Do You Need a 'Transformation Ambassador'?

By John Palinkas  |  Posted 05-13-2014
merck

Do You Need a 'Transformation Ambassador'?

By John Palinkas

Over five years ago, I was working for British Telecom as a national account manager in the pharma sector. A lot of pharma companies are located in the New Jersey area, one of which is Merck. If you had asked me to describe Merck's IT organization at the time, I would have probably said it was pretty typical of a pharma organization. They were always trying to reduce costs, often by buying components and assembling their own products and services. And they had multiple programs designed to eliminate waste, improve efficiencies, and generally do more for less. Like I said, typical pharma IT organization at that time. But I also felt Merck was both resistant to change and stuck in the way it did things.

I am a member of the leadership team for the IT Service Management Forum's New Jersey Local Interest Group. And during our last call, the chapter president suggested I talk with Judith Chuisano, who had been recently named a “transformation ambassador” at Merck. I was both surprised and confused. First, I have been working with companies undergoing change for the past five years and have never once heard of a transformation ambassador. What type of role this would be? And, based on my history with Merck, it was one of the last companies I expected to be doing anything other than a traditional, by-the-numbers transformation program.

Studies have shown that almost 75 percent of IT organizations are undergoing some type of change, ranging from minor to major. Most of these changes are happening through a traditional transformation program. By that, I mean a vice president or director is assigned to lead the program as their full-time position. They immediately start to assemble a staff, which will begin developing guidelines. Some of these transformation programs never get past the planning stage. Others manage to implement some changes, usually technology or process changes, and declare success. But in almost all cases, the transformation programs rarely achieve the results that were originally expected of them.

Following my chapter president's advice, I recently met with Chuisano over coffee to talk about her role as a transformation ambassador at Merck. I knew Judith was in Merck’s supplier management group, so I was expecting a discussion of how Merck was leveraging its suppliers for better efficiencies and cost savings. (After all, that is what happened when I was at British Telecom five years ago.) It turns out, I could not have been more wrong.

Merck Changes With the Times

Last year, Chuisano informed me, the Merck IT leadership team decided that they needed to undertake a major transformation effort. They recognized the world had changed with the consumerization of IT, software-as-a-service and more. And the IT leadership team recognized that a traditional transformation program was not going to produce the results they needed, so they launched a program to change the culture of their organization.

That was the first surprise.

Chuisano proceeded to tell me how the program was structured. Yes, the program has CIO sponsorship by Clark Golestani and an executive director, Anne Spoldi, who is in charge of managing the program. Chuisano is one of a dozen transformation ambassadors, which is a responsibility in addition to their full-time position. The role of ambassadors like Chuisano is to meet with small groups of employees and explain the reasons why Merck needs to change and how the changes will affect them personally. The transformation ambassadors also listen to the concerns of the employee, so the program can be shaped and altered accordingly. Ultimately, the ambassadors want to convert these employees into additional change agents and transformation ambassadors.

At the IT Transformation Institute, we have always used this guiding principle:

  Senior Management knows best what needs to be fixed,

  The people doing the job every day know best how to fix it.

And Merck is using its transformation ambassadors to listen to the employees.

Do You Need a 'Transformation Ambassador'?

I am sure many people believe Merck cannot be serious about this effort since the company is not dedicating resources to it, but I believe Merck has approached the situation the right way. Instead of making transformation a separate function, Merck is starting to embed the transformation culture into people’s every day jobs, into the workplace culture. They are putting it into the fiber of the organization. As Chuisano talked about her role and the program, her passion was obvious. If she is typical of the other transformation ambassadors, Merck has done an excellent job selecting volunteers. (Oh, did I forget to mention that? Yes, these are voluntary roles.)

Merck is at the early stages of its transformation program and still finding its way. The management team still needs to take what they have heard and develop a roadmap, and get everyone to understand and follow that roadmap. But based on what we know about how successful programs are run and the people that Merck has chosen to run it, the company appears to be on the path to success.

If your organization is undergoing a major change, consider how you are approaching it. Maybe you need to take a non-traditional approach. Maybe you need your own team of transformation ambassadors.

About the Author

John Palinkas is a partner at The IT Transformation Institute. He has spent more than three decades in the IT services industry, working with industry leaders like AT&T, AT&T Solutions and British Telecom. He has led numerous multimillion dollar, multiyear outsourcing and service-delivery engagements for dozens of Fortune 500 firms. He has extensive experience and expertise in IT transformation efforts, outsourcing analysis, M&A integrations and service implementations. John serves on the executive committee for NJ SIM Chapter, the leadership team of NJ itSMF LIG, and is a regular contributor to CIO InsightHe can be reached via email at John.Palinkas@TransformingIT.org, and you can follow him on Twitter via @jpalinkas.

To read his previous CIO Insight article, "Is Your Current Position Defining Who You Are?", click here.