De-scarifying Change

De-scarifying Change

Selling change is never easy. Improving your soft skills and learning how to engage people in a direct and personal way can often mean the difference between success and failure.

The first major change program Australian Red Cross CIO Warren Don became involved in was a 1995 outsourcing effort for an Australian crop science company.

To IT management it all seemed so simple: BHP-IT would just walk in and take over both the ERP system and the people running it, and everything would work fine from there. Only trouble is, there were a “whole lot of people” working for Don at the time who didn’t want to work for BHP-IT. They were happy as they were, operating as a kind of “cottage IT industry where they could do many diverse things without being stuck with a single function”.

But challenges are opportunities too, and the lessons Don learnt were valuable ones, such as the fact that believing that any implementation in a change environment will be simple is almost certain to prove a fatal mistake.

So too, the assumption that those most resistant to that change can be brought to heel by logic — a weakness CIOs from an IT background, trained to move in logical steps, are particularly prone to — when it is human emotion, pure and simple, driving their resistance.

“You might be presenting a value proposition to them about what happens after the change: this is going to make your job easier, it’s going to make your life happier, it’s going to make things more straightforward for you,” Don says. “People don’t think that way; they think that there is some hidden agenda in it or it’s going to be worse for them somehow. People don’t think logically when you’re trying to present them with a change scenario and trying to create a sense of urgency that ensures it really happens.”

The remedy to that, Don says, is to start by finding out what people are really thinking and build enough confidence to ensure they will confess their real concerns, without fearing they will be condemned for them.

But the third major error, Don says, lies in imagining that the vision is shared by the rest of the organisation, and that the elevator pitch that effectively sold the vision to you is going to similarly sway or inspire others.

“And that is a fatal mistake,” Don says, “because it doesn’t work on all; messages have to be tailored and they have to be individualised for the individual situations and the key players in the organisation that are going to make that change happen. Now they may be executives in the organisation, or they may be the specialist who owns a business process, or they may be that person in the back room that is the glue that holds the organisation together and who is overlooked and often is not recognised for the value that they bring the organisation, but they are there, they’re the people that make it all work. Somehow you have got to get to them too.”

Or as Gartner says: “Customise communication. Each person, group and role expects to hear an answer to the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Ignore that question if you want to jeopardise success.”

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Tags change management

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