Why Communicating Change Is a CIO’s Top Priority

Organizational change is often like the game Jenga, where you can’t move a single piece of the tower without impacting the entire structure.

Over the past few months, my blog has focused on digital transformation. Any kind of transformation requires massive change in what people do and how they do it. Early in my career, I learned an important lesson about change. I became friends with a gentleman named Vince. He would regale me with stories about how much he hated his job. Yet every time I offered to either introduce him to an executive search professional or help him write a new resume he would rebuff my offers of assistance. I learned very quickly that even when people are miserable, the thought of making a change is scarier than the thought of remaining in your existing miserable rut!

How CIO's Can Relate Change

Change is indeed uncomfortable for most of us. What makes matters worse is when organizations don’t effectively communicate what is changing, why and the potential implications to their staff. I spent two years working for a health care insurer that went through tumultuous change. Every day a new memo went out telling the staff that someone had left the company “to pursue consulting opportunities.”

The lack of communication about the changes caused two major problems. First, productivity grounded to a screeching halt. People spent more time around the copy machine discussing the latest organizational casualties than doing any productive work. Second, it created a whole set of stories. I learned at an early age that lack of information creates massive misinformation.

If people don’t know what’s really going on they create a bunch of stories to explain the circumstance. Often these stories are much worse than the reality of the situation, but without facts, people allow their imaginations to run wild.

Another mistake some executives make is not realizing that change not only impacts those directly in the department being changed, but has implications, and often unanticipated consequences for everyone in the organization.

Some executives think that making a change is like replacing your third place hitter in the lineup with another batter. The reality is that change is more like the game Jenga. You can’t move a single piece of the tower without impacting the entire structure.

If you are leading a change effort, you need to communicate with everyone often and transparently. Tell people as much as you can about as much as you know. And always work to connect the dots to understand the implications your desired change may have on the people on the periphery of the change. If you want to drive positive change you need everyone’s buy in and support. You won’t get that if people feel like they’ve been treated like mushrooms!

This article was originally published on 09-20-2016
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