The Four Pillars: The Secret to IT Transformation

By Charles Araujo  |  Posted 03-04-2014
Leadership

The Four Pillars: The Secret to IT Transformation

By Charles Araujo

"Do you want to know a secret?" 

The "secret game" is a favorite of almost all young children. It is exciting and exhilarating to have a bit of secret knowledge that others do not. So they slyly ask this question, reveling in their secret information while inwardly dying to share it with their would-be co-conspirator.

“Tell me the secret,” you plead. In a barely audible whisper, they confess, “I love ice cream!"

These childhood secrets are not-so-secret at all. In fact, they are quite often just simple truths. I mean, after all, who doesn’t love ice cream?

Things don’t change that much as we get older. We love the idea of secrets. We love to believe there is some secret combination of things that make all things right. We want to believe that if we could only discover the secret, then all of our problems would be solved.

But as it is in our childhood, the best secrets are merely simple truths. And this is also true when you are seeking to transform your team into a next-generation IT organization. There is no real secret at all. But there are four simple truths. We call them "The Four Pillars of Transformation" and they are the key to driving significant and meaningful change in your IT organization.

Introducing the Four Pillars

Changing organizations is hard work. That’s why our second Catalyst Experience event focuses on the Four Pillars of Transformation. Our aim in this two-day intensive event is to help participants understand two things. First, we want them to understand that change does not just happen. It takes work. And a lot of it. People have to deliberately and consistently work to create organizational change. Second, we want them to understand that to drive meaningful organizational change within IT organizations, they need to operate across a number of different dimensions. That’s where the Four Pillars come in to play.

Through our years of working with organizations on large-scale IT transformation programs we have come to understand that changing IT organizations is a complex business. There are all of the normal organizational-change issues. But there are also some unique pieces of organizational baggage that IT teams must deal with in order to effectively move forward. The Four Pillars force IT leaders to address this baggage. So if you want to transform your team into a next-generation IT organization, you must begin by helping them understand how to address the Four Pillars:

  • Leadership
  • Bridging silos and building high-performance teams
  • The customer equation
  • Catalyzing change

The First Pillar: Leadership

The first rule of organizational transformation is that there’s no such thing. It’s a myth.

There is only personal transformation multiplied across an organization. Real change will not come from the top down. It will not radiate up from the bottom as some type of grassroots movement. It will occur only when every member of your entire organization sees themselves as an IT leader. They must see themselves as personally accountable for making the change happen. They must create a personal vision for the future that fits into a shared vision for the entire organization. And they must be willing to step up and to step out.

If you want to create a next-generation IT organization, you must start with leadership. If you are a member of the executive team, you play a significant role here. You must be willing to empower others and then step back. Leadership does not develop in a vacuum. If you make all of the decisions or second-guess others' decisions, you will create a vacuum and will fail to develop leaders throughout the organization. Instead, you must challenge others and trust them. Challenge your team to rise up to the leadership mandate. Then trust the decisions they make. And if you are not part of the executive team, you need to be prepared to see yourself as an IT leader and act accordingly. Don’t wait for a mandate. Instead, be the leader that you are meant to be.

The Four Pillars: The Secret to IT Transformation

The Second Pillar: Bridging Silos and Building High-Performance Teams

Transformational initiatives are most often undermined by an insidious enemy: organizational silos. Silos have become such a common part of life in IT that we almost don’t question them any longer. But as we move into the new era of IT, silos will be the single greatest inhibitor of both transformation and value realization. Instead, IT leaders must be focused on creating high-performance teams that transcend and bridge the entire enterprise. To do this, you must acknowledge that the silos are real. They are not just imaginary constructs. They exist and to transform an organization, you must break them down. All it really takes to accomplish this is transparency and vision. First, you must create an opportunity for open dialogue. In many cases, the simple lack of awareness, understanding and empathy are the greatest causes for the perpetuation of organizational silos. Second, you must create a compelling, shared vision of the future that your entire organization can adopt and in which they can see themselves.

The Third Pillar: The Customer Equation

The customer equation may be the most important pillar. If IT is guilty of anything, it is being disconnected from how the value of technology investments is actually realized. To truly transform your organization, you must remedy this situation once and for all. The customer equation is a useful construct to do this. The customer equation is a simple formula that says perceived value = business value + customer experience. If IT is to be seen as a valued provider and trusted business enabler, you must ensure that you are delivering high levels of perceived value. Perceived value is the combination of the actual business value delivered by an IT service, plus the customer’s experience in receiving that value. Both parts of the equation are required in order for IT to deliver on its promise. Without understanding the equation and working on both components of perceived value, any transformational will ring hollow to your customers. 

The Fourth Pillar: Catalyzing Change

The final pillar is the deliberate process of organizational change. Organizational change is a discipline unto itself and IT leaders must become well versed in its practices. It is not enough to simply understand the desired outcome. IT leaders must become catalysts for the change they desire. This requires that you explicitly engage in a set of activities that are designed to craft a compelling, shared vision, create engagement and investment, and effectively communicate and train the organization in the new practices. It is easy for IT leaders to dismiss organizational change as either unnecessary or the job of the organizational change consultants. On the contrary, you must see the need to become a catalyst for change as your personal mandate. It is the only way to ensure that meaningful and lasting change occurs—and it is the sole pathway to turning into a next-generation IT organization.

The journey to becoming a next-generation IT organization is a long and arduous one. You must begin by preparing your team for what lies ahead, challenging them to overcome the organizational baggage that will hinder them and equipping them to do the hard work of transformation. The four pillars will help your team prepare for this journey so that they can lead your organization into the future.

About the Author

Charles Araujo is a recovering consultant and accidental author of the book, The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change. He is an internationally recognized authority on IT Leadership and liberally shares his message of hope about the future of IT and what it means for all of us. He is the founder and CEO of the IT Transformation Institute and serves on the boards of itSMF USA and the Executive Next Practices Institute. You can follow him at @charlesaraujo.

This is the third installment of an eight-part article series titled "Seven Steps to a Next-Generation IT Organization." To read the second installment, click here.