ZIFFPAGE TITLEField Resistance

By Mel Duvall  |  Posted 2005-01-13 Print this article Print

Technology and business executives who fail to manage the psychology of their projects do so at their own peril. Elisabeth Nash knew she'd have to coax good people onto a project to overhaul the processes and systems at the mortuary giant. Yet, they might

Field Resistance
Staying flexible and making moves behind the scenes was a hallmark of Nash's when dealing with what she calls her "rockiest" psychological hurdle: soothing the fears of field employees about new procedures and ways of doing business.

The Delta team had to overcome pushback from some funeral directors, cemetery managers and office staff. Some, wanting to keep interactions with the grieving personal and low-key, would resist using a computer in front of a family. Others doubted the software could do what was needed.

Defiance would be subtle but persistent, Nash knew. For instance, bill collection and proper accounting of payments could be wholly undermined, if funeral homes had their way. Or, actually, ways.

The homegrown funeral application didn't have a billing feature to send statements to customers who didn't pay their bills promptly. So various funeral home operators over the years had gone to office supply stores to buy their own billing packages, which they wanted to keep using.

But the new software the Delta team was installing would offer its own billing feature. Nash wanted people to use it, not just so everyone at the company was doing the job the same way, but so financial reporting could be accurate and timely.

Before the new software was installed, Nash began to beat the drum.

She had a member of her team dedicated to finding out when field offices were planning staff meetings to discuss the adoption of the software. Then, Nash would send a project team member with experience in the field, such as Wolfsen, to talk at the meeting about how the new system would benefit field employees.

In the billing case, the pitch was put on personal terms. If there were a problem with the company-installed system, the funeral home could get technical help. If the home used unauthorized software, the fix, lost revenue, added expense and trouble was all on its dime.

Wolfsen was able to allay anxieties about the right or wrong way to enter contract data or other changes in how homes would operate because she, an experienced peer of the directors, had more credibility than a technical specialist. According to Mixon, the information-technology manager, "They don't want to hear it from me. We needed these change agents."

And those "change agents" found the project ultimately worthwhile, personally. Wallin and Wolfsen were promoted. Wallin returned to Vancouver with a new role overseeing a piece of a Sarbanes-Oxley compliance project. Wolfsen stayed in Texas and continue work on process improvement projects. She received a master's degree in communications during the project. Her thesis looked at how computers facilitate communication between field and corporate staffs.

Nash was recently promoted to vice president of continuous process improvement.

Delta Project may have ended, but life went on.

Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.


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