Process & Strategy: Playing Politics

By  Craig Settles — April 20, 2009

In our ongoing Process & Strategy series, industry analyst Craig Settles addresses one of the most challenging aspects of mobility deployments -- navigating the internal politics of your organization. We asked executives from government and the private sector to give us their best advice on how to succeed as a mobility evangelist.

Check out the other installments in this series:
What's The Plan?
Effective Needs Analysis
Mobile Device Management
Taking The Pain Out Of Mobile Expense Management


Playing Politics
What would you do if you handed someone a bag with $100,000 cash, and you found out later they took it home and torched it all in the fireplace? Absurd maybe, but something similar happens every day in various organizations.

Let's say you come up with a great mobile application that can save your enterprise $100,000 or more in operating costs, or perhaps earn that much in new sales. But you can't get your senior executives to fund it, you can't make your middle managers understand it and you can't encourage your employees to use it.

Enterprise mobility champions in enterprises of all sizes and across all verticals face the same challenge: the need to continually "politic" new technology through the organization.

Some people are loath to play political games, but good consensus-building tactics can pave the way to mobility project success.

 
Take It From The Top

Mark Meier, I.T. Director for Oklahoma City, has guided a range of applications and technologies through his government organization. Besides automating several thousand mobile workers, he spearheaded the largest municipal wireless project in the U.S., covering 621 square miles with Tropos network infrastructure. His bosses are the Mayor, City Council and the citizens.

Meier found the best way to get buy-in from these decision makers is to not talk tech. "When we met with the Mayor and City Council, we never discussed devices or technology," he says. "We spoke in terms of functionality. It was about getting access to email, or changing the way we do business.

"With the community, we didn't say we wanted laptops in cars. We said we wanted to put more police in the field, we wanted firemen to have more information before entering a building. People rarely ask what technologies we're using." Convincing senior executives or administrators of the benefits is often enough; too much technical data confuses them, and confused decision makers don't make decisions.

Even after it's approved, technology can fall short of its potential benefits due to a lack of support from top executives. Their enthusiastic buy-in is what encourages widespread acceptance and cooperation from line managers and rank-and-file employees.

Credit Agricole, France's largest bank, deployed a mobile email application to more than 100 senior executives. This was quickly a hit, as executives could immediately control their email traffic, decision making happened faster and everyone was significantly more productive. Based on this success, the company deployed the application throughout the organization.

Sometimes it isn't necessary to have executives use the technology in order to get their sign off. However, it is valuable to show them in stark terms how the technology eliminates inefficiencies in current business practices. For example, consider filming your mobile workers using the application to present visual evidence of your ROI case.


The Middle Game

Sometimes, working with middle managers can be a roller coaster ride. According to Meier, the initial reaction of many department managers is that "There's magic silver bullets falling from the sky to fix all [their] problems. We put a damper on that right away and force them to accept the burden of managing the applications. [We tell them] 'You have to train your people, this will change the way you do business. If you don't get your arms around this, the project will fail. I.T. isn't going to do it all.' Be blunt."

Once sober reasoning takes over, it's important to strike a balance between directing managers through the deployment and keeping them excited about the eventual benefits that justify all their  hard work. Meier finds it helps to give managers thorough demonstrations of an application, so they are totally confident they understand how it works and can adequately support their workers.

It sounds counterintuitive, but I.T. should have the manager assign their biggest skeptic of the application to work with I.T. on every aspect of product testing and developing deployment strategy. Address all of this person's concerns. When testing ends, managers will take their cues from the former skeptics and be comfortable approving the application. 
 
Where The Rubber Meets The Road

A core ingredient to getting workforce buy-in for a mobile application is to prove it helps them do their jobs more effectively.

Steven Murphy, CEO of Murteck Insurance Consulting in Shaker Heights, OH, previously worked as a claims manager for one of the major insurance companies when they introduced mobile devices. "I found that it's vital to run an effective training program in a controlled setting that mirrors people's work environment." Users reject applications that force them to change the way they work rather than improve how they work.  

"The claims adjusters knew everyone received similar workloads, and much of their performance evaluations were based on how efficently they managed their work compared to everyone else. So we sold adjusters on the fact that the devices would make them more productive, then proved it in the training sessions. They would write up claims, schedule contractors, process checks and become convinced they wouldn't struggle with this. The worst thing is to have the technology betray them when they're in the field." 

It is also important to have applications deliver commands, screen prompts and data using terminology workers comprehend. Most people don't understand arcane technical terms. Managers and I.T. need to be attentive during pilot projects so they can detect and resolve the first signs of end-user resistance to the application.

Contract workers who are integral to your business operations present a particular challenge because you do not have the same leverage and incentives as you do with employees. Alicia Yanow, owner of Pet's Best Friend, a cat-sitting service in San Francisco, says, "Quality service is how I sell my business. Contractors I bring on board represent my company and me, and I want them to give the same quality care I give, a lot of which depends on mobile messaging."

To enable a contract workforce to deliver the customer service made possible through mobile applications requires careful thought on how you get their buy-in. Larger companies may need to pay for contractors' devices or data charges. Smaller companies that cannot afford this must rely on hard-selling the personal and financial benefits contractors receive.  //

Tips For navigating internal  politics in Your organization

  • Don't baffle them with tech talk, dazzle them with benefits and functionality.

  • Get the solution in the hands of top executives as soon as possible.

  • Beware of middle managers; they may resist the work that is required of them to make the solution a success.

  • Assign the biggest skeptic to work with I.T. on every aspect of product testing and deployment strategy.

  • Make sure your training program is run in a way that mirrors your workers' everyday environment.

  • Consider filming your mobile workers using the application to present visual evidence of your ROI case.

Craig Settles is a wireless business strategist, marketing expert, author and speaker. His blog on business mobile application strategy can be found at http://roisforyou.wordpress.com

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