Thursday, October 11, 2007

Technology for Client Development, Part 4: Tech Stress Relief

We have suggested that technology is a partial antidote for client development stress. Take two e-mails and call me in the morning. However, technology often causes more stress than it relieves. Knowledge Management systems in professional service firms are a case in point. Knowledge Management is a buzzword that still stalks the professional service firm halls. And I still don’t know exactly what it means. But, I do know this: if the professionals in a firm collectively and actively embrace these systems, the tools become very powerful marketing weapons. The idea behind such software is for all the professionals in the firm to populate a common database with details about clients and prospects – from name, address and phone to specific discussions held and documents shared. Practice groups and individual professionals can readily update data, search it and run reports on certain types of clients to inform their marketing efforts. At the global executive search firm where I worked for a while our database was a clunker with an awful user interface. Where the database was populated with information the software made life a lot easier. The problem was, many of the professionals in the firm didn’t bother to input data or they would do so sporadically. I’ve heard this complaint often from professionals at other firms, too.

Several factors conspire to keep shared intelligence systems from delivering their promised ROI. First, keeping data up-to-date is a high maintenance chore that does not represent the highest and best use of most professionals’ time. Next, many professionals feel threatened by the systems – they don’t like having to share their contacts with everyone in the firm. To them, sharing client and prospect data with colleagues is step one to being stripped of vital relationship assets. The battle rages: whose clients are these…yours or the firms? Last, the systems are often slow and cumbersome – a frustrating experience for the hard charging achiever personality that characterizes many senior professionals. How can you encourage professionals to change and accept your firm’s new technology?

Imagine a primitive village of huts on the banks of a broad river. On the outskirts of the village are acres of open field. The villagers have never crossed the water before. They can’t swim – don’t even know the word “swim.” And, there’s not a boat in sight. They do not know what is on the other side of the river – to them it could be Hell, Outerspace or some other fear-inducing unknown. One day, after a long dry spell, the crisp brush of the field spontaneously ignites and a blazing inferno encroaches on the village. What does this have to do with Change Management and getting Professionals to embrace knowledge management systems or any other kind of technology that might accelerate client development?

The Fire: To evoke change in those of us who are typically inert humans, we need a burning platform. We need fire licking at our rear ends; we need a crisis; or the fear of crisis. For the villagers the fire is real and imminent. For our recalcitrant technology adopters the fire may be economic or social. For instance, those that don’t regularly use the Knowledge Management system receive a lower bonus. Or, those that don’t regularly use it have their names posted on the Firm Wall of Shame.

The Other Side: Since fear is a short-term motivator, we need to also paint a picture of positive results; a better life; gold in them thar hills on the other side of the river. Our villagers may prefer to go up in flames rather than face the boogie-men on the far banks; unless, we convince them that life can be at least as good over there as it was here before the conflagration. In the case of our tech luddites, we must show them how much more money they can make, how much time they will save, and how much better life will be if they only use the systems consistently. Make it tangible – show them proof. Professionals in professional service firms are experts, specialists. We are fact-based. Give them the evidence. But, we’re also human. So, paint a picture and appeal to our passions too – our desire for money, control and freedom. Many professionals avoid contributing to knowledge management systems because they believe they are giving away their personal contacts to the firm. Instead, show them how their network will be strengthened and expanded by participating in the system. Build in safeguards that help protect their relationships and also opportunities to use colleagues’ knowledge to expand their own.

The River: Our villagers are still stuck. The heat is unbearable and they see the Promised Land across the water. But they have no way to get there. They need a raft. The third component of Change Management is providing support mechanisms that make it easier for people to change. Training professionals on the technology can help but only if the training focuses on what the system can enable – how it can help the professional reap significant benefits. Too often, technology training for professionals consists of coma-inducing, how-to, features-focused training. The truth is, well-paid, well-educated, billable professionals shouldn’t be spending much of their time inputting data into a knowledge management system. Train your admin staff on features and functions – let them do the inputting. Don’t add to your professionals’ burden (or your own) but rather find ways to lighten the load. That’s the raft – or, at least, some key planks on the raft. Provide the raft so your villagers can make it to the other side, alive.

No comments: