A long time ago, a colleague of mine at the startup I founded said one sentence that changed my work life. When you’re considering peoples’ intentions and, “You have to choose between malice and ignorance – always choose ignorance. Most people don’t have time to be malicious.”
What he meant was that people are generally too busy to mess with your plans. If things are not going the way you’d hoped, if your project or initiative is not being supported as you might like, don’t assume that others are trying to derail you. They probably just don’t understand, mostly because they’re too busy doing their own jobs to worry about yours.
In the corporate universe, this position can be seen as radical at best, näive at worst. In 2013, shortly after I joined the company from the startup world, SAP’s Board of Directors asked my team and I to undertake a massive transformation of our digital customer experience. Initially, many project participants were very busy pointing out which parts of the business would fight us, where (even inside our own team) people were actively working to block progress, and which senior stakeholders were going to make unreasonable demands that we would be forced to accommodate. But guess what? most of these “bogeymen” never really materialized. Where people were “fighting” us, I found groups who were not familiar with our objectives and approach for delivering the best digital experience in the world and making it easy to do business with us online. Where others were “blocking progress”, I found teams that didn’t understand where they fit in or how to contribute effectively. Where senior executives were making “unreasonable demands”, I found individuals with specific needs who didn’t realize how putting our customer at the center of our experience design would necessarily require a change in how they presented their business online.
“When you have to choose between malice and ignorance…”
Three years later, the ONE Digital Experience (1DX) Project has been enormously successful. We have delivered a completely redesigned and simplified digital experience (mobile first!) that is making is easier to do business with SAP online. This has involved everything from reducing our websites by 82%, cutting social channels by half, completely re-designing our information architecture, simplifying the view of our portfolio, and creating new experiences for our customers, prospects, developers, and most recently, online community. Nevermind the backend, where we are developing pages 75% faster at 20% of the cost, have unified the tech platform, giving us greater than ever visibility into digital contribution to revenue, and are getting ever-closer to single sign-on for our entire ecosystem.
It was an enormous project, and I can honestly say a big part of the reason we have all succeeded is because we assumed the best intentions. We didn’t go out with fists raised, ready for a fight. We went out knowing that we mostly needed to educate people about the power and importance of the digital experience in today’s marketplace. Most importantly, we went out believing that we all had the same objective – success for the company and success for our teams.
My big takeaway after three years in the corporate world? You always come out ahead if you assume the best intentions. Most people want to live up to your expectations.