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Leadership in IT

Software Project or Culture Change?

Maximizing the people return on your technology investment.

"It is time to kick butt." The red-faced CEO of a Fortune 500 company growled. "We have bled fortunes on systems to improve efficiency and customer service and now I am up to my ears in whining, complaints, and sabotage. If they don’t like it they can leave." These are prophetic words.

Having distinguished himself as a manager of things, but not as a leader of people, the CEO soon learns something about human beings. When they decide to leave a company, the first elements to check out are the spirit, the heart, and the mind. The last element to leave, unfortunately, is the body. Organizations managed in this way end up with workers whose commitment, passion, and creativity have been gone for years, who show up only to collect paychecks. To make matters worse, workers are driven into destructive and disruptive behavior as a reaction to management hostility.

The organization I have just described is real although perhaps a bit extreme. However, if you are about to sow the seeds of technological change, it is only prudent to test the soil where they will land. To assist you, I have included at the end of this paper a change readiness form that I use as a part of my consulting practice.

As project leader for a leading edge enterprise software project, you are excited - and you have the right to be - about the potential improvements in productivity and internal/external customer satisfaction. This is an important project for you, and you don’t want just a mediocre outcome, you want to "hit a home run." You want outstanding technological innovation to become woven into the fabric of your organization.

When I ask leaders of enterprise software projects how they plan to manage potential user resistance, most tell me their primary strategy is "a powerful sponsor." While necessary, this falls short for several reasons. In many organizations I have worked with, the chief’s total commitment is reason enough to drive user resistance underground.

Workers avoid expressing concerns for fear of being labeled "straggler." Resistance shows up in ways that are subtle and difficult to address, such as:

Meetings rescheduled at the last minute

Experts pulled from projects to deal with operational crises

Training programs abbreviated due to time or budget

Communication about required changes is nonexistent, cynical, or destructive.

Sole reliance on a powerful change sponsor is not a sustainable strategy, The powerful sponsor strategy lacks sustainability as top executives come and go every 2-3 years. Their replacements rarely have the perspective to stand up to the users’ cynicism.

Some leadership and change management consultants have advocated getting the buy-in of everyone impacted by change as a means of offering "democratic" participation. This can prove as dangerous as the dictatorial approach, producing frustration and delay due to endless meetings and discussions. The resulting decisions, while popular, may be wrong. Sometimes this approach can result in users feeling deep resentment for the people at the top. People hate manipulation even more than they resent coercion. Anger wells up after spending valuable time contributing ideas and suggestions only to find management has decided in advance what will be done.

Books and videos advocating fads and fashions in leadership and change management complicate the picture. In the 80’s, reengineering gurus admonished their followers, "Don’t worry about the people, just get the process right, and people will follow." Finally these same gurus have now realized why most reengineering projects failed: the lack of attention to how human beings respond to cultural change. In the last decades, many organizations tried to empower teams to produce the necessary change. Most team members were bitterly disillusioned by the false expectation that they would be given full control of their destiny. One CEO even published a memo in frustration, saying, "Effective immediately, the terms ‘empowerment,’ ‘empower,’ or ‘empowered’ will no longer be used in this organization."

Having experienced these expensive lessons, many thoughtful change leaders have said to us, "We need a principled, practical approach to leading change that will deliver long-lasting effectiveness for leaders and organizations.", We at the Wilfred Jarvis Institute, believe we have built such an approach on more than 5 decades of research and validation by our founder.

It is necessary to surface resistance before managing it. I recommend the following practical steps:

1. Clearly define what will change, and explain why.

2. Assess user’s values, emotions and motivations. Uncover all issues and problems.

3. Diagnose the root causes of major problems.

4. Involve users in recommending solutions.

5. To achieve successful long-lasting change, support change sponsors and leaders.
This should include training, coaching, evaluation etc.

In order to be successful with items 2, 3, and 4 above, many of the Institute’s clients have used GroupSmart, our state-of-the-art electronic group-learning technology. The principal benefits of GroupSmart are:

1. Parallel idea generation and contribution through networked laptops allow large amounts of issue-related information to be quickly generated.

2. Ideas and comments are submitted anonymously, relieving participants of fear, embarrassment, or intimidation…

3. Software tools speed up group processes, such as voting, surveying, and selection of alternatives.

4. Automatic session reports save time and energy.

In less time and with less effort than it used to take to administer a change readiness assessment, GroupSmart can prepare assessments, identified issues, diagnosed causes, and facilitated user brainstorming sessions. Best of all, GroupSmart participants feel they have contributed to positive change in the organization.

In summary, enterprise-software project leaders should seize the opportunity to ensure long-lasting success and maximum ROI by leveraging change and creating a more supportive long-term environment. Collect golden eggs for your project, but make sure the goose is healthier as a result. We can achieve this with a combination of a principled, practical approach to leadership, and state-of-the-art group learning technology. Take the first step.

Click here to view the Change Readiness Assessment Form


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