Innovation

When policy changes are mere corporate narcissism

A technically elegant tweak or data optimization with a raft of benefits on the IT side might be nothing but trouble for the overworked shift manager on the factory floor.

I've been deluged with a variety of service providers in my personal and professional life while launching new "customer-friendly initiatives" that are usually anything but. Netflix is an example that's likely familiar to many of us. The US-based company that provided DVD rentals by mail and video streaming via a variety of devices recently announced plans to split these two services into two entirely different companies. Where customers used to manage their DVD and streaming movies in one consolidated interface, they'll now have two places to go, two separate bills to pay, and two companies to call with account problems.

Similarly, several companies I deal with have changed login requirements, merged passwords, or done similar changes that have required hours on the phone sorting out the resultant mess. Most of us have been subject to an internal corporate fiat whereby some department, usually in a support role, launches a project that requires reams of paperwork, convoluted online forms, or a disruption to our work with no visible benefit whatsoever, other than some vague promises of "internal efficiencies."

Who does it benefit?

These behaviors seem inwardly focused and narcissistic, and one can almost picture the offending party preening in a meeting room for hours, with nary a mention of the paying customers and the adverse effects they'll endure based on the change being proposed. The airlines perfected this behavior years ago, and one who routinely flies the formerly friendly skies has heard the "We're here for your safety and not your comfort" speech hundreds of times, getting the sense that those damn paying customers ruined an otherwise delightful flight.

IT is particularly prone to corporate narcissism, since we routinely tweak and change the tools that the rest of the company uses on a daily basis. A technically elegant tweak or data optimization with a raft of benefits on the IT side might be nothing but trouble for the overworked shift manager on the factory floor. We often attribute resistance to internal change to fear, and there are reams of bromides about people fearing change, but I've never seen actual fear. What I've seen instead is a resistance to do something with no obvious personal benefit.

Why you get ignored

When people routinely ignore the email about the wonderful new security initiative that requires a 58-character password with a combination of upper and lowercase letters, must include Cyrillic characters, and must be typed backward on Monday and forward on Tuesday, it's not out of fear or "resistance to change." It's that you've given them a dictate that has no personal benefit and actually makes their lives more difficult.

There are two obvious counters to this scenario. The first is to reconsider the initiative and select a less invasive option, or do more work in the backend to support a backend process, rather than attempting to co-opt your customers as unwilling parties in the change. Alternatively, you must provide an immediate personal appeal, without the usual drivel about it being "good for the company" or the like. In extreme cases, where no other appeal is available, that personal appeal could be as simple as "You need to do this or you need to start working on your resume."

There's usually a medium between these two options. In the overblown security initiative above, provide some factual cases where your company or similar companies have had security problems, provide reasonable password complexity requirements with examples, and combine the new policy with the launch of a "single sign-on" tool. Regardless of the route you choose, constantly put yourself in the shoes of the impacted party and consider how this change will make their jobs more or less difficult and how you might lessen the negative impact, or what personal appeals might make you more likely to support the change rather than digging in your heels as long as possible.

In any event, remember that there are paying customers somewhere out there, and except in extreme cases, they can take their money elsewhere. Even with internal "customers," while they may not be able to dump their IT department, it's easy enough to clean out the leadership ranks or outsource a department that's grown narcissistic.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

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