A tool is only useful if the culture believes in it

Imagine you’re the head of an organization that has poor sales discipline. The sales force is off doing their own thing, often at odds with one another, and often missing opportunities due to lack of coordination and communication.

So, you say “Ahah! Here’s what we need – a CRM! A CRM will create disciplines in our organization that we need, and it will require our sales force to be more organized and to communicate more effectively!”

So now you spend a good chunk of this decade’s IT budget, you deliver a perfectly useful tool, in the expectation that human beings will now do what the tool enables them – or requires them to do. However, here’s the problem – the reasons the sales force is undisciplined in the first place are probably rooted in cultural norms and beliefs which are often unspoken. The organization may believe that “bureaucracy” slows down entrepreneurial activity, or that salespeople are notoriously independent, and asking them to actively participate in the disciplined capture of their sales activities and contacts on a CRM system would just get in the way of their “creativity.”

Until these cultural beliefs are challenged, and until the sales organization believes that a more disciplined approach is the best thing for all involved, the CRM system will not deliver its ROI, or it may fail to become a viable tool altogether.

Giving a great CRM tool to an organization that doesn’t embrace the “why” of the tool’s purpose would be like giving me a belt-sander, or delivering a truckload of rifles to a Quaker Meetinghouse. They may be the very best tools available but I’m not convinced that wood-working will make my life better, and the Quakers are committed to non-violence. The tools, therefore, won’t be used, no matter how good they are.

I’ve seen some rather disastrous examples of organizations using the leverage of a new technology or a new “quality system” to try to change the behavior of their people. So even when new tools are implemented “successfully” they can breed resentment and disengagement. Employees can experience these new tools as punishments rather than as welcome partners.

Before you pay for a new “tool” whether it be a new technology or something like LEAN, these are the questions to ask:

  • Will the tool be seen as something that will enable the organization to do something it already wants to do, or will it be seen as something that will drive compliance?
  • What is the problem the tool is designed to address, and why haven’t we solved this problem before?
  • Are there cultural beliefs and norms that have prevented us from being more efficient, or cooperative, or more strategic? These cultural beliefs may be the alligator hiding just under the water level that will reach up to get us if we don’t know they’re there.

About the Author

Sarah Thomson

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