Thursday, October 22, 2009

The 'process maven' and reaching employee buy-in

Its hard to get employees to buy-in to any form of change, and process improvement is a really tough one. This strikes at the core of people's working existences and identities, making them resist the change more than can sometimes be considered rational. But its OK, you have an undiscovered ally. There is a largely untapped resource that companies need to identify, who can really make employee buy-in achievable, if not easy.

A forum question on ebizQ asks what it takes to achieve buy from end-users in the use of business process management (BPM) software. My response is out there, but it seemed like a question worthy of a more detailed post too.

BPM software vendors obviously know the value of BPM - their marketing departments ensure that the benefits are well understood. My opinion, and this is a hard one to test objectively, is that most companies outside of the software community just don't get the value of process improvement through BPM:
Without a burning need, BPM is unlikely to spring to mind at all. Sure, you can try and persuade prospective clients and users that they need BPM and it will save them time and money, but without them really feeling pained by a current process they are unlikely to actively respond.
It takes real process chaos to get companies to react and change what they are doing. Otherwise they will typically just throw more resources (often the same employees, working longer hours) at the problem. Its not rejection of BPM as a waste of time, its the lack of realization that something can and should be done.

So, let's assume that a company discovers that process improvement is required, and that some form of workflow or BPM tool could be valuable in that change. That realization typically starts with one, strong minding, and fairly senior manager in an organization - often at the department level. That person puts a lot on the line to start selling the idea to the senior executives, but that's easy -- the ROI has to be right in most cases.

For the real workers, getting the buy-in for any change to current working practices can be harder, as we all know. The efforts of the manager in persuading his or her bosses of the ROI of process improvement can be misconstrued (or possibly interpreted correctly, depending on your level of cynicism).
At an individual user level there is likely to be buy-in once they have truly acknowledged there is a need to change, and its not just the current management team's desire to leave their mark with an expensive software solution.
One problem is that the right employees are rarely engaged early enough in the process. This shouldn't be about including a couple of worker representatives in a vendor selection process, purely because it seems like the right thing to do. Companies embarking on process improvement projects should be looking at really involving some of the powerful resources they have, in a way that is quite unusual.

... the high profile employees, the most vocal, the potential advocates among their peers have to be able to see, feel and experience a working solution as soon as possible, possibly even pre-sale.

If this sounds difficult, it probably is. Traditional BPM vendors are good at showing demos, although they may run to a proof of concept project for the company's developers and analysts. As for real end-users, they are harder to support without building out a solution.

It is worth the effort to get specific end-users involved early. Why? Well there is one department (you never thought you would learn something useful from) that has been refining the use of expert advocates, sometimes called mavens, for many years:

This is where we can learn something from marketing - spending your (both the vendor and the customer) effort on gaining the buy-in of the users who are the most vocal, highly respected among their peers. These end users 'BPM mavens' will go out of their way to get buy-in from the majority of other users. But don't oversell the maven, because they can as easily destroy your product after it fails to please.

I believe this is the key to getting buy-in for your process improvement project. Now all you need is to make sure you have a solution that can facilitate the conversion of the mavens, up-front, honestly and early in the process. The solution must be one that can address their needs and that they can actually use in hours, not months. Don't give them promises and Powerpoints, which they are sure will disappoint.

To achieve buy-in of end users, first convert your mavens by giving them what they really desire: a solution that they can see, touch, and experience immediately.

A post from the Improving It blog

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