As we have developed increasingly complex CRM systems for our customers, we have discovered some universal truths about how to increase user adoption of new technology.
Some of these truths are well documented. Involving end-users in system design, gaining consensus among all of the stakeholders in the project, and enlisting a top executive as project sponsor all go a long way toward helping smooth the introduction of a new information system. But less discussed is how company culture can impact the success or failure of the roll-out of a new CRM platform.
Corporate Culture Defined
Like individuals, all companies have a set of values that they live by. These may be explicitly developed by senior management and communicated throughout the organization, or they may simply be the default values that everyone lives by without consciously realizing it.
Progressive companies consciously live by their values. Leaders within these organizations demonstrate the traits the organization has decided are important to its success. Employees throughout the company understand and live by these values. Values shape all company decisions. Who to hire, what lines of business to pursue, and how to choose between competing priorities are all determined by how each option aligns with company values. Collectively, these values define a culture and that culture has a tremendous effect on the behavior…and ultimate success…of everyone in the organization.
Culture & Change
Whether intentionally developed or unintentionally discovered, the culture of the organization is most clearly on display during times of change. Some companies embrace change. Curiosity, experimentation, and continuous improvement are part of their core values. So when change becomes essential, these organizations “go with the flow”, shifting attitudes, behaviors, and even personnel in response to the new needs of the business.
In other organizations, core values shape a more rigid culture. Formal lines of authority, rewards for tenure rather than performance, and emphasis on internal politics rather than customer success, all create companies that feel rigid. Often these are the firms most in need of modernization and yet the very culture that has evolved prevents the changes the organization most needs.
Embracing CRM Success
When we introduce a new CRM or marketing automation system, it often has a huge impact on the way the company does business. Embraced and supported, a new information system can often revolutionize a company for the better. But so often a culture that resists change, embraces legacy processes, or values individual success over organizational success, slows or even prohibits the acceptance of new systems like CRM.
The first key to addressing these issues is acknowledging that the existing culture of the organization is impeding progress. Often a CRM deployment forces a company to evaluate its internal processes in order to automate them. That, in turn, causes a fundamental evaluation of what is working and what is not working inside the company. With this evaluation comes the realization that it is often not processes that are broken, but the attitudes and behaviors of the people who created and perpetuate those processes, often in direct opposition of what’s best for the company.
So a CRM deployment can, and often does, become an exercise for corporate renewal. Beyond the stated intention of streamlining processes, helping people work more effectively, and providing new information to company leadership; the CRM deployment precipitates a close look at the core values of the organization. Sometimes the success of the CRM initiative requires changes to core values and a realization that culture change is needed first before behavioral change can be expected.
When leaders fail to realize that the impediment to a new system deployment is actually due to corporate culture, CRM user acceptance plummets. But when values are well understood and corporate culture shifts in response to a new competitive reality, CRM projects become the catalyst for change in the organization that has positive implications far in excess of the scope of the CRM project itself.