Over a recent weekend, my wife and I took our youngest child to college orientation. Navigating a day and a half of lectures, socials and tours, it became very apparent that this orientation was designed to do much more than introduce the student to the University. The organizers of this affair clearly understood that the opportunity to talk with anxious students and parents was also an opportunity to build trust – and the University seized it. Specifically, it took advantage of this specific point in time to proactively set expectations, form opinions and the set in motion a relationship that is sure to evolve in the future.
From my perspective, the orientation clearly served its purpose. As a parent, I have a much better feeling regarding the safety of my child, who is now a young adult, and the environment he will be exposed to. I understand more about what will go on during the course of his college life and the changes I can expect. From my son’s perspective, the anxiety he was feeling regarding his first day of college essentially vanished. He became more confident in his decision to attend the university, gained clarity about what will happen in the first couple of weeks, and found out how to get help if he needs it. Now, he is counting down the days before the start of this new chapter in his life.
The university also accomplished a number of goals. The overview they provided on billing and the bursar’s office is sure to keep costs down and minimize mistakes. The process used for mentoring students and scheduling classes will reduce confusion on day one and keep the focus on educating rather than babysitting. The advice they provided regarding dorm living and what we can expect on move-in-day increased the likelihood of smooth transitions.
So, where am I going with all of this? And what is the significance for IT organizations? You have exactly the same opportunities to reduce anxiety, create confidence, lower costs and improve performance in your organization at the start of any new program or relationship with a new supplier. In other words, you should have an “orientation program” for everyone who matters or is affected by key IT programs – including your vendors, your IT team, business executives and stakeholders, corporate functions (like HR and accounting) and end-users. I don’t mean you have to get everyone together for a long weekend “on campus,” but rather share information that these different groups need. Such programs deliver value on a few fronts:
1. Creating clarity on the scope of work, overall objectives and process for getting work done.
2. Setting the course for improved productivity and increased value.
3. Lower everyone’s anxiety and set manageable expectations.
If you are a program leader or manager, it is easy to overlook this very important step in getting started. You already have a clear vision of the future and a firm grasp of the start-up and onboarding process for new vendors. You are anxious to get started and start producing results. Unfortunately, 99% of the organization does not have the same depth of understanding or as clear a sense of the future. It is also a good bet that your vision does not exactly match that of your provider – that’s why you need to orient them. In that particular orientation session, you can provide background information about the company culture, management and communication styles and key stakeholders, as well as more detailed plans for the first few weeks of the engagement. Again, set clear expectations to minimize the risk of unpleasant surprises later.
Once you’ve oriented your suppliers, you should partner with them to deliver orientation for the other stakeholder groups, who will closely associate your vendors with your internal IT team. Taking the time to jointly work out with your supplier materials to orient the business and end-users will greatly improve the start-up of your program and build the bonds of trust between your suppliers, your team and your internal customers.
Unfortunately, a one-size-fits-all approach to orientation is probably not going to cut it. Much like the university program, you will need to target multiple constituencies with different sets of concerns regarding the new service or program. Consider how you will need to share specific ideas and information for each of the following groups:
Executives and management will want to know that:
1) Resources they are allocating are being used as efficiently as possible
2) Risks are being appropriately identified and mitigated
3) There is a communication infrastructure in place allowing them to get information and updates in support of their day-to-day decisions.
The IT and project team, as well as end-users, will want clarity on:
1) What they will be doing in the first few weeks of startup and exactly what they need to deliver
2) The path of future activities, including training programs
3) The right way to access help and guidance.
Corporate functions, like finance and accounting, purchasing/procurement, HR and auditing, will request information about:
1) How internal business processes associated with the program will be carried out
2) Their role in supporting these processes.
From my experience – including my enrollment in the IT school of hard knocks – the value of an orientation program cannot be underestimated. Like parents at college orientation, these audiences will likely have their anxieties mitigated if you share the information proactively. Keeping in mind that expectations are set, opinions are formed and the foundation of an important, long-term relationship established, a well planned and executed orientation program will pay dividends not only at start-up, but over the entire lifecycle of important IT programs.