Gurus of Change

Those who follow Scott Adams’ acerbic Dilbert cartoon strip may sometimes find themselves thinking dark thoughts about that much maligned species, the consultant. If consultants were all like the evil Dogbert, we would, indeed, be in trouble.

But of course they are not, as we confirmed when we talked to three top practitioners in a field that more and more IT executives recognize as critically important – change management.

As we also found, no two definitions of change management and no two ways of practicing the art – or is it a science? – are exactly the same. Suffice it to say that change management is all about ensuring that people, processes and structures change along with systems.

Now, if we could somehow combine the talents and skills of our three subjects . . .

Vidas Puodziunas – Bumble-bee of change

Compaq Canada consultant Vidas Puodziunas is more than a change management consultant, but managing change, he says, ends up being a big part of what he does.

“My role is to craft the solution design, to make sure that what we’re putting together makes sense at the business, the process and the technical level. That includes factoring in the transition requirement, which means a big emphasis on change management.”

He first gained experience in the field while working for Sony Corp. in Europe, helping ease the transition to a new supply chain management system. Puodziunas moved from the customer side to the vendor side when he joined Digital Equipment Corp. in the UK.

He came to Canada as an employee of Digital, and since the merger with Compaq, has been working in Compaq’s operations management services (read outsourcing) group. The work presents a huge change management challenge, he says.

“When you’re applying change management in outsourcing situations, you’re a lot more accountable for the results of your program,” Puodziunas says. “You’re not just coming in and giving a little piece of advice and then leaving. You see the fruits of your labour over a lot longer period.”

It’s clear that for Puodziunas, change management is more science than art. Compaq takes a highly structured approach, he says, using a variety of well-established tools for managing the process.

“I’m an applied change management practitioner,” he says. “I don’t invent models, I apply them.”

One of the first tools he often uses in situations that require intensive change management is the Overview Map, which summarizes all programs or projects, planned changes, expected outcomes, impacts and inter-dependencies.

“Often, you go in and say, ‘Can you give me an overview of all the programs over the next 18 months?’ Well, they can give you ten presentations on ten separate programs. But they can’t give you an overview.”

And it’s essential, he says, because there is a real danger in some organizations that different change processes will effect the same groups of people – in his current role, it’s the IT staff – at the same time and often in conflicting ways.

You need to integrate and choreograph all change programs, he says – whatever they are: new processes and systems being implemented, new structures and relationships being established.

Puodziunas often gets clients to create a “storyboard” – very like a film director’s storyboard – showing key moments anticipated on the road ahead. What happens here? What happens next?

Risk Analysis is another critical tool for managing the change process – identifying what Puodziunas calls “crisis cell teams,” key individuals or groups who will be impacted by the change.

“In change management,” he says, “you never want to hide risk. You want it out in the open, in order to identify those crisis cell teams and transform them from being the ones who are being impacted the most, to the ones who actually help you make the change.”

Not every client needs all the tools in Puodziunas’s kitbag – it depends on corporate culture – but often conservative organizations are inclined to hide or deny risk, he notes.

The danger of not confronting risk is that some individuals or groups – those who are quite happy with current systems and processes, for example – may believe they have an interest in blocking the project.

Resource planning is another key tool for managing change, especially to support critical change phases.

“If you’re expecting the people running the new business process to do all these wonderful new things, you’ve got to ask, during the planning phase, ‘Who’s looking after the fort while they’re doing that.'”

There’s also the matter of planning for emergencies. What happens when things go wrong: projects are delayed, people leave, technology doesn’t work? Puodziunas often has his clients brainstorm what-if scenarios to anticipate glitches in the process.

Finally, a critical role for the change management consultant, he asserts, is designing and helping develop a project control panel, also sometimes referred to as a “dashboard.”

It’s a system for tracking events and flagging ones that indicate the project may be going off the rails. The control panel may, for example, track events that reflect the level of business commitment to a project.

“It’s one of the main drivers in any project,” he explains. “If you don’t have business commitment, you’re not going to meet your deadlines.”

One indicator that business commitment may be lacking is if employees are not turning up for training courses. If they don’t, the control panel will flag that and bring it to the attention of the appropriate managers.

In the most technologically sophisticated companies, the dashboard is a networked database application. Icons appear on managers’ computer desktops with blinking traffic lights: green, amber and red. If a light flashes red, the manager knows to click on the icon to find out what’s happening.

In another company, it could be a paper-based system – a system of daily reports, for example. “But you don’t read the whole report,” Puodziunas explains. “The control panel provides you with just the lead indicators. ‘This is for you. You need to know this.'”

Puodziunas likes the challenges of his work and likes the rewards. He sees himself and other change managers as the ultimate back-room boys.

“The change management consultant,” he says, “does the framework stuff so he’s often invisible. The person on the stage getting all the applause is the business manager, the sponsor. And that’s as it should be.”

“But the change manager is the catalyst. He’s the bumble-bee that makes sure everything is working properly.”

Rick Zytaruk – Order is a beautiful thing

When IBM’s ad agency went looking for employees to feature in a series of full-page newspaper ads designed to convince customers Big Blue was more than just a pedlar of hardware and software, Rick Zytaruk was a natural choice.

Zytaruk, the Toronto-based managing principal in IBM’s application development consulting practice, doesn’t sell boxes, he sells ideas – and change. Zytaruk manages a group of 25 consultants who specialize in helping IT organizations improve their effectiveness by formalizing processes.

“My customer,” he says, “tends to be the CIO in a larger organization who wants to make some change in the way the organization develops systems and the way it manages the development of systems.”

In the ad, a relaxed-looking Zytaruk peers out from under a straw hat. He doesn’t look much like a nuts-and-bolts, techie kind of guy in the picture. Nor does he in person. And nor is he, at least not these days.

Armed with a degree in electrical engineering from Hamilton’s McMaster University, Zytaruk joined IBM 31 years ago as a systems engineer, and focused on bits and bytes for a time. But fairly early in his career he shifted into a management stream, working in marketing and resource development roles.

For the past 15 years, he has managed some part of IBM Canada’s service business. His applications development consulting team represents just 12% of the staff complement in IBM Consulting in Canada. But the business is growing rapidly – 20 to 30% last year, an anticipated 50% this year.

Today, Zytaruk’s almost exclusive focus is people and organizations: how to make them work better and how to manage the change process to achieve that.

The beginning of the process inevitably involves asking a lot of questions, he says. “You have to figure out what the change needs to be within the business context. Then what business processes need to change to make it happen – and how do you change them?”

“What’s the vision of the IT department going to be? And what’s the reason for the change? There has to be a reason – maybe a need to increase productivity or to change the culture.”

In Zytaruk’s hands it’s anything but a haphazard process. IBM’s consulting practice is strongly methodology-based, he says. “We can say to a client, ‘This is what we’re going to do, these are the results we expect’.”

The group uses two principal methodologies. The Software Engineering Institute’s Capability Maturity Model works in the assessment phase of a project to establish the existing level of organization and control in an application development shop.

The model identifies five levels ranging from Initial, in which the application development process is unpredictable and poorly controlled, to Optimizing, in which the process is well controlled, routinely measured, and where the focus is now on continual process improvement.

“Very few organizations have reached the Optimizing level,” Zytaruk notes drily.

For the rest, some processes will need to change in order to achieve desired strategic objectives – whether to be more responsive to customers, or more productive, or to fundamentally change a corporate culture.

IBM uses a methodology developed internally for analyzing change requirements in terms of six dimensions: technology, methodology, skills, organization, measurement and culture.

For example, part of changing an organization to make it more responsive to customers could involve revamping a dysfunctional application requirements gathering process. One way to do that might be an organizational change – assigning each customer department a senior IT staff member as a permanent liaison. That in turn may dictate a change in skills to ensure the liaison person acquires necessary marketing skills.

A lot of change management comes down to changing behaviour – organizational, but also, ultimately, individual, Zytaruk says.

“You’re trying to make change in people’s behaviour without having to manage it on a day-to-day basis, because you can’t do that. You’ve got to empower people to make their own decisions, but based on an understanding of your vision for the organization.”

How do you get the development manager with 30 employees under him to now function effectively as a liaison with the vice president of marketing? It could be just a question of changing the person’s responsibilities so he has more time to spend with the VP marketing. Or changing the way you measure his performance, gearing it at least in part to the client’s reported satisfaction level.

“People do what you motivate them to do,” Zytaruk says. “So you have to think about how you are going motivate them to do what you want.” And it should always be positive motivation. “The stick is a hard way to get change to happen,” he says.

Resistance to change is sometimes a problem, but its roots more often lie in organizational politics than individual psychology, Zytaruk says.

For example, if the action plan calls for a change in organizational culture to a more team-oriented approach, specialists who formerly worked on their own, functioning as departmental “wizards” may now feel “a sense of loss of power”.

But it’s possible to solve such problems without resorting to psychoanalysis, Zytaruk says. “It’s not human resources rocket science we’re talking about. It’s just simple, honest people stuff.”

Some organizations in this situation have implemented knowledge networks to encourage sharing of skills and knowledge. The company provides incentives – performance measurement based on the amount of material you share in the knowledge network, for example.

“And now this person is seen as a good guy for creating this intellectual capital.”

It’s clear to hear him talk that what really turns Zytaruk on about his job now is human and organizational dynamics, not hardware or software.

But don’t ever think the man has betrayed his engineering roots and gone all touchy-feely. Under his picture in the newspaper ad, Zytaruk’s quote reads, “Order is a beautiful thing.”

Robert Parent – Pre-empting problems

Robert Parent, practice manager in the organizational change management group at Oracle Canada Inc., calls himself a human engineer. “My specialty,” he says, “is helping individuals want to do what the organization needs them to do.”

The vaguely machiavellian tone of this motto seems at odds with Parent’s nature. He comes across less as a manipulator than a kindly uncle.

Parent has been with Oracle for less than three years. His background prior to joining is remarkably free of systems experience.

“If the issues are technology related, I don’t get involved,” he admits. “But the minute the issues become people related then [Oracle account reps] automatically think of getting involving me.”

What he brings to the job is twenty years experience in organizational change management and a PhD in organizational development. He began working for Oracle as he was completing the doctorate.

“It occurred to me that some of the biggest changes in organizations are brought about by new technology and that this would be a good place for me to apply the learning I had done,” he says.

His timing was impeccable. Oracle had recently decided to start offering clients help with change management.

Like others in the industry, Oracle was appalled by the failure rates for IT projects – almost 75% fail completely or disappoint expectations, according to data from Standish Group International. And the reasons for failure more often have to do with human rather than systems engineering.

“One of the things we bring to the table is that we know what kinds of experiences our customers have had in the past,” Parent explains. “And we can leverage that so you won’t have to go through all those bad experiences.”

Parent concedes it would be difficult to show a bottom-line benefit for what he and his team do. “But when you put that slide about failed IT projects up in front of a CIO who’s about to spend millions of dollars on new systems, it speaks volumes about the need for help in this area.”

Oracle’s change management group is still small – 150 worldwide out of 26,000 employees, and only six in Canada – but by no means every Oracle client wants or needs help with change management.

If they do, Parent likes to get involved as early as possible, sometimes even during the sales process.

“We want to help identify change-related issues in the organization before they crop up, and develop contingency plans to deal with them now,” he says.

Parent usually works with the senior executives involved in a project, often in a coaching or mentoring role. For example, he currently spends a day or two a week with the CIO of one client spending $26 million on new systems, and a day every other week with the CFO of an organization spending $6 million.

Parent attends both Oracle and client meetings on the project and sometimes sits on the project steering committee. One of the first formal activities he gets involved in is usually a change readiness survey. He uses questionnaires, personal interviews and focus groups to take the measure of a company’s willingness and readiness to change.

He’ll ask revealing questions: What have you heard about the new technology? How would you describe the culture in your organization? How is good performance recognized? How do you deal with difficult situations in your organization?

“We find people generally open up to us,” he says. It’s part of the skill he brings to the job, establishing a rapport quickly so employees trust that he won’t misuse what they tell him.

If the assessment suggests the organization is not really adept at change, he develops a change management action plan which addresses the three key components of any organization: people, structure and culture.

One client, for example, set up a project Web site on the corporate intranet before beginning the project’s implementation – that was to solve a problem of employee communication identified by Parent. Another, a large retailer implementing a new supply chain management system, set up a competency centre, a laboratory where employees could learn the new system and test it before rolling it out across the organization.

The toughest problems are often related to employee resistance and a lack of management buy-in. And most of the time it’s senior managers who cause the problems, Parent says.

Many Oracle implementations involve making information available to people who didn’t have it before so they can make decisions closer to where the work actually takes place. That usually means some senior manager is going to be required to make fewer decisions.

“And that person may anticipate a loss of control as a result,” Parent says. “So you have to help them through it.”

If you don’t, the problem can manifest itself in what he calls “destructive compliance” – behaviour consciously or unconsciously designed to scuttle a project while masking the perpetrator’s motives. It could be assigning an employee to a project-related task who doesn’t have the skills to do it properly, delaying assigning staff, nit-picking the new system, and so on.

Parent recommends developing a matrix of authority and influence to identify individuals who can potentially do the project the most harm or good. Senior managers always appear on it, but others may as well.

There is no hard-and-fast procedure for managing change, Parent says, but it definitely can be managed.

The two biggest prerequisites for problem-free change? Make sure you’ve got senior management buy-in, he says. And make sure the project is tightly aligned with corporate strategy.

Tony Martell is a freelance writer specializing in technology and IT management. He is based in London, Ont.