Vanity Fair magazine has published a scathingly honest look inside Microsoft’s corporate culture, and cites, among other things, ?a practice known as “stack ranking” as a cause for low morale and an inability to innovate. How can we, as consultants, deal with broken corporate cultures we may run across?

The first time I walk onsite to meet with a potential new client, I like to pay close attention to the employees I encounter. Does the receptionist seem relaxed? Do I see smiling faces? Do people greet me as they pass? These are important clues as to how positive the environment is. After all, though they may not yet know it, I am about to change a few things by introducing new software into their workplace.

Which brings me to my second point: ?if I start working with this client, the cat will soon be out of the bag as to why I am there. Again, I like to keep a close eye on how people react to my presence. Are they glad to see me? Reserved? Maybe even a little hostile? Anyone who has ever deployed a solution into a company with more than a couple of people in it knows that it’s hard to make everyone happy. In fact, one unhappy, seemingly low-placed worker can sink an important project. It starts with a little grumbling to anyone who will listen, and before you know it, it spreads to a clamor. In my experience, a significant percentage of people are already predisposed to be suspicious of untried software, or computers in general, and it takes little to set their minds against something that their very jobs may depend upon.

If the corporate culture is already in a poor state, then it might be a short walk to failure. You might find yourself sharing, in some small way, the mission of an American soldier overseas: winning hearts and minds. This is not an insurmountable task, but it takes extra time and effort. First of all, make sure your management contacts understand the importance of getting everyone onboard, and that they understand the need to do this in a positive way (“use it or your fired” is not helpful!). Secondly, get to know the people who will be using the software, and perhaps more important, let them get to know you. This will make the whole process seem a lot less scary for them. Also, spend time with them and learn what their day-to-day problems are at work. It’s entirely possible your new app will help them solve these, and you can help them see that. There’s nothing like true enthusiasm to help drive a project forward to a positive conclusion.

I have actually walked away from potentially lucrative jobs because my spider sense told me there was nothing I could do to right a listing ship. I have also seen a well-designed and properly finessed database solution be welcomed into an intially suspicious and negative corporate culture. In every case, I can say that writing great software was not enough ? it takes awareness, sensitivity, and patience as well.