First-Class Coach

I'M RESPONSIBLE FOR project managing an IT initiative that will be crucial to the company's success.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

All the senior management have signed up to it, but I'm encountering apathy and resistance in trying to implement it in their departments. How can I avoid failure to deliver?

A: ONE OF THE THREE greatest lies in the world (and the only one fit to print) is 'I'm from head office and I'm here to help you'. We tend to distrust people from outside our immediate group who arrive on a mission to do us good. Different divisions in a large organisation relish autonomy and have their own rules of engagement.

This is not to say that all centrally devised initiatives are worthless.

At its most useful, the technological revolution has brought greater communication, more speed and accuracy and increased profit to organisations, even though the introduction of the IT programmes that drove the improvement is often as painful as molar extraction. With greater transparency, parts that are dysfunctional and foster inefficiency, and even abuse, are changed for the better.

The trouble is that many potentially fine schemes and initiatives are poorly implemented, costing millions and causing chaos and dismay. They often fail to deliver the benefits for which they were invented. Usually, the software gets the blame, but often it's the people charged with implementing it that are really at fault.

Some years ago, an organisation I know decided to put all personnel records across four divisions on the same system. That way, they'd have data on comparative rates of pay, sick leave, training and development expenditure, redundancies and compromise agreements. They spent a fortune on state-of-the-art software and had expert consultants to instal it. Two years later, the system was in abeyance. Two divisions had reverted to holding records on scraps of paper, while the other two were using only part of the system. Payroll rejected data because it was inaccurate and they found it too time-consuming to trace faults back to source and put them right.

In the end, the company had to buy yet more software and create a totally different process for implementing the system properly. Explaining how they handled it - having learned a costly lesson and gained the benefit of hindsight - might be useful to you in your present predicament.

First, they appointed an internal project team to check what was going on. They discovered that the problem was less to do with antagonism to the new system than with lack of training in its use. The HR professionals responsible for inputting data rarely met their colleagues in other divisions, so were unaware that parts of the firm had successfully grappled with the initial complexities. There had been no shared learning.

Next, they created a schedule for the revised system coming online, identifying milestones and devising a system of rewards and penalties. They got all the group's HR and payroll people in the same room, described clearly what had happened, why it was potentially disastrous for the company and why it needed to be put right. The effect was to convince this group that they could be heroes in saving money and jobs.

Then the team had the software house train up HR people from each division to act as trainers for their colleagues, and appointed a respected internal person to head implementation and spend time in each division by turn. There was plenty of reporting back to the wider group on progress, and celebration when milestones were reached. This communication was key, since many of those involved bore the scars of their previous tangle with technology and needed reassurance that this wouldn't be a repeat.

Make sure there is real buy-in from senior management, not just to the overall mission but to its practical, logistical implementation. Get agreement on the financial levers available, including bonuses for swift compliance and sanctions for failure. Naming and shaming can work.

Develop a thicker skin for the duration of the project, to protect yourself from the negativity that usually arises when people are being pushed through a transition curve faster than they'd like. Don't position yourself as an expert but work side-by-side with them to tackle the shared challenge of how to make this inevitable process work smoothly in their own part of the company.

Keep cheerful and positive, and acknowledge progress - especially when your bosses forget to.

Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail: miranda@firstclasscoach.co.uk

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