Case Study #1: What Happens When You Don’t Take a wHolistic Approach

We have been asked to give examples where companies failed to implement change. Over the next few blog posts I will share personal case studies showing where change efforts broke down, which taught us the importance of taking a wHolistic ChangeSM approach.

Case Study #1: Inadequate Sponsorship

It was early in my career, and I was working on special projects for a now defunct mail order catalog company. The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) had been sold a software package by a very well known vendor. The vendor convinced the CFO that the software package would revolutionize his business – it would enable him to do better forecasting of catalog success, help him determine the best product mix to include in the catalogs, and it would tie directly into his General Ledger software from the same vendor (which had already been implemented). The best part of this: the software would work “out of the box” and would “require NO Information Technology (IT) support to make it happen.”

The CFO bought the software package, and assigned me the task of re-engineering the company’s business processes to use the tool as well as training all of the catalog staff. The problem was: the Vice President of IT decided to take the stance that since the vendor had convinced the CFO no IT support was needed to implement the software, then she refused to provide any IT support. This meant:

  1. There was no IT support to install the software package on a company server
  2. There was no IT support to configure the software, once it was installed on a server
  3. There was no IT support to integrate the new software with the existing General Ledger application
  4. There was no IT support to maintain the software once it was running, in the event that the application failed.

The CFO did not understand his role in sponsoring this change: it was his job to gain support from other executives across the company, and to ensure the ultimate success of his change initiative. Instead, he took the hard line that the vendor sales representative had told him he didn’t need anyone from IT, so he was determined to prove to the Vice President that he could make the change happen without her.

What happened?

Even though I worked in Finance, I had gone to engineering school so I was tasked with becoming the defacto IT person on the project:

  1. I got a book and taught myself Unix
  2. I introduced myself to the system administrators and begged them to let the vendor install the application on a server
  3. I further begged the system administrators to give me a Unix login id and password to be able to access the software on the server, so I could configure it.
    • As part of the agreement, I was only allowed to work on the software after business hours, so I did not disrupt anything.
  4. I was not able to integrate the application with the General Ledger, because I did not know how that application worked (beyond the documentation I developed from talking to the business users).
    • The business processes I re-engineered were not able to leverage any of the company’s data on previous catalog successes (or failures), because the two systems could not talk to each other.
  5. The change initiative was officially canceled on the day that I was scheduled to train the business users to use it.

This change was a waste of company money that could have ended differently if the CFO had understood his role as sponsor in championing the change and ensuring that his executive counterparts from across the organization were ready to help make the change a success for everyone.

About Michelle Smeby

Michelle Smeby is CEO of wHolistic Change, Inc. with more than 10 years of experience implementing enterprise solutions at Fortune 100 companies. Michelle specializes in helping corporations deliver transformational change.
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