THE CRM Implementation Change Prevention Committee

Robert Gorin calls them the "Change Prevention Committee" — the unorganized or semi-organized forces of resistance that form spontaneously to thwart implementing CRM systems and other major projects.

Gorin, senior director at the New York consultancy Getzler, Henrich and Associates, says the key to dealing with the Change Prevention Committee and moving your CRM project to a successful conclusion is "understanding who the resisters are and why they're resisting."

The reasons for joining the Change Prevention Committee are many and varied, and its appeal differs with different employees. "You're going to see varied reactions to implementing CRM software," says Sandeep Walia, CEO of Ignify, a Cerritos, CA, IT services provider specializing in ERP, CRM and e-commerce.

"A few people will work with CRM and they'll love what they're doing. The vast majority will try to work the way they did before." 

— Sandeep Walia, CEO Ignify

And, of course, a few will flat out resist any attempt to change. The result is that a major project such as a CRM software deployment is likely to run into an informal, but very real, resistance based on the simple fact that it changes the way people do things. This has to be planned for, proactively recognized and dealt with as part of the implementation process.

One of the most important things you can do to defeat the Change Prevention Committee is to deal with any real issues your workers may have about the new business system. While a great deal of resistance to change is psychological, some of it may be practical. If the business processes aren't well designed and don't match with the real world they will make life harder with no perceived gain—and become fodder for less substantive issues.

"If it's not user friendly or it's taken a 3 step process and changed it to a 5 step process, you're going to have problems," Gorin says.

Of course the benefits of CRM software process changes are not distributed uniformly. Sometimes by turning a three-step process into a five-step process you can improve function and decrease workload elsewhere. "There are situations where life will get more complex for some but you have to do it a new way to benefit others and the organization" he says. In that case, the best thing to do is to make sure everyone understands why the process has changed and what the overall benefits are. Clear understanding will often reduce resistance.

A method to circumvent the Change Prevention Committee is to bring the users into the process early. "Bring the users into the process really early on," says Walia. That means while the processes are still being designed and are adaptable to user input. "Most CRM implementations bring the users in after the design is finalized. They get a totally foreign system, get a couple of weeks training on it and then have to deal with it."

Engaging the users early doesn't just head off resistance to change. It is also an important part of designing the best possible business processes. The people who actually do the work generally have the most intimate view of their part of the process and the deepest understanding of how that piece works. They often also know what's been tried before but didn't work as intended. Getting early input helps you design the optimal processes and helps the users accept the final result.

One of the most successful tactics to get the members of the Change Prevention Committee to turn in their membership cards is success, especially well-publicized success. Because a major CRM software project is seldom implemented all at once, the implementors get to choose the parts that will be put into effect first. This is an opportunity to go after the low-hanging fruit — the easy, if minor, victories.

"You've got to start getting wins under your belt," says Gorin. They don't have to be big wins which produce major ROI, but they need to be smaller, sure successes. "You don't have to start out by hitting a home run, target some smaller wins instead," Gorin says. Successful projects, even if they are small, build credibility and momentum for your CRM effort.

It's important to publicize the wins to the company in a way they can understand, Gorin says. "Typically companies don't do a good job of leveraging their successes or they go into tech speak," he says. It is important to communicate those successes in clear language that relates them to the way people work.

In some ways dealing with the Change Prevention Committee is the most frustrating part of implementing a CRM system. It can also be extremely time-consuming as you work to bring reluctant or skeptical users on board. However particularly with CRM, which relies heavily on the active participation of the users, it is often a critical factor in achieving CRM success.