3 steps CIOs can take to prevent digital backsliding for business acceleration

By Christie Struckman

The widespread drive to accelerate digital business initiatives during the pandemic has meant big changes in the way work gets done and decisions are made. Now as hybrid work becomes the “new normal,” it’s critical that businesses keep up this digital momentum. For CIOs, this means ensuring that non-digital behaviours and practices don’t creep back into processes and decisions that were transformed during the pandemic response.

When organizations lack a specific plan, employees may fall into the trap of “digital backsliding,” or returning to using processes, practices and technologies that don’t support the digital strategy. Many CIOs are unsure how to maintain behavioural change across the enterprise, as they often feel they lack the authority to make those changes stick.

CIOs supporting digital business acceleration by driving behaviour and culture change can take a three-step approach to counter the pull of old ways and prevent digital backsliding: Pause, Evaluate and Teach.

3 step process to prevent digital backsliding

Step 1: Pause

Stop and assess how the organization is doing by conducting an “inter-mortem” – a mid-transformation assessment during which leaders gather insights from team members and peers and evaluate performance data. Similar to the postmortem exercise that teams conduct at the end of a project to capture lessons and best practices, inter-mortems occur at an inflection point in the midst of transformation, instead of at the end.

CIOs can use an inter-mortem template to document the changes that took place as a result of pandemic digitalization, the hoped-for outcome (for example, to drive the business strategy, improve cost optimization or increase productivity), and whether CIOs want the change to be retained, be reinvented, or return to the way things were before. Be sure to assess practices for sustainability. For example, if your company finds employees working more hours from home than they did at the office is not a sustainable business model, it shouldn’t stay in the “retain” category. 

Step 2: Evaluate

Once you have identified which behaviours you want to retain, reinvent, or return, evaluate the systems and technology that are in place to assess whether they support desired behaviours, or discourage outdated ones. If your organization needs to change systems, processes or practices, develop a plan to design, develop and implement them. Justify these changes by documenting what you have now (from), what you want to replace it with (to), and what the change will accomplish (because).

For example, organizations have learned that employees can be just as productive from home as in the office, leading many to consider recruiting people who live far from the organization’s physical offices as a way to address talent shortages. Recruiting, hiring and onboarding remote employees requires investments in geographic outreach, video interview processes, remote onboarding assets, and so on. The “evaluate” step in this case would involve documenting and justifying the changes the organization needs to make to go from on-site hiring of local talent, to remote hiring of non-local talent, because the organization can access a deeper pool of talent.

During this stage, aim to prioritize between one and three practices highlighted in the inter-mortem template. Identify the changes that need to be made, why and how the business will benefit for each priority change.

Step 3: Teach

After identifying the changes needed to retain, reinvent or return the priority behaviours, CIOs can teach the organization what needs to be done differently by changing the systems, processes and practices that operationalize the adjustments identified. Document the changes needed, and then assign responsibility for overseeing and implementing them among the IT team and other key business partners. 

Socialize the action plan with all stakeholders, and have regular meetings to assess progress, remove roadblocks, provide feedback, or redefine timelines. Depending on the complexity of the changes that you are trying to implement, consider revisiting your plans in three to six months’ time.

It’s important to develop concrete action plans for each priority set of systems, processes and practices needed to avoid digital backsliding. Assign responsibility with clear expectations to ensure the changes are made.


Christie Struckman is a Research Vice President at Gartner, Inc. covering culture and organizational change; leadership transitions and development; management practices; and diversity, equity and inclusion. Gartner analysts will present additional insights on this topic and others during Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2021, taking place virtually in the Americas on October 18-21.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) delivers actionable, objective insight to executives and their teams. Our expert guidance and tools enable faster, smarter decisions and stronger performance on an organization’s mission critical priorities. To learn more, visit gartner.com.

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