Workflow and the Corporate Culture

This guest blog was contributed by Greg Walters | 5/20/13
One of the first articles I ever wrote was about implementing a managed print services program and the risks of ignoring corporate culture in the process. Back then, we were primarily concerned about the impact that reducing devices would have on the way people felt about their jobs. MpS engagements were new; they changed the way toner was ordered and revealed how the number and location of printers could be a shock to the system.  

In the interim, much has been written and said about corporate culture, behavior modification and the impact of mobile computing on our industry.  

Workflow is about optimizing the processes of everyday business tasks. In other words, it’s how work gets done. Change is guaranteed, and the corporate culture at the organizational, departmental or personal level can’t help but be influenced. I once heard a really smart guy say, “Culture kills process every day.” It’s something we should all keep in mind.  

As we move from managing hard output to optimizing workflow, how do we work within our existing clients’ cultures to ensure change is embraced and not rejected? Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Nobody at the workflow-in-a-box training session mentioned anything about corporate culture! Most workflow product demonstrations tend to ignore things that don’t have SKUs.

Therefore, it’s up to you to figure out how to work at changing the way people do their jobs without upsetting them. We don’t want to repeat what happened when we told people we were taking away “their” personal printer next to their PC. Remember how mad everyone got? Yeah, it could be like that again.

So how do we keep that from happening? First, you’re selling workflow under managed services. You’re not a corporate systems analyst, so don’t expect to be treated like one and, more importantly, don’t think enough of yourself to start acting like one. But you can help. You can positively impact people’s work and lives – and it isn’t all that difficult. 

Here are some pointers:

1) Interview end users and ask a bunch of questions. Ask, don’t tell.

Just like an MpS assessment, getting to know the way end users perform everyday duties is paramount to recommending a solid workflow optimization system. This is no-brainer, but there is somewhat of a nuance involved. More than ever, your questions are a statement supporting your level of expertise and commitment to their success – however they define success. For some, success could simply mean avoiding Saturdays in the office to catch up on paperwork.

2) Draw pictures. Communicate and reach an agreement.

I know this sounds trivial, but the best way to convey complex processes and workflows is to actually draw and document the observations. You can do this with flowchart software or by freehand on paper; it doesn’t really matter which way you do it. The old adage that “a picture is worth a thousands words” really applies to workflow. I suggest sketching as you interview the people who are actually doing the work and get them involved in the process. After each process is outlined and drawn, ask them if your doodles make sense. Write down some quotes and ask to use their feedback in your recommendation.

3) Consider the existing flow. Recognize the roadblocks and opportunities. Identify the pain points.

Once you’ve drawn a process, for example, of how a company approves and cuts accounts payable checks, it’s much easier to spot logjams and voids in the workflow. Which step requires the most time? Can you recognize a process that seems to incorporate redundant actions? This is the art of the deal. On an elementary level, some would call this “discovering the pain points,” but this evaluation and auditing process can go far beyond the current sales cycle by identifying real, everyday challenges and opportunities for improved efficiencies. 

4) Make a recommendation based on what you know.

This is all about your personal business acumen. Once you’ve considered the current situation and have a clear understanding of the challenges to productivity given existing processes, you can match your expertise to the problem at hand. This means all of your experiences – not just the lessons thrown at you during the nine-week MpS training boot camp. Every implementation you’ve been involved with has yielded some important lessons, so apply them here too. Then relate your ideas to your contact, confirming that you both see the same issues and opportunities. 

5) Does your recommendation make sense?

This is an easy one. Take a look at your solution and ask yourself – based on what you already know – if you would actually implement your own recommendation? Then, before offering up a proposal complete with hard costs, soft costs, projected savings and ROI figures, ask your primary contact if your approach makes sense. This isn’t a trap. You’re not maneuvering your prospect into a corner. You’re simply confirming whether or not your observations are sound and presenting yourself as open to suggestions.

6) Know the limitations. Qualify continuously.

You’ve got to know your supported systems’ capabilities and recognize the edges. The last thing you want to do is recommend and install a system that does more harm than good. Of course, the biggest damage will be to your reputation because your end users will simply return to their old ways, ignoring your software if it doesn’t deliver the efficiencies and benefits you promised. And if that happens, the IT director or CIO will take a hit as well. So make sure you adhere to one of the most basic tenets of selling: Make your contact look good in the eyes of his or her colleagues and employer.

7) A word about scale.

Just as a managed print services engagement for an organization with 15 machines will be much different than for one with 1,500 devices, a workflow implementation needs to be customized to each customer’s specific size and needs. The same fundamental evaluation and mapping processes can be applied for every workflow project. The only aspect that really changes is the degree of depth. Assessing and estimating a 10-machine MpS program can be accomplished in a fraction of the time needed for a 150-device engagement. An interview, sketch, analysis and recommendation for smaller organizations may require 30 minutes of time, but it certainly shouldn’t take days to complete. Scale your efforts to the size of the opportunity. 

8) Culture will always prevail. 

When dealing with change, communication is key to allowing an existing corporate culture the opportunity to adapt and grow. When you’re proposing a workflow solution, you are asking your client to change the way that company does business. Positioning yourself and the implementation with the culture – not against it – makes your proposal more palatable and more likely to succeed. 

Providing workflow solutions is actually much easier than most imagine. The ability to observe, construct ideas for improvement and communicate those ideas is necessary to secure any engagement. However, that doesn’t guarantee an implementation will be approved or, if it is approved, that it will be an unqualified success. That’s because we’re not simply adding another machine; we’re recommending fundamental, foundational changes to the customer’s cultural status quo.

If you communicate effectively and follow these suggestions – as well as others you pick up along the way – your odds of completing a successful workflow project will be greatly improved. 

Good luck!

Greg Walters is president of Walters & Shutwell, the mobility, communications and transformation consultancy as well as the president of the Managed Print Services Association. During an IT sales and services career that has spanned a quarter century, he helped turn a large West Coast VAR’s struggling managed print services practice into a highly profitable business. Walters started his imaging career in 1999, working with Oce, Panasonic and IKON. A prolific writer and frequent speaker at industry events, Walters considers himself a “Contrarian Technologist”; someone with a unique and provocative view of technology and how to sell it in the 21st century. Contact him at or visit