The pace of change within organizations today has increased dramatically over the last decade. Primarily driven by digitization, numerous projects have commenced from e-commerce to sales force automation to business analytics to MDM. So much promise and opportunity for improvement, yet, with that, often comes a good deal of churn on the frontline as employees try to discern what’s critical to management … today.

Often management is laser-focused on getting a new program initiated, sort of like starting a new diet, or joining a gym, but fail to appreciate the long-term work that will be needed to make the program stick in the long run. MDM is no different. And like most change enabling programs, it’s not a one-and-done project. Yes, there is low-hanging fruit, and there will be short term wins, but it needs long term nurturing and support from senior management to yield its full potential.

I’m reminded of experience with a well-established consumer products company. They had a desire to implement an MDM solution to improve the flow of information to their retail partners and to streamline their new product introduction process — two laudable goals for a product manufacturer and certainly something within the realm of MDM. After spending time with mid-level management and many of those directly involved on the frontline, we had come to a good understanding of the current state and were prepared to present recommendations for moving forward. The meeting went very well, and we presented a clear picture of the current state, a vision for the future state and suggestions on how to get there. As we were discussing potential risks, we highlighted the apparent lack of involvement from executive management as a potential concern. Given the processes that would be tackled here, and the breadth of the organization affected, we felt management support would be crucial. We further explained that without clear and continual executive management reinforcement of the value of the project, we could lose frontline enthusiasm.

As we wrapped up, with heads around the table nodding in agreement, the CEO said that he would like to see me in his office for a one-on-one. The meeting adjourned, I made my way to the top floor, waited to be admitted to his office and sat down across from him. He said he liked the analysis and had confidence in the suggested approach. However, he suspected by “Executive Management risk” I meant him, and he felt that criticism was not correct. After all, he believed this was one of the most important projects the company was undertaking, that data was becoming the “lifeblood” of their business. I responded that I didn’t doubt his commitment; what concerned me was the lack of appreciation in the organization for what he had just told me. Nobody knew how he felt about the project. I told him that IT believes the ERP upgrade underway was the most critical project. Marketing says it’s the eCommerce site, and Sales thinks the push to expand the use of Salesforce will solve everything. I said there was no doubt that all of these are important, but right now people don’t understand how it all fits together, and that with that there is a risk that MDM is seen as the next shiny object rather than as a foundation for fundamental change. In the end, it may not have been precisely what he wanted here, but he got it. We put together a comprehensive strategy and set of talking points to communicate the vision to the organization. The project was successful, and today they have an MDM program that has become a way of doing business.

Of course, this isn’t unique. Most companies have multiple projects on-going, and yes, they are all important. But the single most significant barrier to success is usually not technology; it’s a confusing strategy, or lack of one, that fails to communicate to those affected on the frontline the value of what they are being asked to do.

It’s best to address this early on, with clear top-down communications. Begin with an easy to understand the approach that aligns initiatives with the organization and specific business objectives. This helps people on the frontline make sense of the different programs. In the process, you’re also building “continuity of purpose” across the organization so that everybody understands how this makes their lives, and the lives of your customers, better. And you need to do this early. If you are asking people to get on board with something that is already underway, you are too late. Next, you want to target early wins. This just goes back to the new diet analogy. If I tell you to stick with it and you’ll lose 60lbs by the end of the year, you’re apt to lose interest at some point along the way; however, if you’re losing a steady 5lbs a month, you’re more likely to stick with it.

So, identify low-hanging fruit early on and target things along the way that demonstrate improvement. This will help build momentum that will see you through the longer phases. Lastly, senior management needs to remain engaged as champions and coaches. Addressing that low-hanging fruit will come easy and fast; long term success will be harder. The frontline employees take their cue from senior management. If they sense a decreasing level of interest, they will begin looking for the next thing management is interested in. So, management needs to be there for the long haul to celebrate early wins, provide support through challenges and setbacks (because things never go according to plan), and to reinforce the value of the long-term vision.

Most projects are more exciting to start than they are to run for the long term, and MDM is no different. This despite the fact that it’s the long term staying of the course that will deliver transformational value to the organization. More than any technology choice, or project methodology, it’s a clear top-down narrative of the role, and value MDM plays in the organization that will foster true “constancy of purpose” across the board. And it’s this “constancy of purpose” that will help your MDM initiative become a long-term way of life in the business versus the project du-jour in a long list of acronyms that never quite meet expectations.