CEO of XL.net, a strategic IT and employee engagement services firm for small and medium businesses.
Abrahan H. Maslow is often quoted saying, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
After 3.3 million years of use, it only makes sense that we have developed such an affinity for the hammer. We have favored the hammer so much that the father of psychology, Abraham H. Maslow, has his name attached to it to describe the confirmation bias that involves an over-reliance on a familiar tool.
In recent history, we have had an explosion in hammers and alternatives to hammers. Of about 40 different hammers available on the market, my favorite is the nail gun, invented in 1954. The nail gun allows work to be completed faster. How hard would it be for a home building business to not use a nail gun?
Let’s now think of three common technology “Maslow hammers” you might use in your business:
1. Spreadsheets: The quick-and-dirty spreadsheet has unintentionally become critical to running your business for years.
2. Phone: A mostly telemarketing tool today, we avoid answering because it requires our full attention when we would rather communicate asynchronously.
3. Email: The original intent of email to be a replacement for postal mail has been compromised by the overwhelming flow of emails, the increase in time pressure and growing distribution lists.
If you recognize your Maslow hammers and have been using them for years, why is now the time to address them? The pandemic has accelerated the need for all of us to embrace technology in order to avoid demise and to ultimately thrive. Now is the time to discover the nail guns to allow your business to operate faster and more efficiently. Let us look at how.
Step 1: Document critical uses of one of your Maslow hammers.
Interview the staff across the departments that use the tool and ask them four questions:
• What is useful about this tool?
• What are the abilities that you could not do without?
• What is not working well with this tool?
• What do you wish this tool could do?
Use a spreadsheet to document the answers. It is still a good tool for gathering information with a limited lifecycle, just like the hammer is still an appropriate tool in some cases.
Step 2: Become aware of tools and capabilities.
Unlike hammers, it doesn’t take 3.3 million years for there to be 40 versions of a technology tool. Technology tools are growing in numbers and complexity at an accelerated pace, making it nearly impossible for one person to be aware of all the potential nail guns.
Seek guidance from those outside of your organization who are part of or service to organizations similar in size and complexity to yours and provide them with your spreadsheet. Look into peer groups, industry groups and associations, market research groups and strategic IT firms.
Step 3: Set up vendor interviews.
Pick the top five vendors and do discovery meetings with their sales and sales engineering staff. Ask them all the same four questions, using the spreadsheet from Step 1 to document the answers:
• What’s unique about your offering?
• Why should it matter to me?
• Ask yes/no questions per required capability gathered in the previous questions.
• What would be our ballpark cost and minimum commitment term?
Step 4: Narrow down the requirements.
Gather all staff interviewed in Step 1 and have them review the spreadsheet containing their answers and the vendor answers. Organize and consolidate all the information on a new sheet and place it into three categories:
• Absolute requirements: What can you not live without — the less the better?
• Nice to have: In case you have multiple vendors that meet your absolute requirements, the nice-to-have features, cost or contract term will be the tiebreaker.
• Future consideration: Review these items as part of an annual review of your tools.
Step 5: Validate the tool’s effectiveness.
Select your top candidate tool, and do a test. As much as possible, simulate a real-world use of the tool in the same way and with the same data. Everyone from Step 1 needs to independently document their findings and validate the list of absolute requirements and nice-to-haves from Step 4.
If the tool fails to meet your absolute requirements, move on to the next one and repeat Step 5. If none of the tools meet your absolute requirements, consider going back to Step 4 or potentially using a software development firm to custom build a tool as a last resort.
Step 6: Adopt the tool.
Put together a procedure for using the new tool referencing the familiar tool presently in use so the change is clear. Create a communication document highlighting the top two or three core reasons why you are moving to a new tool and the timeline when the familiar tool will be eliminated. Arm everyone from Step 1 with the procedure and document and empower them to champion the change within their departments.
Don’t let that hammer be used to pound the final nail into your business coffin. The pandemic triggered race is on. Act with urgency, become aware, evaluate and lead your business to use the right tools available today to outpace your competition and achieve your goals faster and more efficiently.