Before You Can Make Change, You Must Know the Things You Cannot Change
As a brief aside, I use punchy, sound bite-style names for complex and pervasive organizational issues like “Legacy 2.0” and “Naming Your Sacred Cows” because I’ve found that it’s a useful way to start breaking the hold they have over people. When clients and colleagues adopt them into their own parlance, the terms have a way of shrinking seemingly huge, intractable issues down to a manageable size for project team members to begin glimpsing the possibility of change. It also helps clarify communication and build relationships when you have a shared piece of “insider-only” terminology.
As I have written previously, no organization actually wants to create Legacy 2.0. To the contrary, most project charters speak to the opportunities within a CRM implementation. It’s not just about moving on from the limitations of an obsolete system to the expanded capabilities of a modern one. It’s also very much about leveraging those capabilities, as well as the project itself, as an opportunity to revolutionize how the organization operates. Lofty goals indeed, and there is usually considerable collective energy and enthusiasm for that possibility of transformation. This is typically a leading theme of the formal project kickoff event.
And yet, Legacy 2.0 happens time after time for myriad reasons. And one of those reasons is the Sacred Cow. A Sacred Cow can show up in a number of ways and in a number of contexts. Sometimes it arises behind the scenes in internal dialogues before being discreetly brought to our attention. Other times it’s the screech of tires followed by the crunch of metal on metal during a productive implementation design session. In the latter, the person(s) opposed to the change often feel(s) blindsided, flustered, embarrassed, and angry… usually in that order.
The mental imagery above should be enough of a cautionary tale, but it doesn’t end there. Once a Sacred Cow becomes part of the general awareness of an implementation (which it nearly always does), the collective enthusiasm for the possibility of change starts to decline quickly. This ethos could be an interesting psychology dissertation in its own right; in our experience, the tendency will increase without deliberate efforts to mitigate the effects. When that happens, the project starts to slide toward “implementation business as usual,” which is toward an undesirable dose of Legacy 2.0. As your implementation partner, we won’t stop advocating that change be considered— it is our duty as expert consultants to do so. We simply adjust the nature of the dialogue to tread carefully around the Sacred Cows. But the whole tenor of the design cycle can change to one of “walking on eggshells,” which is the first large step back down the Legacy 2.0 path.
I have yet to see a project fully recover from a Sacred Cow, so I would focus, instead, on ways to prevent the phenomenon from arising in the first place.
I think the answer is quite simple, actually: By Naming Your Sacred Cows ahead of time. And the best place to do that is, of course, in the project charter. As I discussed in my last article, the project charter is essentially a statement of an organization’s vision for an implementation. It includes aspirational goals and success metrics that are inherently dependent upon openness to process change. The project charter also contains explicitly expressed intentions to leverage the implementation project itself as the best opportunity to make such change.
During the project initiation phase, which includes the creation of the project charter, do the necessary internal work to uncover your organization’s Sacred Cows, and write them into the charter alongside the other content about change and strategic objectives. In short, something along these lines, perhaps with a brief explanation of why each is truly necessary:
“This CRM implementation project represents a powerful opportunity for our organization to transform the way we do business so that we can better engage and serve our donors and raise more money to support our critical mission. We will not let the ways we have always done things limit how we will do them in the future……At the same time, we also agree that following current practices must be and will be retained in the new environment…”
Then get sign-off on the charter from all the necessary stakeholders – most importantly, those who own the items that are not open for change. Then, begin your implementation and use your charter constantly throughout the implementation. Let the core principles of the charter be a major lens through which design decisions are viewed and considered. Always. An inspiring project charter becomes a mere paperweight if it sits on a shelf beside years of strategic plan documents. Passionately emphasize to participants your organization’s chartered strategic objectives throughout the implementation, and kindly remind them of the things that need to persist in their current form.
Emphasis on the “kindly” part because no one wants to be seen as an obstacle or a holdout. Helping your most change-resistant stakeholders feel safe and understood in the knowledge that their “thing” is secure will usually enable them to be more relaxed and amenable during the design process for everything else that is open for change and improvement. By the way, when people clearly know what is truly “off the table,” they generally get a more concrete sense of how much is actually on the table, allowing everyone to think more freely about more opportunities for positive change.
Brandon is a Salesforce Certified Administrator and brings over 20 years of experience as an advancement practitioner and consultant. Before joining Zuri Group, Brandon was a Senior Enterprise Solutions Consultant at Blackbaud, and prior to that he was a fundraiser for 12 years. This deep experience in both frontline fundraising and fundraising operations and data management strongly informs his approach to consulting, and Brandon helps his clients keep the bigger picture in mind at all times.