to the pain”? Why do cognitive experts now say it’s inaccurate to say we must keep emotions out of important decisions – and, in fact, an emotional shift precedes decisions involving fundamental changes?

How do experts ( firemen, ER docs, jet fighter pilots) make instantaneous decisions? How valid is flying by the seat of their pants as CEO’s are wont to do?

That emotions and instinctive reactions are seated in two parts of our brain that are close to each other (the amygdala and the hypothalamus) and that is consistent with their role as the frontline defense mechanisms – quick pattern recognition.

Then, at the opposite end, reached after a longer pathway to the outer parts of the brain, are the slower intellectualized abstractions – the MBA and scholarly decision analysis models – that the prefrontal cortex builds from knowledge and experience.

If you are proposing a major shift vis-a-vis a prospect’s current “model”, you’ll have to create a pain or discomfort first – a gap between what she deems as desireable, versus where she is.

The guards at the frontgate, our emotions and lizard-like instincts, will resist major intrusions – i.e., inconsistencies with the caricatures stored as friend or foe patterns. Think of your 87 year old father-in-law’s incredulous look when you propose an Ipod to replace all his slides and vinyl records. That is a displacement at a generic level.

Those same “guards” will let pass through, those they recognize as ordinary citizens – e.g., product features i.e., you can sell on features of an Apple Ipod versus a Zune only if you have sold him on the major structural shift first, that he is to abandon his 35mm projector and his turntable. Technical analyses are by their nature objective, “reasonable”, etc. What was a gut-wrenching decision for you, once made and given out, would then become an objective parameter to your lower-level managers.

Note, though, that if that’s tied to their performance evaluations, then it has a personal impact that triggers anxieties. And feelings often can’t be helped – but if recognized, they can be properly managed.

So don’t dismiss emotions as fluff. You know where that got you the last time you forgot an important anniversary date with your wife. They are a real part of your mental processes, and they can be stronger than the cognitive.

There is a reason the brain stores these caricatures.


Thanks for your comment Julian. Your comments about brain localization and quick pattern recognition, made me think that possibly CEOs and executives are in part selected on their ability to make quick pattern recognitions and response. All of which makes supporting a change process that extends very long, like software adoption, out of their interest level, not to mention emotional comfort zone. All of that would make it easy to under-estimate the resources or personal commitment needed to see the process through.

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