For CIOs today, there’s no escaping change. Technology advancements such as consumer technologies and cloud computing models are forcing IT transformation.
Meanwhile, IT is the lynchpin for crucial business change, be it growth in emerging markets, a need for more agile business models or increased dependence on collaborative, globally dispersed teams.
But change is not only a constant companion; it is also an uncomfortable, even threatening, prospect to many people. Ask the many leaders who have launched organizational initiatives, only to see them wither on the vine or fail to meet intended goals.
That is why you really can’t be an effective IT leader today if you can’t effectively initiate change, sell new concepts to your peers and staff, and help your teams manage complex change with confidence. Forward-thinking CIOs are doing just that by adhering to four key components — the four C’s — for leading change:
IT Change Management: Four Secrets to Success
1. Commitment. Failing to achieve commitment is the single most important reason why CIOs cannot sustain change. Commitment means being bound emotionally and intellectually to a course of action. Too often, technology leaders think they’ve gained commitment when what they’ve really achieved is mere “compliance” — people going along with a mandatory recommendation or new process without really believing in it. When people are committed, they believe in what they’re doing and are intent on completing the journey.
The tough part is, you cannot force commitment; people have to make that jump themselves, even while their natural instincts scream at them to resist. CIOs can help lead people through change by expecting resistance, even inviting discussion and dissent, to air these misgivings and steer the negative emotions into positive ones.
2. Community. You cannot lead change by yourself. Change requires different people collaborating in diverse roles to purposefully drive change forward, leaving nothing to chance.
The key roles for change management include: a change leader, change agents and change advocates. Change leaders sponsor and validate the change initiative. They need to convincingly convey the reasons for the change, paint a vivid picture of the end state and outline how to get there. Change agents, meanwhile, plan, facilitate and implement key change activities. They need to connect well with people, foster synergy and guide the plans associated with the change. Lastly, change advocates use their influence to drive change. These people are opinion leaders who can make or break the change effort because they have strong influence over other people.
The IT leader needs to identify and engage the right people to play these various roles. When brought together, this group is often called the transition structure, and it is sometimes formalized as a change management office.
3. Clarity. People cannot move toward something they cannot see – you need to help them see not only what they’re moving toward but why they should move in the first place. People won’t commit to “a good idea” — they need to understand why the change is necessary and why the current state is no longer viable. Spell out why it will be more costly, even at a personal level, to remain with the status quo. Then, communicate the steps involved, how risks will be managed and the support that will be provided, as well as the benefits that will result.
People who have a “why” will accomplish almost any “how.” Next, clear the path that leads to the change. This means anticipating where obstacles may be, identifying them and working to eliminate them. Finding obstacles means assessing which groups will be most impacted and how much change they will need to endure across a range of categories, such as skills and processes. A change readiness assessment will help you know whether the conditions for success exist, such as cohesive leadership and sufficient resources. From there, you can determine areas of risk to the change initiative and develop a risk mitigation strategy.
4. Communication. The fourth component, communication, is the glue that holds the entire change initiative together. While IT leaders spend untold time strategizing and planning, they spend little to no time effectively communicating those strategies and plans. We all assume we’re communicating when we send an e-mail, hold a town hall meeting or conduct a presentation. Some of us go further and employ two-way methods, such as small-group meetings and facilitated Q&As. But inspiring change requires more than these traditional methods. It requires creating opportunities for groups to voice their concerns, thus bringing obstacles to light and enabling them to gain commitment. Change also requires training, coaching and providing feedback, as well as opportunities for practice and learning.
If you feel people still aren’t listening, try livening up your communications. You don’t need to be dry and direct – metaphors, analogies, narrative techniques and anecdotes go a long way toward describing the vision you’re trying to convey. Most important, communication is not a one-time event but a strategy that pervades the entire change initiative.
Effective change management is what stands between IT organizations that will succeed in the future and those that won’t. It is why some IT teams now anticipate stakeholder needs rather than just respond to them; help reshape business strategy rather than just support it; and consult on business process improvements rather than just provide system upgrades.
If you remember nothing else, it’s that change doesn’t just happen. It needs to be driven with purpose and intent. Successful CIOs have learned to manage these four components before embarking on any change initiative.
About The Author
Dan Roberts is the CEO and President of Ouellette & Associates and contributing author of the book "Unleashing the Power of IT," which profiles the successful change initiatives of three CIOs and their staffs.