Becoming A Change Leader


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Today's IT executives are at the forefront of change in their organizations. They implement new technologies, lead process improvement efforts, reduce business costs and enable innovation. All of these activities have significant change-management components to them. Yet only 7 percent of IT leaders are confident in their change-management skills, according to CIO's 2007 State of the CIO research. That stat is surprising given the transformational nature of work in IT management.

This article outlines four key factors affecting successful change management efforts. Originally published on CIO.Com.


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Becoming A Change Leader

  1. 1. Becoming a Change Leader By Maya Townsend Today's IT executives are at the forefront of change in Successful change-management efforts hinge on four key their organizations. They implement new technologies, factors: committed leadership (that means you), a lead process improvement efforts, reduce business costs compelling business case for change (which you probably and enable innovation. All of these activities have have, but haven't communicated clearly enough or often significant change-management components to them. Yet enough), embedding change into everyone's work, and only 7 percent of IT leaders are confident in their change- involving respected employees who can influence others. management skills, according to CIO's 2007 State of the As you read this article, take a quick temperature check CIO research. That stat is surprising given the to see whether your current change initiative is well- transformational nature of work in IT management. baked by answering the questions below about each factor. Your responses will help you gauge progress Dismal project success rates further prove that IT leaders toward making your initiative a win and show you where may lack the change-management skills required in their you're falling short. Master these success factors and roles. According to a 2004 survey conducted by the you'll be well on your way to becoming a master of Standish Group, only 29 percent of projects are change. successful—that is, are completed on time, on budget and with the required specifications. Similarly Factor #1: Active, Committed Leadership disappointing news comes from The McKinsey Quarterly, Because employees naturally look to their leaders for which reported in June 2006 that only 38 percent of direction and listen to what they say, they're sensitive to organizations believed their recent organizational their superiors' unspoken and understated messages. For transformation effort was more than somewhat successful. example, if you show up for a meeting and don't seem engaged, your team will sense your apathy. If you don't It's no wonder most organizational change efforts are show enthusiasm for a strategy or project, the team dogged with so many challenges and that IT leaders are members won't either. They'll look at their own long to-do less than confident in their abilities. Changing work habits lists and put the project in the low priority bucket. Can you and getting workers to adopt new processes and blame them? If you don't commit, why should they? technologies is one of the hardest things IT managers have to do. Nevertheless, leading change successfully is There are lots of reasons why you might half-heartedly possible. If you want to lead your organization to achieve commit to a plan. More than half of IT executives polled its goals—and stand out from the pack when competing by CIO in 2007 reported being "challenged by an for jobs—you need to learn how to lead change overwhelming backlog of requests and projects" and effectively. The success of your organization, and your bemoan the "shortage of time for strategic thinking and career as an IT executive, depends on it. planning." So when the heat is on, leaders often choose priorities based on which customer yells the loudest or The Change Success Factors which project catches the CEO's attention. You may remember the pain curve model from project management class. The model suggests that people The first imperative, then, is to prioritize your change prefer to jump right in and get things done. They roll up effort. Take the time to look at upcoming initiatives and their sleeves and enjoy the rush of satisfaction that evaluate their importance against the mission and accompanies early accomplishments. But then trouble strategies of the organization. If the initiative under begins. A key spec is left out that causes an entire rewrite consideration is truly important to the success of the of the scope document. A group of stakeholders becomes organization, to the leadership team and to you, then irate. Implementation team members battle over whose make the commitment. (To read more about managing approach is best. Pain increases; effectiveness multiple projects, see "Managing Competing IT Priorities" decreases. at The alternative is initially more difficult, but promises Just like any obligation, tying your knot to a change effort better results. It involves taking time up front to strategize, can bring moments of frustration and regret. That's why listen, build consensus and plan. This more methodical strategizing and planning up front is critical. That way, approach involves a different kind of pain—the kind that when you face one of those inevitable moments of especially irks overachievers who like to see the outcome dismay, you'll be firm enough in your resolve to find a way of their work immediately—but it leads to smoother, through the challenges and continue to lead the change. quicker and more effective implementations.
  2. 2. How active and committed are you to your next change company has a relationship with the vendor or because initiative? "the competition is doing it." Delving deeper leads you to more meaningful motivations, such as the upgrade Yes No leading to customer service improvements that run circles 1. You initiated or endorsed the change. around the competitors' customer service efforts. Yes No 2. You truly believe that the change Once you've identified the business case, the next step is will bring significant benefits to the to anticipate how the change will affect individuals in the organization. organization. Perhaps the change will mean more Yes No paperwork, better project execution or fewer irate 3. You're prepared to kick off the customers. Helping employees understand these impacts project in person. aids them in preparing for change. It also helps you Yes No understand how hard you'll need to work and how visible 4. You're committed to seeing the you'll need to be during the process. For example, if a project through to completion. project will cause significant workflow disruptions or will be perceived as busywork, you'll need to spend more time talking about the business case with employees and If you answered yes to all four questions, you've met setting expectations. several criteria for success. If you answered no to any question, it's time to do some deep thinking about whether you're the right person to lead this change—or How well have you created the case for change? whether it's even the right move for your company. Save yourself and your organization turmoil by working out 1. The change is a critical these important questions before launching the project. component of the organization's Yes No strategy. Factor #2: A Clear, Compelling Business Case 2. The benefits of the change will for Change outweigh the time and labor Yes No Here's a hypothetical question: Which of the following involved in making it happen. would better motivate you to rearrange your entire schedule for the day? (A) Your boss says, "Our most 3. The case for change is truly important client is coming in from France and we need compelling and necessary to the you at the meeting," or (B) your boss says, "We need you Yes No organization's continued evolution to look into software as a service; it may help improve our and success. bottom line." You're probably drawn to A. It's clear, precise, significant and immediate. 4. You and your change implementation team can clearly Yes No Too often, leaders introduce the rationale for their change articulate the reason for change. efforts in murky terms like, "It will help improve our bottom line" and then expect employees to jump to action. Why 5. You can explain the impacts of the Yes No should they? They don't understand exactly what the change at the department level. project is, how it will help or how it will affect their work. If you answered yes to all five questions, you're on the Workers are more likely to change when the business right track. If you answered no to questions 1 or 2, you case is obvious, specific and urgent. You and your and your colleagues need to have a serious discussion implementation team must be able to consistently and about whether the time, effort, disruption and cost of compellingly communicate the rationale behind the change are worth the effort. If you answered no to initiative and the consequences of not changing. Here's questions 3, 4 or 5, you need more clarity on the case for an example of a compelling business case: change. If the company doesn't upgrade to the new system, it Factor #3: Focus on Embedded Change, Not won't be able to process more than 5,000 new customers. And if the company can't keep growing its customer base, Programmatic Change we won't be able to keep our doors open. Everyone has a story about a flavor-of-the-month management fad that was abandoned before completion. Going through fire drills for projects that only seem That's pretty clear: Corporate growth is at stake, and the predicated on some business trend the CEO read in an consequences of not changing will hit the wallets of airline magazine is frustrating and draining for employees. employees. Business cases like this one get attention. Unfortunately, employees have enough negative experiences with aborted initiatives to be cautious when Not all changes provide such an easily apparent business leaders hype a new change. case. To identify your business case, start by rooting through superficial reasons to get to the real substance of To avoid the flavor-of-the-month syndrome, your crystal- the change. For example, a superficial reason for clear message has to underlie all communications, and upgrading to a new system might be because the
  3. 3. you have to work to embed the change into the fabric of down a hill. When you did, you felt exhilarated, proud of the organization. yourself and pleased with your accomplishment. One way to embed change is by creating goals that are Now compare that experience with how change often linked to the success of your initiative. Start by making works in organizations. Boss A says to Employee B, sure that the change supports one of the company's "Here's the new process. Now go do it." Employee B is strategic imperatives. (If it doesn't, go back and confirm then expected to implement. It's a one-sided conversation priorities and commitment with the executive team before that takes ownership away from the people who have to your launch.) Next, identify high-level goals for each make the change happen. There's little opportunity for business unit supporting the change. From there, Employee B to experience the satisfaction of learning as continue setting goals until every affected division and you did when riding your bike: They don't get to department has at least one strategic goal associated experiment (What if I give it a running start? Maybe I'll fall with the initiative. down less frequently.), refine a process (This works better if I don't brake suddenly.) or experience the thrill of The final step is to embed the initiative in individual accomplishment (Wow! I figured out how to turn!). employees' work by setting performance goals tied to the initiative. Establish clear objectives on performance To make your change effective, leverage the basics of reviews that explain what employees need to do to help human behavior. People enjoy being part of changes that their departments achieve success. For example, as part they create. Most of us like to give advice and make of a continuous improvement strategy, employees may decisions. And science reinforces these concepts (see work to "integrate the new CMM processes and "The New Science of Change" at procedures into all project work by the end of the year" or for details). Use your participate in the billing redesign working group as a employees' innate desires to shape change, give advice department subject matter expert." and make decisions by engaging staff in planning and implementation. Once you've established individual, departmental and divisional goals, don't forget about them. Too often, goals There are many ways to engage staff in change, and become part of a musty document that only gets dusted every situation will require a different combination of off at the end of Q4. Best-practice companies report methods. Make sure to use multiple mechanisms since regularly (monthly or quarterly) on progress. Critical each will provide different opportunities for involvement milestones can be celebrated in order to sustain and different kinds of feedback. Here are six suggestions momentum and enthusiasm during long-term initiatives. you can implement immediately: How well have you embedded your change initiative • Carefully consider the composition of your into your organization? change implementation team. This group will become your primary implementers. They'll be 1. Your change is integrated into the out front in the organization talking with their Yes No work of the organization. peers about the change. Because of this, you should load your team with people who are 2. You've created clear, measurable respected by their peers. Look for the informal change goals that are: leaders in the organization—the ones whom reported on frequently employees naturally seek out for advice, meaningful to employees information or support. representative of progress Yes No • Create an advisory group consisting of toward the desired end state influencers in the organization. These and results employees aren't right for the implementation tied to group and individual team because they don't have the right skills or performance because they're already over-allocated. But directly linked to the initiative they're also ones whom their peers follow and respect. Get the advisory group together to give advice on specific decisions about If you answered yes to all questions, you're ahead of the implementation and approach. You'll benefit change-management curve and you're setting up your from receiving input on key decisions and you'll organization for success. If you answered no to any of the gain the support of the company's informal above questions, it's time to revisit your communication leaders. and change plans. The caveat with creating an advisory group, of Factor #4: Employee Participation course, is that you have to listen and respond to Remember when you first learned to ride a two-wheeled it. Ignoring advice will do more damage than if bike? It took some work to find your balance. You wiped you hadn't asked for it in the first place. One way out a few times and scraped some knees. But you did it: to set yourself up for success with the advisory You figured out how to steer, brake and fly like the wind group is to set expectations early on. For example, you may commit to the advisory group
  4. 4. that you'll give immediate feedback to its ideas look like this: (1) Employee sends the idea to the in one of three ways: (1) I agree, we'll do it; (2) I review group. (2) The review group conducts an need more information in order to make a impact analysis of the idea and decides whether decision on this. Let me get back to you once we to implement it. (3) The review group have that information; or (3) That suggestion is communicates its decision to the employee. For helpful, but we can't implement it and here's why. change management "extra credit," publicize adopted ideas to show how you are listening to employees and adapting the initiative to their • Institutionalize periodic, anonymous change feedback. surveys. You can use surveys to help gauge how well employees are adopting new behaviors, applying new procedures, integrating change How well have you engaged the organization in the into their daily work or progressing over time. change effort? You'll also get hard numbers that show where your initiative is succeeding and where it's falling 1. You have developed several ways short. for employees to participate in Yes No planning and shaping the change. Crafting survey questions that tease out the information you really need takes time and 2. You have multiple mechanisms for thought. The best way to proceed is to engage a gathering perspectives from the subject matter expert. You can usually find workforce on the success and Yes No survey expertise in your company's HR challenges associated with the department. change. 3. You have several channels for • Conduct periodic pulse groups. Pull eliciting and implementing Yes No employees together in small, cross-functional improvement suggestions from the groups to discuss successes and challenges workforce. associated with the corporate initiative. This gives you access to the buzz surrounding your project as well as information you can use to Did you answer yes to all three questions? If so, good help prioritize next steps. An added benefit is work. You're engaging the organization in a way that will that pulse groups help break down help make your change a positive one. If you answered organizational silos by bringing together staff no to any of the three questions, take some time to think that normally wouldn't interact. about what mechanisms will work best in your organization. After all, engaging employees now is much Before you start your groups, however, think easier (and more pleasant) than forcing them to change about whether you'll need a facilitator. You'll later on. want one if you suspect that people will be reluctant to speak openly, if you'll have difficulty Now that you've reviewed the four success factors, you drawing them out, or if you simply want to listen should have a sense of what areas need work. With a rather than manage a discussion. little focus and effort in these areas, you too can become a change leader. • Ask managers to hold periodic feedback sessions. In these sessions, managers bring Maya Townsend, founder and principal consultant of their direct reports together for frank discussions Partnering Resources (, about what's working and what isn't relative to builds aligned, focused organizations that execute their the change. After giving employees a chance to goals more effectively. vent, managers refocus them on problem solving by asking for suggestions on ways to © 2007 CXO Media Inc. make the change more effective. Follow up the feedback sessions with a manager meeting in which they identify the themes they heard from employees and give their own feedback. Use these ideas to revise your change plan and tweak your implementation activities. • Create a process improvement structure if your change initiative is particularly complex. Good structures prevent ideas from falling through the cracks or being adopted haphazardly. An improvement process might