Our article was published in Barron's.
The excitement of a technology project is easily ruined when someone raises a hand and says, “That won’t work!” This office downer (formerly known as ‘’Debbie Downer’’) can quickly change a project’s tone and delay its progress. I’m always surprised that one person could have that much influence over the project’s direction. Here’s what we know about office downers:
Firms can’t live with them. They are classified as disruptive, resistant to change, and not team players. It seems like they wait for something to go wrong with the project and off they’re off to the races – “See! I told you it wouldn’t work! Nobody ever listens to me!”
Firms can’t live without them. They have probably been with the firm a long time and know your business inside and out. They have deep knowledge of client information, although with some office-downers, the knowledge resides in their heads. Their hearts are in the right place and they mean well.
What do I see when talking with office downers? Many identify themselves as project advocates, not disruptive employees. They believe you haven’t thought through all issues of the project and are concerned about what can go wrong. Most importantly, they believe you are not listening to them – in fact, that no one in the firm is listening to them.
I also see your discomfort when working with them – especially when you ask me to tread carefully around them. On the contrary, successful project management includes strategies to turn office downers into true advocates. Here’s what you can do:
- See the world through their eyes. Change is hard, and their first reaction may be fear. They may worry whether their job is being replaced by technology or how their customized services can be automated as efficiently or effectively with new technology. They can’t visualize their role in the new environment. Many advisors don’t know how the environment will look because the firm’s project plan goes as far as the implementation (or migration), and not beyond. How will you address their fears?
- Give them a voice and listen - Challenge the office downer to break down the perceived problem into components and identify specific issues. Respond to their attitude that an idea will never work with “What area(s) will not work and why? Will it not work for all, or a percentage, of the accounts? How can we avoid those issues?” Listen carefully – they may be right.
- Match their skillset with the right task – Many office downers are detail oriented and dig deep to solve problems. These skillsets are useful for workflow design, parallel or acceptance testing, and user documentation—tasks where attention to detail is important. Others can assist with identifying tasks associated with project phases—for example, tasks to ensure nothing falls through the cracks when your firm rolls out the new client portal.
Are office downers part of the problem? Perhaps. Can they be an integral part of the solution? Absolutely!
Contact us if your project is not moving as expected or you are spending too much time tackling your project’s bumps and glitches.