Close the Deal
At the end of each executive presentation ”many of which lasted more than three hours because our audience was so intrigued by the details of our plan ”we asked our audience for their support. We went over our decision and support requirements page and addressed each request one by one ”"Do you think our business drivers are valid?" "Do you agree to support our strategic plan?" "Will you approve our budget request and time commitment?" "Will you participate in the global learning council?" "Will you support the implementation of our plan by being a visible part of the rollouts and learning pilots?"
Don't make the mistake of skipping this step. Asking for management's support is how you close the deal. It gives you the power to move forward, and later, if management rescinds its support in the face of cultural backlash or budget fluctuations, you can remind them of their promise and exactly what they agreed to. That can be a powerful motivator.
We asked for their support and they gave it to us willingly. Every single member of the executive team was supportive, and many complimented us afterward. Several told us that ours was the most comprehensive strategic plan they'd ever seen, not just from a training department but from anywhere .
In the unlikely event you don't win the support of your audience, even if you've followed all of our advice, then you haven't crafted the right business case. Your assumptions were wrong or your sales pitch was ineffectual.
Move Through the Ranks
After the initial executive meetings, we proceeded to the next step. The executives are only the first stop. You need their financial support and leadership at the top, but it is also important to pitch your presentation down through the organization. Once you have support of these executive leaders , you can begin to build support for your project with middle management.
You need to win the backing of the bulk of middle managers before you can proceed. In most organizations, middle management is the key to successful cultural change; without middle management's support and commitment, very little will change.
Executive support is important because the top managers control the money and have the power of leadership. Without their support, no one will listen to you. But executives have little contact with the people of the organization. And beyond giving their corporate support, they will have little impact on the behavior of employees. Midlevel managers carry and define the culture of the company because they are the corporate conduit of information, attitude, and style. They talk to staffers and one another every day, they orient new employees , and they set the standards for acceptable behavior. They decide how things will be done and who gets to do them. If there is going to be a cultural change in an organization, it will be led by middle management.
Once you have executive support, target those middle managers. In a company of more than 1,000 employees, strive to get at least 40 percent to adopt your values; if you do, the rest will follow. We use the terms values and culture interchangeably, because corporate culture is really just a set of shared values that manifest themselves in organizational behavior.
Further customize your presentation to define the individual pay-off of the strategic plan to each business unit. The "what's in it for me" factor should tie all of what you're doing back to the individual business units' strategic goals. If you can show middle managers that you understand their business goals and show them how your initiative directly addresses their needs, you will have their backing.
We asked all the executives to invite us to their staff meetings so that we could present our case to their people. Every week we promoted our plan to another group of managers, and later to their employees. We pushed our program down through the organization, to win the support of as much of the population as possible.
We showed the middle managers how our plan would affect the ability of their people to learn faster and more conveniently than ever before. We showed them the cost and time savings associated with our plan, and its anticipated impact on their performance and bottom line. We told them what would be expected of them as well. The new system required managers to communicate to employees where their deficiencies were and support their ability to improve by providing the time and tools necessary to learn when and where learning was required. In response, employees would no longer be the passive "vessels" waiting to be filled with knowledge. They would be expected to actively pursue the training they needed in order to do the best jobs possible.
Of course, there will always be naysayers. In any change effort, one-third of the people will come willingly, one-third will straddle the fence until they can predict the final outcome, and one-third will never change, even to the detriment of their careers. Some people just hate any idea whose time has come. Do not direct your efforts to them. Causing cultural change is similar to molding the behavior of a child. If you reinforce negative behavior, that's exactly the behavior you will get. Many managers make this mistake. They invest all of their time trying to convert the obstinate, all the while ignoring their supporters. This sends the message that those who object will be rewarded, which guarantees that the fence straddlers will reject your ideas immediately and even your supporters will give you up.
The protesters will remain in the minority if you don't give them power. They may be the loudest or most obnoxious, but there are usually fewer of them than you'd suspect. Quash their strength by ignoring them and making it clear to the population that you have the backing of management. Ask the executives to actively voice their support to staffers so that those who object are made aware of their standing, and then celebrate the converts. Give recognition to people who join the cause early, distribute trinkets and marketing gifts, and promote your project.
After completing the first few meetings with middle management, we were confident that we would garner their support, so with the help of the communications department, the learning and development team began a promotional campaign to push excitement up from the bottom of the corporate ladder. While we held these meetings, our team simultaneously launched a vast marketing campaign to introduce the entire company to Project Oasis. They posted articles in the company newsletter discussing the plan and put marquee posters at the entrance of every office that read, "Project Oasis, Coming Soon."
Whenever we met with managers and their staffs, we brought coffee mugs, hats, T-shirts, and mouse pads bearing the Project Oasis logo. We got employees excited about the changes in store and launched promotions to capture their interest. We held brown-bag lunches to discuss the new opportunities and what they would mean to employees, and soon the company was littered with promotional materials and the population was curious . We hadn't even gotten the go-ahead for the project, and the people were already excited about it.
Our last stop on the road show was with the CEO in June 1999. We had won the support of executives, met with every manager, and gotten the employees excited about the program, but we needed the CEO's backing to make the project happen. By this time even the CEO had heard about Project Oasis and the excitement within the organization.
Because we were so confident in our strategic plan and the inevitability of management's support, we took a calculated risk. Long before actually getting the CEO's support, which would determine whether we would have the budget to launch the program, Cliff Purington bought the technology and a bulk of content and our team preloaded the system, anticipating a green light. We invested in servers, infrastructure, and 300 off-the-shelf courses that were installed and ready to go by the end of March ”three months before we met with the CEO. The first phase of our online-learning transformation sat on the servers waiting for us to flip the switch. It was a risky decision, but by doing it our team achieved the primary Year One goals ”to establish an online-learning infrastructure and to move 30 percent of the curriculum to alternative methods .
When Purington walked out of that last meeting with the support of the CEO in hand, he made the call from the parking lot to flip the switch, and within minutes Project Oasis went live.