Mastering The Challenge of Change

By Claudio Muruzabal

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Few words can strike more fear into the heart of an individual than “change.” We are creatures of habit and feel most secure when we are doing what we know.

IT is arguably taxed more than any other business department to make changes; it is often faced with executing numerous transition projects simultaneously to stay current. From the implementation of a new system, to the outsourcing of an IT service that was previously handled internally, to the deployment of a new hardware platform, every one of these modifications represents a complex change-management challenge for the CIO.

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Predictably, these transformation projects are often met with a great deal of reluctance and dissention. Any project of any size has to deal with different constituencies with very different interests and stakes in the project.

Successful leaders recognize this and apply change management techniques to overcome this initial resistance.

But what exactly is “change management?” Effective change management involves aligning all enterprise resources — physical assets, know-how, technology and people — simultaneously, but with a different intensity at the organizational, work group and individual levels.

Yes, it is a challenge.

Yes, it is as involved as it sounds.

But change management can be summarized in two sentences: Understand your constituents. Communicate effectively.

By understanding these two simple, but important ideas and structuring your efforts accordingly, you can ensure the success of even the most complex changes within your organization.

Understanding Constituents

No matter how much money you’re spending, how much you need the project done or how cutting-edge the technology may be, it is human beings that will ultimately decide the fate of your project.

Depending on the scope and complexity of the task involved, participants in complex IT projects can come from various functions, departments and groups within the organization. They range from the lowest level professionals and individual contributors within the IT organization, through all of the middle management ranks, to the senior team reporting to the CIO.

Most CIOs understand that communicating the value of the initiative to participants is a key component of success. Where many of them miss the boat is how that communication should be carried out.

Communicating change may be a question of execution, but its success also depends upon the leader’s ability to effectively read what is truly at stake for each participant. Unfortunately, it’s a question that many leaders, especially IT leaders, get wrong.

When projects fail, it is typically because no one told the people it impacted why they should care. Employees act based on what they believe the company needs from them, and their actions drive productivity, financial results, and ultimately decide the fate of the enterprise.

Communicate faithfully with your team, get them excited about the project, get them involved, keep them positive with frequent two-way communication, and they will ensure that the change is a success.

And don’t leave out training and ongoing support. It makes all the difference.

Communicate Effectively

You cannot effectively execute and “change manage” what you have not adequately defined. If you cannot concisely explain the project in the few minutes it takes to ride an elevator, you will have a hard time getting people on board and ultimately enlisting others to help with the persuasion program.

The challenge is to clearly and consistently communicate to participants what the project is expected to do for them, and what they are expected to do for the project. If you want to motivate people, you must clearly define from the beginning what the project holds for the participants, how it will impact them, and what its consequences will be to their jobs.

By balancing individual needs with group objectives, you can go a long way toward assuring the success of your project. Successful change management requires a disciplined execution based on key success factors:

Establish a clear direction: Develop inspiring and achievable project vision and mission statements that clarify why a project exists and what it is meant to accomplish. Then set measurable objectives that will lead to the realization of these ideals.

Build a focused team: A successful project requires all affected constituencies be involved. Create champions from all affected groups to build a strong team that will help you execute every step of the initiative.

Develop a plan: Create a measurable, consistent, and ongoing communications plan that will reach your participants through numerous methods, on many different levels. Ensure that your efforts are designed to motivate your participants through interaction.

Account for culture and diversity: Organizational culture takes years to develop, but once ingrained it is difficult to modify. Your change effort must play to your company’s culture or you will also be faced with the challenge of shifting company beliefs and traditions.

Therefore it is essential your communications be crafted with this culture in mind; while taking into account geographical and social differences as well. Your efforts should be appropriate and effective for all involved.

There is no mistake that change can be difficult, but, as the CIO, you are ultimately accountable for the success of the project. By treating change management as a vital process, it will help you to be more successful and achieve outstanding results in the long run.

Claudio Muruzabal is CEO of Neoris, a global IT consultancy, systems integrator, custom application developer and leader in emergent technologies.