The change advocate

The change advocate

CIOs at the frontline of systemic change must work as champions to ensure success

At a time when many organisations are undergoing a significant amount of change, executives are finding themselves having to manage change weary staff through both change and their operational portfolios. The organisational changes in question will often stem from emerging business needs, but much of the change actually experienced results from the systemic deployment of information technology solutions that underpin the business.

As such, CIOs start to find themselves at the frontline; employees perceive that ‘IT is changing this’ and ‘rolling out that’, instead of accepting such changes as business change.

This is reflective of the 2011 State of the CIO results, with CIOs identifying that 38 per cent spend their time leading change efforts. And while the survey shows that 42 per cent would like to focus on this over the next three to five years, it is likely to be greater, since the other key focus — aligning IT initiatives with business goals — was at 58 per cent. The success of these changes, organisationally, will be congruent with the success of the underlying IT project or initiative. So whether we openly accept it or not, most CIOs have a significant role in advocating these changes and ensuring they are successful. It can be seen as an additional burden to an already cumbersome role or, more importantly, it can be seized as an opportunity to contribute and lead from the business domain, showcasing the greater breadth and capability of the CIO as an organisational leader.

So, how do CIOs prepare to use change to demonstrate organisational leadership? Here are couple of foundations that I endeavour to establish at any organisation that help me succeed in this role of ‘change advocate’. They may also apply to many other aspects of our roles.

End-to-end visibility

We don’t often do change for change’s sake (well, we generally shouldn’t) so, in general, change comes from the desire to improve, shift focus, and respond to market pressures or new opportunities. The systemic change that results can become unnecessarily complex when an organisation lacks end-to-end visibility of its business and its dependencies, known and hidden.

When acknowledged, CIOs have an important value to a CEO. As an executive with one of the few holistic views of the organisation through supporting business systems, they have a rare insight. Organisations that have had the CIO champion ‘enterprise architecture’ are significantly placed to capture the ‘business architecture’. It not only provides the CIO full visibility of the organisation’s end-to-end processes, it improves end user and ICT engagement through the consultative workshopping of processes along the way. It provides an improved agility and it achieves a solid foundation of end user buy-in because all new change initiatives start from a business process approach.

Keeping the traction

Maintaining momentum during large scale change can be a challenge as resistance and weariness set in. It is often compounded as complacency undermines the communication effort and drive. This is not only counterproductive to the change and its initiative, it adds to the establishment of silos within an organisation already hampered by change.

Silos can come from structural and cultural issues, and often result as different functional areas strive for organisational outcomes that aren’t consistent across portfolios, thus increasing frustration and reducing collegiality.

Organisations must therefore define the phases of change and communicate them with a sense of urgency that clarifies effort and priority, ensuring everybody understands the message that what is occurring has an immediacy and relevancy to every role. The sense of urgency can’t be false, as it will only serve to create activity — not productivity — and ultimately disenfranchise staff.

Many organisational silos were stripped away during last year’s floods in Queensland, for example; there was a common short-term purpose that required immediate action. Capturing the essence of these important clear actions into the change efforts will provide and maintain traction.


Communication is a common theme through any strategic planning workshop, staff survey, or post-implementation review. No matter how organisations address communication, they can always do more and do it more effectively — doubly so for an organisation undergoing change. It requires continual effort to manage not only end users and change, but horizontal relationships.

I could go through the various personal strategies a CIO can put in place to communicate across an organisation, such as the aforementioned efforts for breaking down silos, but there is one approach that I think many CIOs and leaders fail to prioritise: Horizontal communications. There are a number of blogs and LinkedIn group discussions that deliberate over how we can improve, bolster and manage the CIO-CEO dynamic, to the point that we neglect to invest in other relationships.

Organisational change buy-in begins at the leadership level and when pre-existing relationship and shared understanding exist there is greater chance of success. CIOs need to spend time building relationships with peer roles such as the chief financial officer, the human resources director and the executive marketing manager. Use both formal and informal discussions, ensuring that a level of collaboration is achieved and, if not a shared vision, at least a shared understanding, through some robust discussion of what is on the CIO agenda. This will improve the buy-in at this level. If done well, such communication can also help improvement of your relationship with the CEO as his or her other direct reports start to provide a level of advocacy for your role within the organisation.

Some of these foundations are long term and come with their own challenges, but once achieved they can equip CIOs with a good platform for succeeding and capitalising on opportunities.

As large systemic change heralds from initiatives such as electronic records management, social media, consumerisation and mobility through to Cloud, ERP and Big Data, more and more CIOs will find themselves having to step in and champion the change advocate role.

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