Achieving business outcomes in technology implementations requires transformative leadership
Business transformation projects are incredibly important and C-suites will not go through many of these large-scale exercises in their lifetimes. It’s a big deal, and happens about as regularly as the average person buys a house: once, twice, maybe three times. If you think about it in these terms it becomes apparent why getting it right is crucial, not least from an outcomes perspective but also from a cost-benefit analysis.
The success of a large-scale technology implication starts with the very first meeting, all the way through the negotiation, contracting, implementation and ongoing consulting and managed services. The negotiation is crucial, and it’s a topic for another day to analyse which negotiation styles bear the best fruit, but it’s fair to say that at its core, a negotiation seeks to achieve outcomes - for both parties.
That’s crucial: outcomes. There’s a lot of talk in the IT industry about achieving outcomes for customers, so let’s dig a little deeper into that. Whenever a business needs to implement new systems, especially the more complex integrations, the parties come to an agreement through the negotiation process.
Simply put, the parties go through a number of steps and first agree on the business outcomes they’d like to achieve, which will be at the highest level. Then, they work on the functional outcomes, which is a level down, if you will. Once these are agreed upon, the parties iron out the technical outcomes and then a scope of work is defined.
Now, in the industry broadly, this is often where a crucial mistake is made: just when the parties work through the implementation and start arriving at the end of a project and begin signing off things. However, when you stop and analyse what’s happening, often they are signing off a piece of functionality at a technical level. Box ticked, and high fives and back-patting. But, did the consultant do a good job? If we are blunt, the technology industry is not very good at coming back to the first level and asking: did we achieve the business outcome?
It’s a great pity because customer success is a buzzword in the industry. Everyone is talking about it, and about how we must always focus on customer success without appreciating that success for the customer does not always equal the technology company’s understanding of success being the delivery of the various technical and functional outcomes written into the scope of work that was put together for the project.
This happens because too few technology partners are having discussions with the customer at a senior level pre- and post-negotiations, during and after implementation.
The question they should ask the customer so that they unequivocally know, is: What does success look like for you, outside of the scope of work? Then, they should continually ask themselves: Are we on track to deliver what that customer success is while doing the actual delivery? These checkpoints are absolutely crucial to ensure a customer achieves success, as opposed to the partner delivering every aspect of the scope of work without the customer’s CEO seeing any real change in the business.
This shift is necessary in an increasingly difficult environment where profitability and customer retention are vital. Get it wrong, and the customer will pay your competitors a visit.
It’s one thing appreciating that the business outcome must not be forgotten at the altar of function and technical prowess, but it requires a shift in how a partner differentiates itself as a technology solutions provider. It requires leadership, because, ultimately, what good is a consultant if she or he cannot provide the kind of counsel a business needs, and is paying for, even if the C-Suite doesn’t want to hear it?
What does transformative leadership mean? It means that when you go into implementation, you do so knowing you are the one with experience, who’s done these complex implementations dozens of times. There’s a tendency in the IT industry, especially among the more technical consultants, to agree to all customer demands even if it does not result in the outcome the business wants to achieve.
This may feel like the right thing to be doing, i.e., giving the customer what they want but ultimately can be a disservice to the customer.
It is most certainly not arrogance. It is built on a customer-centric promise. It means that if a customer says they would like to keep their old processes, you as the consultant or consulting company, equipped with top skills and invaluable experience, are brave enough to confidently and respectfully push back.
It’s about explaining to the customer that while you appreciate their desire to keep their old processes if they don’t change or adapt them, they won’t improve anything with the new system, which - as you guessed - will result in the business outcome not being achieved. If a new system has just enabled the old processes, you have achieved nothing except spending money on a new system that does the same as the old one. In the process you may have modernised slightly but you have not digitally transformed.
Transformative leadership drives an outcomes-focused approach and appreciates that operational excellence is non-negotiable. In other words, a technology partner must know it has the technical expertise and experience to drive an implementation that achieves business outcomes that truly transform the customers environment, as well as functional and technical outcomes.