It seems like we’ve all got social stigmas against evangelization. We think about the sales associates at electronics stores who, hungry for the next commission, stalk customers until the leave the store. We cringe when the doorbell rings early on a Saturday morning hoping that we won’t find the Jehovah’s Witnesses on our front doorstep. We have an internal fear of used car salesmen who seem all too eager to tell us anything to get us to buy. In the Nine Keys to SharePoint Success, evangelization is the last of the activities that organizations miss. There’s little doubt that this one is missed because of the discomfort most of us feel about evangelization but let’s look at how we can regain a healthy respect for the word.
To Thine Own Self Be True
There’s a special detection mechanism that we all have for detecting insincerity. It doesn’t work perfectly but when we realize that someone is being insincere it causes a very large reaction. That detection of insincerity is one factor that leads us to avoid evangelism. We’ve come to equate that someone who is evangelizing must at some level be insincere.
In some cases that’s absolutely true. We’ve all seen insincere people evangelizing. Think about the person in the chicken suit holding a sign for Great Clips. We know they’re not happy to be there.
Knowing this, the suggestion isn’t that you should be insincere in your evangelization of SharePoint, in fact that would be detrimental. However, just because it isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread doesn’t mean that there aren’t good things that you can talk about.
In some cases the person who is knocking on your front door on a Saturday morning isn’t insincere – perhaps misinformed – but they’re not insincere. They believe with all their heart what they’re "selling." The problem with this sort of evangelization isn’t an insincerity problem. It’s what I call PhD.
I’ve noticed as a rule that those folks who have earned a PhD have developed a very nasty and debilitating disease. I call it Perfect Hearing Disorder. The disorder prevents folks who have a PhD from hearing other people. Their ego has become so inflated that the ears no longer function – or rather they’re not connected to the brain any longer. (Before I offend too many folks, I do have friends who have earned a PhD who have not developed this disorder but they are somewhat of an exception.)
This is the core problem of a zealot. They’re not interested in your position, situation, or perspective. They don’t want to hear it. I encourage you as you’re evangelizing SharePoint to listen to the alternatives and evaluate other options. You can’t imagine how powerful it is for me to say "SharePoint isn’t a good fit." Or "Work on the core business problems now and get to SharePoint later." I’ve not had to pick any clients off the floor – but that’s probably because they were already sitting down.
One of the other characteristics of a zealot – because of the hearing problem – is that they talk about the features of what they’re selling – and not how it solves a problem you have.
Problems and Solutions
Perhaps software companies are not zealots but they do spent a lot of time in marketing the features of their products. They talk about how the XYZ feature revolutionized the market or how with ABC you can make the best posters – without any indication of how to do that or who decided they were the best. The problem with this approach is that users don’t need features. Users need solutions. They need solutions to the problems they face.
As you’re evangelizing SharePoint in the organization, I’d strongly encourage you to focus on the problems it solves rather than the features. For instance, there’s a problem that 30% of an information worker’s time is spent trying to find the information they’re looking for. The solution is SharePoint. The features are search, metadata, and version control – however, those don’t solve the findability problem – they are the tools to solve the findability problem.
If you continue to focus on how you’re solving problems – rather than being a purveyor of features — you’ll find that users will start to actively look for your communications because you’re doing something impactful for them.
Everyone’s favorite radio station is WIII-FM – that is "What is in it for me?" It’s not a matter of being ego centric, it’s about being human. We are always trying to translate what is happening around us including the opportunities, changes, and threats into what it means to us. Perhaps that’s still a bit ego centric but it’s the way evolution hard wired us – we have to look out for ourselves. To do that, we also need to ascribe meaning to the events around us.
When you propose a solution that will save the company money but it requires some additional action on the part of the individual, you’ve got some selling to do. The traditional rational model of thinking would say that employees want to support the organization and therefore what is good for the organization should happen as a matter of course. However, take this simple example. If you’re working from home you probably have unlimited long distance. When you call in to a conference call you almost invariably will call into a toll free number. The organization pays a per-minute fee for those toll free number calls. Calling a toll number is actually cheaper for the organization but almost no one dials them.
Sure that’s a silly example, but the point of it is that just because it’s good for the organization doesn’t mean that someone will automatically do it – you have to make it personal to them. Run a campaign which offers gift cards for folks who routinely use the toll numbers for conference calls and you’re likely to change behavior – because they’re something in it for them.
I’m not saying that you have to incent every behavior you want – rather, I’m saying that you have to make the value personal and not some abstract concept of how it will make the organization better someday.
There’s no time like the present. That’s rarely a motto that someone inside the organization has posted on their cube wall. Most organizations have everyone doing so much that it’s a constant juggling act just to keep things going. Some employees feel like they’re the proverbial plate spinner working on something just long enough to keep it from crashing.
In this environment, where you’re overworked and you have too many priorities how do you get employees to spend their time learning about and using SharePoint? The answer is to make the problem that they’re solving urgent. We’ve all seen those advertisements that explain that this is a "limited time offer." Perhaps we’re even aware of businesses that are perpetually having a "going out of business" sale. They’re trying to create a false sense of urgency – which as you might guess from the discussion above I’m not advocating.
There are times when you can see the problem more clearly and sense the impending danger of the lion on your heels. The more clearly you can articulate the danger of the problem (and the impact to the person with whom you’re speaking) the greater their sense of urgency and the greater the likelihood that they’ll work on the issue – instead of burying it with the other thousand or so things they can’t get to on a daily basis.
Energy in Evangelism
As we wrap up, the trick here isn’t a trick. It’s being honest and sharing openly the opportunities that you have to make the business better. If you focus on how SharePoint can solve common problems and creating a real sense of urgency to solve those problems you’ll avoid the negative stigmas associated with evangelism – and create a lasting impact for the organization.