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Leading the Charge

Leading the Charge

Change may be the only constant, but today's organisations are struggling with a rate of change that's positively dizzying. And CIOs are right in the thick of it. As the boundaries between IT, the business units and customers continue to waver and shift, and organisations increasingly turn to technology to deliver competitive advantage, CIOs are being forced into a position that for many seems positively unnatural. Gone are the glory years cocooned in the relative obscurity of the back office, savouring the relative lack of pressure that comes with being mere followers of other people's leads. Now you're being called upon to be major change leaders, as you navigate your organisations through perhaps the fastest and most uncertain period of business change in our history.

When it comes to skills, background and outlook, CIOs are ideally equipped to integrate the multifaceted strategic ventures of the line businesses to create value for the organisation as a whole. And in today's rapidly changing world those abilities are sorely needed.

As CSC principal, government consulting Phil Sloper puts it: "Unless CIOs act as organisational drivers, then their organisations are unlikely to be able to maintain their position in technological relativity, and as a result they'll go backwards out of business. The net result is that these folk [CIOs] had better be change management specialists and they'd better have strong skills in that area.

"I think they'd better be leaders and visionaries and not managers and administrators. And that's a very substantial ask for a lot of these folk."

Substantial or not, increasingly you're being given no option but to rise to the challenge.

Sadly, there are few born leaders and no magic formula that can help a person develop leadership ability. CIOs working long hours and grappling with Y2K, GST and e-commerce have little time to master leadership skills. On the other hand, this is not as arcane as it seems, and it certainly is not rocket science.

Warren Bennis, Professor of Business Administration and founding chairman at the Leadership Institute, University of Southern California, told CIOs at a US symposium recently they were poised to become key leaders in their enterprises as companies increasingly relied on technology strategy for competitive advantage. While they might hesitate to assert themselves as enterprise leaders, Bennis stressed that leadership can be learned. All it needs is a passion for finding solutions, the ability to observe those who are already effective leaders and a commitment to learning how to communicate. [Bennis hosted CIO's series on leadership, which began in the October issue. Part three of "Stranger in a Strange Land" begins on page 72 of this issue.] But Bennis says CIOs can't hope to succeed alone. You need mentors and champions among your fellow executives, particularly the CEO, who should recruit and leverage championship teams with the CIO as the star player.

Leadership Characteristics

Leadership is more than a grab bag of skills and an attitude. Good leaders know how to foster commitment to a common purpose and create a vision based on shared values. They know how to create an environment that brings out the best in all their people, as they pursue their common goals. Above all, they know how to build trust. As Gaia Consulting Group principal Chris Chittenden puts it, trust is fundamental to effective leadership, and becoming an effective leader means, above all else, being trustworthy and building trust with others.

"Effective leaders understand that trust is based on assessments of past actions. They are sincere and mean what they say. They ‘walk the talk'. They are competent at what they do. Their employees know that they can do what they say they can do. They are reliable. They understand the promise cycle. They are clear in their requests and offers, allow for negotiation of those requests and offers in the context of defined organisational priorities, and then manage their promises effectively.

"They recognise that once lost, trust is hard to recover, and so they work hard to maintain the trust that they have built," he says.

How do you build trust? It's all about transparency and the language you use to communicate, says Global Learning managing director Steve Colman. "It's often around the simple stuff: how day-to-day interactions happen between people, that sense of shared experience and whether people's actions and words are consistent. A lot of this stems from the senior people in the organisation being transparent about what they're thinking and what they're doing."

Colman says leaders must understand and accept that change is inevitably messy. Too many people think of change as a clean, clinical process that can be implemented in a linear way. It's not. The moment you start changing any part of a system there will inevitably be unpredictable consequences. To cope with this unpredictability, good leaders recognise they need to resource the individual component parts of the system involved -- in other words, the people.

"Change is personal," Colman says. "Unless the individuals inside organisations take the change on and change their own behaviour and actions, then you're not going to be successful."

A CIO who plans to implement an important system that will dramatically transform the organisation must first thoroughly understand the purpose of the change and its likely effect on the organisation, Colman says. Then you must build relationships with people possessing the values and behaviours that will be needed to be successful in that new commercial environment. "You've got to have clarity around roles and responsibilities, and you really need to be clear about decision-making processes -- in other words, how you share information, how you build a learning capability inside the business, how you deal with roadblocks.

"And each of those has a connection to each other; so if relationships aren't working, it doesn't matter what technology you're doing, you're going to have a lack of productivity, because simple information doesn't get shared because of low levels of trust," Colman says.

Plan all change holistically, confirms Paul Lewis, associate partner financial services with Andersen Consulting. "It's no good just pulling a technology lever, pulling a process re-engineering lever, changing the organisational structure or embarking on a training program, you've got to start to look at all those things together. That's the first thing.

"The second thing is, because you're looking at a number of things together you've got to effectively manage them holistically. Often those things fall into different parts of the organisation. You may have some IT projects to run, you may have a line organisation doing re-engineering, you may have the HR group trying to think about competencies and training, but you need to actually manage that holistically. And manage the program and manage the integration of that program with all the other changes that are going on in the organisation."

Psychology of Change

You'll never achieve change unless employees know they'll be listened to, but that they'll also be held fully accountable, says Rashid Kotwal, who describes himself as an agent of change. Kotwal has been in the IT industry for the last 18 years and has both International NLP (neurolinguistic programming) Trainer Certification and Eriksonian Hypnosis certification.

In his latest role as change agent he's been taken on as software development manager for a medium-sized software development company, with the express purpose of achieving cultural change in the way the company produces software as it graduates from Australian SME to Tier 1 US operation. It took Kotwal next to no time to discover that one cause of the company's current problems was that many people, particularly in programming, simply didn't feel heard, and that there was a significant lack of communication between development staff and other business units.

"For instance, there would be incredible pressure from the sales side, saying we need the product out the door or else we're going to go bankrupt if we don't have this thing to sell. Development would commit to some time frame to meet this, knowing full well that it was impossible," Kotwal says. "There was also an attitude of blame -- the problem occurred because ‘someone else' didn't do something, provide the right information, or whatever. One of the primary challenges here is to get the people in the organisation to take responsibility for themselves."

To counter this kind of culture Kotwal started by meeting with staff individually and getting them to take a good, hard look at themselves. More importantly, he promised each and every one of them that as long as they never lied to him, they were guaranteed his full support. "My attitude is: I'm here to support you; my whole function is to help you do your job better. My job is not to tell you what to do. So if you say you're going to do something in a set period of time, I expect you to do it. If you can't do it, and you know reasonably soon there is going to be a blow-out, I need you to tell me then and there.

"It's all about getting people to take responsibility for themselves."

But Kotwal relies on more than straight talking to facilitate change. Most individual change happens at an unconscious level, he says, and revolves around the beliefs people have about themselves. If you can change someone's unconscious behaviour by talking directly to their unconscious mind, their behaviour will automatically change too."

Kotwal frequently draws on his training in NLP and hypnosis and says he would recommend training in such techniques to anyone trying to effect change. But he says you also need to recognise that most business people (like most of the general population) have a strong preference for maintaining the status quo and a tendency to resent change. To overcome this resistance, fully explain the need for changes and then make changes incrementally. Along the way take every opportunity to point out first the similarities with the status quo, and only then the differences, Kotwal says.

Incremental change is also the credo of PlaceMakers, part of the New Zealand Fletcher Challenge group. Finance manager Bob Scott detailed the PlaceMakers approach to change in the International Market Assessment (IMA) report "Making Your IT Investment Pay". Scott says rather than simply presenting change as inevitable, managers must consult widely, and where necessary slow down change.

"We use the analogy of a gear box in a manual car," he says. "There are stages you need to pass through in the change management process. If you don't have clarity about the changes and how they will affect you, you won't even get into first gear. Similarly, if you find the pace of change is too fast, you ‘change down a gear'. If you are going up a hill that is hard going, it is perfectly valid to slow down."

The approach means more work, but can avoid rework. Keeping up the dialogue and moving forward with people is more likely to produce the desired result, Scott says. He also sees communication as key to getting people on board.

"IT can only add value if it impacts across the business as a whole; and if you're going to extract value from it, you need to get people thinking about how it is going to change their work. We spend a lot of time and effort right up front on change management, and take great care at the start of the process to try and get people to understand what the changes mean and how they can be improved."

Take People with You

Reengineering that involves significant downsizing has caused problems for many an organisation; but when Lend Lease Corporation set out to strip 40 per cent from its cost structure a few years ago it worked, because the company took its people along with it, says general manager of people Rosemary Kirkby.

"I have a view that somehow you've got to get a common purpose established and you've got to excite people," she says. "And they're not excited about being told ‘we need 40 per cent out of our cost structure'. It's something else; it's about building a better company, it's about competing, about really making a contribution. So you've got to get some sense of common purpose and some vision of how the world could change that will excite people."

Sometimes you may have to "stoke the fire for quite a long time" before you can get the debate happening and achieve consensus, Kirkby says, but at Lend Lease no change initiative persists unless that consensus is there.

You also need to appoint champions of change, recognising that you can find such champions at every level of the organisation. "You've got to find the people with the passion for getting something changed, and really help them to bring their own supporters in, too," Kirkby says.

Getting Started

Starting any change program is fraught with difficulty. Research company IDC advises IT executives to begin any change program with a well-integrated mission statement that blends the corporate mission statement with those of the internal clients. This will let you derive the goals and objectives of IT that will, in turn, shape the technology strategy and the systems development strategies. IDC says this top-down approach aligns all tactical decisions with the ultimate corporate strategy.

Fully understand the change process before you begin, advises Paul Lee, who leads the change team for Deloitte Consulting. Lee says the hardest challenge his team has is convincing people that change is a transition process rather than a set of steps that can be implemented like a good IT program. That makes it every bit as vital to understand the process of change as the mechanics of change, Lee says.

"Generally, people go through a process of change, which is really a whole set of signals that people need to receive before they're willing to throw away what they've already got. And very often, because executives are fighting back about poor information, the CIO gets bombarded with a whole set of signals questioning the need for change; but the people on the coal face who have to change are protected from those signals," Lee says. "Therefore, the reason for change isn't clear to people and not a lot of effort goes into making it clear."

Lee says while it's good to set visions for staff, it's more important to work with them to get them to understand why the current position needs to change and to let them know the full implications of that change for them. You should also outline some practical first steps towards change to help build their confidence in the change process. "So communication is the key; but it's a communication that really understands the needs of the individual."

Lee says he's also seen too many change projects taking on a life of their own, separate to the needs of the organisation. If project teams get control of what is being delivered, then what is delivered tends to become a deadline rather than a set of benefits for the organisation. Scepticism mounts because the rosy expectations raised early on the project are dashed as project managers seek to reduce scope to meet those deadlines. "The organisation has got to make sure it is keeping control of the project, rather than the project team taking control," Lee says.

For "the organisation" read "the CIO". That means you. You can become an effective change leader. It just takes time, a willingness to learn and . . . dare we say . . . a willingness to change.

Next month: The Stages of Change

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