The Sad Truth About Change Management

By Marc J. Schiller  |  Posted 08-29-2011

CIO Careers: It's Back to School Time

What does a CIO need to be successful? We each have our own answers. Some may say that technical excellence and knowledge count most, others might place the emphasis on business awareness, relationships or just hard-core ambition. Certainly, all of these are necessary to reach a certain level in an organization. But to take the final step and be accepted as someone who is truly a member of the C-suite, you need one more thing: influence. This is the sixth in a series of articles on how to position yourself as an influential leader in your organization. Previous installments were:

Enough with the Management Platitudes

What do you feel (not think, but feel) when you hear one of those overused, super-obvious platitudes about IT management. You know what I'm talking about. Phrases such as: "IT needs to be aligned with the business," and the like. Personally, these drive me nuts. When I hear such platitudes used, they're usually coming from someone who is doing exactly the opposite of which they speak.

There is one particular platitude that's jumping out at me of late. So much so that I now believe that deafness to its real message is one of the biggest reasons why so many IT managers are struggling with professional success. The platitude of which I speak: "IT projects cannot succeed without effective change management."


We've all known this for a very, very long time. Yet it seems like this old and, by now, very obvious idea is frequently ignored. What makes it so strange--and worse--is that it is being ignored at the very same time as it is being spoken aloud in conference rooms across the world. It's as if IT leaders think that just by saying the magic words it just sorta happens, on its own.

The Governance Process - The Prototypical Case Study

In my line of work, I get to be a fly on the wall as IT leaders think about and review their project portfolios. This scenario provides the perfect case study for what I am talking about.

As part of the on-going project governance process, the CIO inquires about the change management for a particular project. In response, the project managers (or their bosses) assure the CIO that there is a comprehensive user-training program in place. Everyone nods their heads in agreement and the meeting moves on.

But wait, I say. User training is, of course, very important. But that isn't change management, that's just user training. Change management is much more than that. Change management needs to cover ... blah, blah, and blah. (No need for me to go on and on about it, you know exactly what I mean, right? Right?)

Anyway. After I finish my little speech, everyone once again agrees. The project manager is told to come back next time with a change management plan and then the meeting moves on.

Fast-forward 30 days. Again the project is reviewed, and again the exact same scenario plays out.

This usually continues for another one or two review cycles, by which time 120 days or more has passed since the issue of change management was first raised. Usually, by now, the user training is over.  The implementation is solidly in beta, if not GA.  And the aches and pains of the new system fill the hallways of IT.

And Away We Go

Then comes the big project review meeting. Out comes the platitude to explain the problems with the project: "IT projects cannot succeed without effective change management." At this point, I'm ready to jump out the window.

I know you understand what I'm talking about. You've been there yourself.

The question is: why is this happening?

Actually, there are two questions here--one big question, and one small question.

  1. The big one: Why isn't change management being properly integrated into IT projects?

  2. The small one: Why do so many IT managers and leaders confuse user training for change management?

The answer, I believe, to the big question lies embedded in the answer to the smaller question.

The Sad Truth About Change Management

Most IT project managers, senior managers and CIOs don't really understand what change management is. And the reason they don't understand it is that they have never learned what it is and how to do it. IT professionals and managers do not typically attend the types professional development programs that teach change management. Notice, I said professional development programs, not training programs.

You see, there is a big difference between training and professional development. Training is about building the necessary skills to get the job done--new software tools, security procedures and so on. IT does a lot of this.

Professional development, on the other hand, is more about, well, development. It's about acquiring the deeper understandings, strategies and tactics required to become a more effective professional and manager. A really good professional development program leaves the attendee with a certain sense that his or her world has been changed. The attendee now sees more clearly his or her role and how to fulfill it. IT does very little of this.

Change management sensitivities and capabilities are classic soft skills built through personal and professional development. They are the kinds of skills that are honed in professional development programs that are not tied to a system or to a technology. And, as much as they are spoken about in IT surveys or referred to in management platitudes, providing these kinds of programs to IT managers is very much the exception as opposed to the rule.

Whose Fault is it Anyway?

IT professionals and managers are much to blame for this situation. Being techies, they always want to know about the latest tools and techniques. Long after they leave the coding trenches, many IT managers still gravitate toward technically oriented training and conferences. But it's not just their fault.

CIOs talk a good game about the importance of building relationships, selling ideas, understanding the business and so on, but they don't do much to really invest in building these skills for their people. And you know what? Your people notice it. They see that you are willing to invest in technical training and just talk about professional development and change management, and so they do exactly the same. They invest in user training and just talk about change management.

Bottom Line

If you want to see your projects successfully drive change with your business users, it's time to send your people back to school. That is, the right kind of professional development program that helps them build long-term competencies in the areas most needed by IT managers. Areas such as:

  • relationship building

  • idea promotion

  • expectation management

  • business metrics

  • influence building. (How could I resist that one?)

With these skills in hand, your IT team members will begin to understand how to go about driving change with the business community they serve. And you will end up with fewer problem projects. If you're not sure where you can find programs like this, write to me at I'd be happy to share a list of programs for you to review and figure out which makes the most sense for your and your organization.

About the Author

Marc J. Schiller, author of "The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders," is a speaker, strategic facilitator, and an advisor on the implementation of influential analytics. He splits his time between the front lines of client work and evangelizing to IT leaders and professionals about what it takes to achieve influence, respect and career success. Download a free excerpt of his book at