Double Agent

The CIO as change leader
Reprinted from CIO Magazine (Australia) May 2001
By Steve Amesbury

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No Room for White Ants
Management must consider all arguments when embarking on a new project.  However, once the decision has been made, it is crucial that executives become zealots for the cause.  Detractors – particularly at executive level can be expensive, if not disastrous. Unfortunately you can usually depend on at least one voice of opposition in any project.  A CIO seldom has the seniority to rectify this situation, so must work closely with the CEO to build a guiding coalition or steering committee to create the supporting culture.  While criticism and feedback is healthy, opposition to agreed project objectives is not. The CEO must send out a clear message that such opposition will not be tolerated. If the undertaking is business critical, offenders may have to be taken out of the picture.

In most organisations there is a tendency towards complacency at the beginning of any change initiative. This needs to be replaced with a sense of urgency from day one, and that is no easy task.  There are various ways of dealing with complacency. The greater the inertia in the organisation, the more drastic the solution may become.  John P. Kotter in his book ‘Leading Change’ suggests that it may even be necessary to create a business crisis to bring the status to red alert.  Not something I have tried personally, although I have been sorely tempted at times.

On the communication front, the CIO can be instrumental in ensuring that the project has a ‘vision’ that can be clearly and concisely communicated. A statement is needed that does not waffle on, but answers the question ‘Why are we really spending all of this time, effort and money on this project’?  Something that staff, and even your clients can sign up to.  The CIO could facilitate workshops with other executives to develop a statement that can be expressed in a few minutes.

The CIO needs to encourage feedback using as many sources as possible, and ensure that this gets back to the Sponsor, the CIO, executive management and the CEO. This is often raised as one of the key arguments for the CIO to be part of the executive and/or board – to make sure there is a free flow of relevant information to and from the highest levels of management, and that the message is not being diluted or misunderstood.

One activity that is often overlooked is celebrating success.  If the project is expected to take several years, try to incorporate some short-term wins.  People won’t wait three years to see signs of progress. They will be fatigued, and appreciate some evidence of progress. Short-term wins address this need, and provide an opportunity to celebrate in a way that recognizes and rewards the efforts being made by staff.  If the past few years are any guide, you may be asking some of the same people to step up to the plate again for another change initiative in the near future, and you’ll need them on side.

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Graphic used under Creative Commons from LuMaxArt