Analyst Outlook: Building a change team

The pace of change – internal and external – is accelerating for most enterprises, be it inspired by a new technology, a new performance demand, or a new management fad. Yet mastery of change is a competency possessed by very few organizations.

Not surprising then that CIOs are tempted to view change management like they viewed project management in the 1980s: if it works out right, it’s more by luck than by judgment.

There is merit in this position. Few CIOs are equipped to address the soft issues that make organizational change so intractable.

The problem with this position is that it’s entirely wrong-headed. Just as project management yielded to systematic approaches and skilled execution, so organization change management will too.

Resistance follows a pattern

It is tempting for CIOs to try to achieve change through some Herculean effort on their own, but putting in place an enterprise change team with responsibility to inform, cajole and manage the process of change makes success much more likely. This team typically draws on the skills of business-process designer, technical designer and a people team comprising experts in communication and human factors. The leaders of these teams usually work together as a steering committee, reporting to a project executive, such as the CIO (who in turn reports to the project sponsor).

Having a change team still leaves the CIO with lots to do. Successful CIO change leaders report spending up to 50 percent of their time talking to various stakeholders about change. To address the change struggles, communications must be planned ahead of time.

Testing, skepticism and disbelief occur as the design for change takes form. Anxiety is high during these struggles because people are learning the personal implications of change one piece at a time. Most communications should be at the unit, small group and personal levels. The organization is ready to move on when most people have accepted the need for change and can describe why change is necessary.

The final struggles – hope and hard work – mark a turning point. Change is designed, and initial targets prioritized. The organization is increasingly oriented to making change work, as opposed to making it go away. Training intensifies.

Public communications during these final stages are about priorities, milestones met and the results of those milestones, and what teams need to do to be ready for implementation. Private communications are about change’s increasing affect on individuals.

Reshaping the enterprise culture

The natural temptation, with the change succeeding, is to go back to a period of normality where stability is paramount. Unfortunately, this results in missing a major opportunity to make change stick. Make only superficial changes and things will backslide rapidly.

How can this be prevented? One of the hardest things to change is values. Yet this type of change is vital. Values are about what people believe and consider important. The trouble with values is that they are invisible – they live inside people’s heads. Fortunately, they betray themselves in behaviors, and behaviors are what you can watch people doing.

To change values, first recognize what they are. Enterprise changes that stick redefine what success looks like. People will behave in a way that makes them successful, and over time this becomes the new way we do things here. Most enterprises that have developed change management expertise have allowed the talent to disperse once the change program has ended. This is a pity. It would be far more effective if CIOs support a permanent enterprise home for change expertise—a center of excellence (COE) for change.

An enterprise change project is an intense shared experience. It brings together people from all over the enterprise and forces them to trust and rely on each other to achieve something of critical importance. It changes the executive team’s values, beliefs and behaviors. CIOs can take advantage of that change to contribute more strongly to the executive team.

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–Andrew Rowsell-Jones is vice president and research director for Gartner’s CIO Executive Programs.

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