Over the last two decades, I’ve had a front-row seat at dozens of IT transformations across the world and was recently asked for my most salient “lessons learned.” These lessons are founded on the same premise: The CIO has a vision for transformation, and they want to implement it ASAP.
The CIO's vision typically results in a strategy, which is broken down into tactics that are delegated out for execution. The team does its part, planning how to implement the changes. Consultants are often brought in along the way. PowerPoint presentations, town halls, and fireside chats are fired up to communicate to the organization, and everyone settles in for the long slog of getting from here to there.
None of that is a problem, but in aggregate the results are often very unsatisfying. The transformation is easy to kick off but incredibly difficult to execute. The "end" becomes an almost mythical target, and status reports seem stuck on “Making progress.” So, how can you avoid the seemingly inevitable slide from inspirational transformation to ineffectual implementation? Here are the top things I’ve learned.
Track all the changes
Many transformations include a series of “initiatives” stacked up along the journey, but it’s exhausting for teams to keep track of all of the kickoffs, status meetings, and report outs. Keep a simple list of the initiatives, and refer to it often, especially when you’re considering adding a new one. Align leadership on the goals and expectations of each initiative up front, while establishing re-evaluation opportunities at pre-determined points throughout the transition. This will help your internal sponsors see the right ones through to fruition.
Drop the jargon
IT transformation (or any other major change) must be communicated in laymen’s terms. If you want your front-line employees to successfully complete what you ask them to do, drop the jargon. If front-line employees and contractors can explain how they fit into the big picture, what their day-to-day role in the transformation is, and how they know they’re doing the work correctly, you’ll know you’ve communicated clearly. Any plan that stops short of this is likely to take much longer than necessary to implement.
Unburden your Pacers
CIOs have a small number of people who are “needed everywhere.” I’ve heard them called “Pacers” because the transformation can move only as fast as these people can be made available. When their work is analyzed, 25 to 40 percent of their day is often spent completing tasks that could easily be done by others. This severely limits their capacity to do high-value work, but it can be readily solved with structured knowledge transfer. This supports the overall goals of the transformation with the added bonus of empowering team members with new responsibilities.
Make it easy to give up old work
Every employee with a legacy role has to be clear on when and how to stop their old work to free them up to take on their new role. Set firm deadlines for transitions to take place, and make hand-overs a key component of the process. This will ensure knowledge isn’t lost in the transition and will also support a smooth changeover as employees jump into their new roles.
Data drives behavior—and talent issues
Even though half of most CIOs’ budgets are spent on people, they rarely spend more than a few hours each month on talent issues. That is mainly because they don’t have a way to think about talent that feels productive and practical. When they have a framework for these conversations, and the data to back it up, the CIO is able to lead thoughtful, informed discussions about talent, and create measurable outcomes and satisfaction at all levels of the organization.
When everyone involved in a transformation can define what “done” means to them, you know you’ve won. Your team, employees, and contractors should be able to say things like, “My priorities have changed from ‘A’ to ‘B,’” or “I’ve completed my work on ‘C’ and started working on ‘D.’” They should know they are on the right track because they hit their standards for one aspect and their metrics for another. These targets may change over the course of the transformation, but if the targets aren’t clear to everyone involved, you’ll never be able to celebrate crossing the finish line.