“WHAT IF I DON’T WANT MY HAMBURGER TO GET TO MY TABLE FASTER?” “I LIKE MY HAMBURGER JUST THE WAY IT IS.”
When I heard these two statements I knew we had failed…quickly running through the conversation wondering, how did we get here? We were talking about technology! Yet here we were, arguing over a mythical hamburger, what I now see what a poor analogy to position what our project team was trying to accomplish.
Rewind the conversation 90 minutes and hit play.
How it all started:
It was the perfect scenario, a no brainer. This was probably my first mistake, because in the real world there are no true no-brainers. In a time where it seems every project has included in the list of objectives: lower cost, faster speed to value, and a better customer experience, these are not magical words for instant buy in. It may surprise you that each time you engage an individual around change it takes the same level of effort. Maybe people are becoming change saturated: numb to the promises that new technology will make their lives easier. Maybe the standards for creating a better customer experience have become so high the ante into the game is unrealistic, or maybe it’s weeding out which changes truly make a positive difference.
The objective for this section of the agenda was to help the client understand that as development continued on a new analytics platform that would revolutionize the industry, we were looking for pilot groups to test the technology and provide feedback regarding the experience. Leading into the meeting I had selfishly thought this would be an easy sell, it was like selling motherhood and apple pie, a chance to be part of the process, giving your thoughts on the good, the bad and the ugly. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that? The client in this case was a group of not for profit hospitals that had joined together to lower operational and supply chain costs. The meeting was in person and in another state. Since our project was only one topic on a larger agenda, and as a small save on costs, our project team was participating via conference call. Mistake #1: When introducing change messaging and engagement is important. We had discounted the value of attending the meeting in person, which would have given us the change to gage non-verbal behavioral cues.
How I had unsuccessfully communicated what we wanted to accomplish:
Listening to the agenda topics in advance of ours, there was obvious tension among the group. The group dynamic seemed somewhat adversarial, having a difficult time arriving at a consensus for decision making. Mistake #2: I didn’t consider tailoring my message to meet the mood, instead I was thinking our project team was riding in on a white horse with the least difficult decision the group would make all day. As I stepped up to the mic and took my speaker phone off mute I dove into the pitch. “We are speaking with you today to bring forward a great opportunity.” As I walked through the points to the group, a new service platform that would provide more informative reports for decision making with a reduced overall cycle time from start to finish. When I finished, I was patting myself on the back, and had mentally shifted into the next phase of implementation. That’s when a question came through the phone that I hadn’t adequately prepared to answer, “So how much will this cost when it’s ready to launch?”
We had of course talked about this point internally, it was common in an industry of reform and constant need for cost reduction, the price for conducting business was a priority. The decision we landed on after multiple internal discussions was to be open and transparent with the client, that we wouldn’t know the impact to cost until we had the full scope of the feedback and potential revisions to the technology. In support of this approach of raw exposure to the truth, the thought was that the client would see this as an opportunity for partnering together in business, that we were joining together to be innovators in this new frontier. Mistake #3: Was not having a proper assessment of the current relationship between the service provider and the client. As it turned out, a portion of the group didn’t have a level of trust in place to have the desire necessary for change. This was the pivotal point of group fracturing. Mistake #4: Instead of addressing the barrier point head on, the question around cost, I tried to side step, reverting back to the benefit to the group of being part of the exploration phase. What I wanted to the group to understand is that we were not at a phase of talking about costs, we were still developing, solving the world’s problems, and the ask for this meeting was for them to be a part of that phase. However, without the level trust, the message was lost; the collaborative, transparent approach was taking a nose dive from 0 to 60 in less than five minutes. For one individual in particular I didn’t rise to the occasion of answering the critical question “what’s in it for me”
How I had engaged the most vocal person in the group and he was exhibiting every negative sign for change imaginable:
The more I tried to circle the group back to the purpose for this discussion the more I fueled the fire for the unsatisfactory answer to the question regarding cost. As we continued the conversation, other members of the group present in the room tried to help the one individual move forward by sharing their specific experiences with providing input into the development process and that similar situations had not yielded higher costs. Mistake #5: Not having the ability to inventory the percentage of the group of individuals that has accepted the response versus the percentage that could not move forward in the change process until the question was addressed in a satisfactory manner. The crucial point being that one individual had such a low level of trust, he truly believed we were being cunning in the positioning; instead of exposing a price increase for a better technology solution we were looking for adoption and a hook to a future state that was irreversible and more costly.
After what was becoming a circular dialogue, I decided to take a different approach in an attempt to frame the perspective around the better future state. Mistake #6: Allowing the most vocal and adversarial individual to take an entire group down a rabbit hole. Using a simple analogy, I leaned on the mighty all American hamburger; something that I hoped everyone in the audience could relate. I asked the individual to imagine going to his favorite restaurant and ordering the world famous hamburger, one that he frequently ordered and enjoyed immensely. What if on an occasion you ordered the world famous hamburger and it came to your table more quickly and tasted even better than prior experiences. Would that experience be something that was valuable to you? The response takes us back to the opening line of the article: “WHAT IF I DON’T WANT MY HAMBURGER TO GET TO MY TABLE FASTER?” “I LIKE MY HAMBURGER JUST THE WAY IT IS.” I realized at this point I had lost, lost the focus of the group, lost the ability to communicate the objectives, defiled the all American hamburger and had failed to engage the group and create an atmosphere of desire for change.
How did it end?
Knowing we were not going to get the agreement we were looking for with the group, I thanked them for the time on their agenda and suggested that we continue the discussion around cost in a separate conversation (which would hopefully uncover the underlying road block around trust). Following the meeting, the service provider organization realized it may have over-estimated the relationship with some of its customers, paying closer attention to market segmentation for development and trial opportunities.
What did I learn?
Overall what our project team had failed to consider was that the group of individuals may not collectively be in the same mindset for introducing and accepting what would later be an inevitable change. The shift to a new analytics platform was at least a year away, however some of the group members had fast forwarded in their mind to the WIIFM, and they didn’t necessarily like what they saw.
When introducing change, communication and engagement is important, sponsorship and the sender of the message are crucial. In future discussions we identified and engaged early adopters before group meetings, asking them to be a part of the pitch, lending their credibility to move change forward.
In my pitch, I failed to shift the balance from a push to a pull scenario, where we would have left the client on the edges of their seats, wanting more. In later discussions our project team focused on the direct benefits to the members of the group, better defining terms like: more efficient, faster and better value
When hitting a barrier to change, you need to immediately address the block in order to move forward. If you don’t know the full impact of the change, it’s ok to say so, but at a minimum have a scale from least to most desirable scenario. Run through practice runs of typical responses and potential arguments to ensure you are prepared to address road blocks.
If you are dealing with a group that is faced with change, be cognizant that each individual is entering the change process at a various places and will move through adoption of change at a different pace. People need to adopt change as individuals; the end result is comprised of the collective experiences.