It is often stated that technology is easy and people are hard. Whether or not you agree with that, the sentiment must be heeded. Otherwise, even the best technical solutions can be doomed to failure or irrelevancy. For those who find themselves deeply focused on technical solutions this can be easily forgotten. Interpersonal change management issues can arise without warning and from almost anywhere, including people who control programs and budgets. In my experience, this challenge often begins with people getting a bit self-focused, in some cases bordering on territorial, about four key things, which I like to call the 4 MYs:
Let’s face it, change can be frightening. Many people are unnerved by change, and disruptive changes of this nature can be disturbing even to those who are more comfortable with change in general. Concerns can range from “how will this new thing work” to “will I be able to do my job” to “will my job even be necessary”. Proactive communication at every stage in the project is critical in order to alleviate or eliminate this MY. And if you are the type of person who is not compelled by the interpersonal aspects of this then realize that if the people who will use or be served by the system are not effective then your ROC (return on change) – the positive impact of your effort – will likely be less than its full potential. Possibly dramatically less.
I am sure the term “server hugger” is not new to you. Imagine the horror experienced by one when they learn they will no longer be able to give their high-tech sweetheart a big squeeze to start and end their day. If that’s what you are thinking, think again. Sure, there are server huggers who may not be able to justify their desire for close physical proximity to their equipment. And, if your customer is technically skilled, or a technophile, the odds they are a server hugger are likely above average. So imagine being asked to “take the toys away” from thousands of engineers.
That was the task of our private cloud team. Fortunate to have built strong relationships prior to our cloud initiative, we learned that often people who may have been perceived as server huggers had legitimate concerns. Addressing those concerns was key to a smooth transition, and a maximized ROC. Keys to successfully addressing this MY included making the customer aware of the benefits; reassuring them they would be able to function effectively in the new environment; and working with them to ensure their needs were actually met. Proactive, honest, and transparent communication is key here also. Mistakes will happen. Don’t cover them up and – as we say in “The Innovative CIO” – do not go dark. Make their new world better than the existing one, and demonstrate that is the case. Find champions and make them heroes.
Now we’re moving a bit higher up the management chain. Budgets are always a sensitive topic, and when you are centralizing services you will often be in a position where your budget is growing while those you serve are facing budgets that are not (or are shrinking). So, their perception could be that you are stealing their budget. In fact, they might even think that you are taking their budget and giving it to someone else! In addition, some people measure their personal worth or status based upon things such as the size of their budget. Their perception may be that you are reducing their personal worth or status. Some take this personally, while to others it is purely political. Fear not, the level of excitement this brings to your life is the same in both cases.
Again, proactive and transparent communication is key. As I’ve written in the past, you must proactively measure the value you deliver (not only the service). You must be able to demonstrate to your stakeholders why their business unit is better off with you. That’s not always about expense reduction. It’s often about agility and the ability to accomplish things that were not possible prior to the changes. And you must be sure the business value of your initiative (as it applies to these stakeholders, and in general) is understood and communicated more broadly. Sadly, in some cases budget control is more important to someone than doing what is best for the business. And that brings us directly to the fourth MY…
Though the wording of this MY may suggest that it exists only in the topmost echelons of an organization, that is not the case. As with budget, there are some who believe that the size of their organization and the span of their control is the greatest testament to their personal worth. Countless aspects of the nature of a cloud computing, IT transformation, or data center consolidation initiative can put you square in the sights of someone of this nature. As with the other MYs, the motivation of someone in this category is not necessarily sinister. (It can be.)
It’s not only your direct customers and stakeholders that come into play here. Due to their nature, centralized services budgets will often grow to be amongst the largest. And it may not be obvious to everyone that, for example, your total budget is far less than total spending on services that it replaced. So someone from any organization might notice your team’s “big number” and take aim at your organization as a place from which their budget funding might come. Measurement of the service you deliver, the value you deliver, and proactive and transparent communication is critical here too. Have your “what have you done for me lately” elevator speech at the ready. Be prepared to answer tough questions regarding your services’ value and how effectively you are applying funding (you should know that anyway). Know how your organization contributes to key business priorities. Better still, learn how you can create value for these new stakeholders and engage their teams.
Understanding, and being prepared for, these MYs, their root causes, and the motivations of those impacted by major transformation initiatives is imperative. What other MYs do you prepare for? What do you do to address them? Please share your insights in the comments area below.
“Shout” photo courtesy of stock.xchng