What is effective change management?

I was never a particularly good surfer. I did manage to stand up on a board when I was a junior lifeguard. But I did become a reasonably good body surfer. As a body surfer, you would look for two things:

  1. Are sets breaking correctly?
  2. Are you correctly positioned to catch a ride?

When both are right, you can take a long ride. When they aren’t, you need to dive underneath and wait for the next wave or set of waves.

Today’s businesses are like body surfers needing to dive underneath as the regularity of waves increases. The problem is body surfers can only stay underneath so long. Something that is hard to do as the waves become larger and even more disruptive. In Geoffrey Moore’s book Zone to Win, he shares that the frequency of waves is only going to increase and how more and more businesses are missing a wave that fundamentally changes their business model. Geoffrey suggests the difference between winners and losers is that winners can get change into what he calls ‘the transformative zone’. Organizations that do so remain relevant to their customers. The question is how good are most organizations at change management? I posed the question to my weekly #CIOChat group.

Given that IT is the predominant delivery agent for business change, does change management set the perception for IT?

One CIO started this portion of the discussion by saying “let me run my answer through the CAB and I’ll get back to you, assuming it’s approved.” More seriously, CIOs said not solely, but yes. CIOs believe that change is one of those make-or-break factors that sets the perception of IT as a service provider. Change management, say CIOs, is most of what our ‘customers’ see when they think about IT.

Clearly, poor change management is a disaster. CIOs believe from identifying change to planning the delivery of the techie bits to training, testing, and selling change, skills around change management define IT. Change management, fundamentally, sets the tone for IT.  Every enhancement in technology will have an impact to the organization. It seems clear, if IT is to become a trusted partner at enabling or delivering business change, then it must exemplify successful change management in its organization’s culture and project portfolio.

While CIOs may be singularly focused on provided technology that works, change failure is really about people and getting them to use technology. This is the hard bit. Stephanie Woerner, author of the book What is Your Digital Business Model, says IT success depends on how it does change management. She challenges if CIOs are moving beyond the formal business systems to addressing culture and power. CIOs say the problem is that too many IT organizations do not think through the entire life-cycle for a change. 

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