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. Gartner estimates that less than 10 percent of enterprises and their CIOs have attempted to institutionalize change management in even the most basic way: by training managers, by creating an enterprise program management office (PMO) or by any other means.
Given the high stakes involved and abundant natural resistance to change that already exists within most enterprises, it's not surprising 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 judgment.
There is merit in this position. Few CIOs are equipped to address the soft issues that make organizational change so intractable. But when asked about the top barriers to change, for example in a recent Gartner survey, CIOs cited culture, priorities and politics as the biggest barriers they face. These "soft" issues, common wisdom has it, are something that's dependent on individual skills; and circumstances; but not amenable to any form of systematic methods and approaches.
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.
Change resistance follows a predictable and manageable pattern. The first step is to recognize that resistance to change - that all too natural response to the new - follows a predicable pattern. Pivotal to addressing it is to know who is involved and what their motivations are.
Successfully changing means building demand for change in three distinct groups of people: sponsors, agents and targets. A sponsor is the individual or entity with responsibility for a change initiative's success, and who has the necessary authority to commit required resources to the initiative. An agent is an individual or entity empowered by the sponsor to carry out specific tasks related to the change initiative. And the target is an individual or entity that will be required to change behaviour and actions.
Leading change involves managing each of these groups successfully. Get them all informed, and heading in the same direction, and the job is half done. Drawing on experiences of CIOs that have done this successfully, it is best achieved by setting up an enterprise change team.
The enterprise change team has three main parts. Although it is tempting for a CIO to try to achieve change through some Herculean effort on their own, 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).
Typically, people team members and methodology experts are sourced externally. They can be external consultants, academics or experienced change management practitioners who are hired into the organization as permanent change team leaders. The other members of the change team draw on existing skills from with the enterprise
Communicate change struggles. 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 with people who have particular roles and responsibilities - sometimes specific individuals - in mind.
It's worth remembering - and emphasizing - that change begins with an urgent external reason to change. The earliest messages need to make this clear: There is no alternative to change for the enterprise. The message is targeted at the entire enterprise, not individuals, using in-person presentations, management panel teleconferences (live and recorded) and media such as Web sites and newsletters.
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