The past year-plus has been besieged with sudden changes.
IT departments have had to navigate work-from-home mandates, while some organisations have dealt with restructuring, downsizing or an overhaul of IT infrastructure with new support partners and the mandate to go digital.
It could be argued that change management has never been more important. After all, effective change management involves operating with sensitivity during challenging times so that teams can move forward without missing a beat. How this is executed depends on a number of factors, including the size of an organisation and the systems and processes undergoing transformation. However, there are some best practices that apply in most situations.
First things first: Identify your agents of change
Any time there’s an organisational shift, you need a leader who understands the impact on their teams, and who can inspire individuals to trust the new direction. I call this person the executive sponsor of change. This person needs to have the vision and leadership skills to champion the change, whether it’s revamping an IT strategy, pivoting to a new AMS partner, or moving business-critical systems to a public cloud environment. This person has a 360-degree view of the business, stays up to date with technology innovation and knows where investments should be made.
When it comes to change management in technology, I typically like to see the CIO as the executive sponsor, but sometimes also the CTO. It’s also often beneficial to have the CFO on board, because the business owners also have to embrace the change. The business side of the house needs to hit their numbers, service their clients and keep the organisation running – they can’t afford for this to be impacted by technology changes that disrupt system stability and performance.
Three change management best practices to embrace
Again, how change management manifests itself can vary from workplace to workplace, but there are three helpful best practices I find useful in almost every situation:
- Lead with transparency: When an IT organisation goes through a major change, a senior executive should communicate not only with the other executives sponsoring the change, but also the tech professionals and business users who will ultimately be affected. The key factors that went into the decision driving the change should be addressed, including the financial and business implications. It's also important that they give people as much information as possible — anxiety levels lower when people have the details, know the risks and how the decision came about. If executives make a major decision without offering their teams this transparency, the perception can often become that leaders don't know what it's really like in the trenches and how this change impacts their work. Transparency gives the initiative a much better chance at succeeding.
- Host a meeting of the minds. Executives should also take the lead and facilitate a forum where affected teams can discuss the nitty-gritty details. Hosting a session detailing the tech implications of the change and allowing team members to ask any questions they have is key. This is not to say that it might not get contentious — I’ve been involved in many a meeting where engineers brought their tough questions and skepticism to a technology change, coupled with concern because they weren't told about it until it was already in motion. But once fellow engineers walk through the changes at a technical level, the room relaxes, and anxiety is alleviated. This type of interaction helps build trust and acceptance.
- Even though it’s business, make it personal. During the transition phase of change, personal interaction is vitally important. When teams start working through change — especially technical teams — it can sometimes be too easy for people to hide behind a computer screen where they are part of the problem rather than the solution. I find it most helpful to steer people to have conversations with others involved in the change; propelling the connections through weekly or bi-weekly in-person meetings. This has shifted to Zoom and other modes of communication in the current environment, but these regular interactions can be very effective because your teams form personal relationships that will broker success. At the end of the day, it’s about building trust between teams and executives.
When a business undertakes an organisational or technological change that fundamentally alters its processes, support or infrastructure, there can be disbelief, concern and anxiety that builds within the organisation. The pandemic saw a lot of disruption in our personal lives that occurred at the same time as a paradigm shift in technology and our work lives. Executive change management leaders need to take this into account and provide employees with a holistic support system to navigate business alterations.