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Managing the Avalanche: Keeping your Enterprise Dream from Becoming a Nightmare

By November 24, 2014

By: Jim Gilbert, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Programs at George Mason University’s School of Business

“In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants and the other is getting it.” –Oscar Wilde

Whether you’re an intentional Salesforce evangelist (like me) or not, if you’re using Salesforce, chances are someone at your institution has asked you about it (e.g. how you ran that cool report, or got really timely information, or some other “secret of your success” question). The next thing you know you’ve been asked (or volunteered) to demo your org, send links to webinars, invite folks to join live and virtual communities, or (gasp) refer them to your Account Executive.

Sound familiar?

What you might not have considered is what might happen when folks started paying attention.

If you’re not careful, here’s what happens: as if by magic, overnight, two, three, four (or more) orgs appear (this seems especially common at decentralized institutions). And when senior leadership decides that your school needs an enterprise solution, you (or someone else at your school who will declare you his/her sworn enemy) are left trying to figure out how to reconcile 10 highly-individualized and configured platforms, and you’ve replicated silos using a platform that is designed to remove them. As anyone who’s attempted to consolidate multiple systems knows, it is extremely a difficult and frustrating experience for everyone involved.

Queue the avalanche.

Ideally, you’d like your institution to use one system and to get it right. Remember that students think of your institution as one entity-they don’t value the various administrative structures you’ve devised-and they shouldn’t have to. Those structures should support students, not hinder them.

Here are some thoughts on how to manage the avalanche you’ve created in a way that will (hopefully) preserve your sanity and make sure that your enterprise dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

1. Maintain a vision of a connected campus that keeps students at the center.

Remember what made you an evangelist-that you have a vision of one solution that can help shape a positive and meaningful student experience. Don’t build student systems that don’t support students.

2. Keep track of your conversations, demos, and e-mails (and take good notes)

What have you shown to whom? It may seem obvious, but if you don’t know (or don’t remember) with whom you’ve engaged, how could you possibly keep track of where things are? You may have planted an idea that gets executed and you don’t even know about it.

Keep a list of anyone with whom you’ve done any sort of discovery-when you met with them and what you discussed-even if it wasn’t well-received. When you do move forward enterprise-wide this will come in handy in identifying early adopters and change resisters, and can help keep you in the loop if someone starts moving ahead.

I realized after a few months that I’d spoken with 7 different groups on my campus, some of whom were very receptive-that meant that I needed to make sure they didn’t all submit their paperwork and start their own systems. Yikes!

3. Sharpen your communication skills

Let folks know what’s going on. Communicate up to report need, demand, risk, and energy. Communicate across and down to others about where things are and how they can get involved. And while you’re at it, loop in your external partner(s), and make sure that they know your vision and your strategy.

4. Get stakeholders around the table

Use an enterprise expansion to build community- be as inclusive as possible up front and make sure that everyone gets heard and feels valued and respected. This helps with buy-in and transparency, and ensures that your system is done right the first time. Not sure if someone should be at the table? Invite them. It’s better to have someone bow out than to bring critical stakeholders up to speed later.

Semi-facetious tip: Order refreshments or coffee if you can-if you haven’t realized it already, many of us who work in higher ed retain our grad student scavenger mentality and will attend anything for free food/coffee.

5. Enlist higher-level support (if needed)

Since these are often the ones that you need to convince anyway, they can also help make sure that what happens (when it happens) takes place in a systematic and strategic fashion. If you’re not high enough level to tell folks that they need to wait, make sure you have someone who is.

About the Author
James Gilbert

Jim Gilbert is the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Programs at George Mason University’s School of Business, where he and his team help shape the undergraduate business student experience. He has more than fifteen years of higher ed experience including academic advising, teaching, and strategic planning and execution with a focus on the best experience possible for students. He is a charter member of’s Higher Ed Advisory Council and has been a Salesforce user and system administrator for more than 2 years.