13 ingredients for IT transformation success

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Transformation and change leadership are not new challenges for CIOs. However, today’s CIOs are faced with the digital remaking of the entire business landscape. This baker's dozen recipe will help you cook up an IT transformation success.

Transformation by nature is not formulaic—every business is different, and culture plays a huge role in what can be done, and how. But, there are common elements that, according to members of the CIO Executive Council, CIOs ignore at their own peril.

1. Articulate the motivation – Change is tough, so there needs to be a damn good reason to care, to commit and to act. The motivation for IT transformation should tie to business success and jibe with stated business goals. But don’t forget the personal motivation. What’s at stake for our IT organization and the people who comprise it? What positive outcomes will transformation make possible? What negative consequences will it avoid?

2. Create a vision – What will the future-ready IT organization look like? How will it be different from today’s incarnation? How will it function in the context of the rest of the enterprise? How will roles and duties and job satisfaction be different? How will IT’s rank and file employees fit in this vision?

3. Develop a strategy – Adapt successful IT strategy development formulas to create a transformation strategy. Leadership, responsibilities, accountability, timing, milestones, phases—all the typical elements apply. IDC research shows that the transformation must be done in three years or less, otherwise it could drag on indefinitely, and ROI will evaporate.

4. Get CEO backing – IT transformation not only needs buy-in from the top, but air cover. Another reason to keep the timetable short—Fortune 500 CEOs have a median tenure of 4.9 years. They are less likely to care and go to bat for a transformation effort that will last longer than they will.

5. Get the CIO on the executive team – Sorry, but the C-suite (and the board) need to hear about the transformation—plans, progress and setbacks—directly from the CIO. This is too important to be filtered through a CFO or COO.

6. Enlist stakeholders – Don’t go it alone; transformation needs allies. Even IT’s biggest critics might be so happy to learn that change is in the offing that they may be eager to help. Look for partners to participate in agile or DevOps pilots, to offer job shadow opportunities for IT leaders who need business immersion, and to provide introductions to end customers. And bring enterprise HR on board—you’re going to need talent resources and support.

7. Put someone in charge – This is not a part-time role or another project lead assignment. Dedicate someone who knows the organization, is respected, and has a record of influence. People who need to be liked are not appropriate—there will be ruffled feathers and unpopular decisions.

8. Cultivate ambassadors – The CIO and his/her lieutenants can’t be the only ones beating the transformation drum. Find respected middle-level managers and rising stars who can carry the beat into the rank and file, and incent them to do so.

9. Focus on the IT masses – There are change boosters, there are change resisters, and then there are the other 80 percent of the IT department. The latter are the people whose hearts and minds you need to win. Make the transformation matter to them personally (see No. 2: Create a vision, above). The resisters will weed themselves out over time; don’t sweat them.

10. Build talent – You and everybody else are lacking the talent needed on a future-ready IT staff. Identify the biggest current and anticipated needs and gaps, then create a campaign to attract talent from the outside and build it from the inside. This needs to be a priority for your company’s HR leader. If your staff is heavy with 30-year veterans, institute a reverse-mentoring program and present them with opportunities to learn new disciplines at company cost.

11. Create an IT transformation brand – Give your IT organization transformation a catchy but meaningful name that will work in conversation and look good as a Facebook page. This is your rallying flag.

12. Measure success, document wins – It’s a long slog, so measure success in reaching transformation milestones. Create an online IT transformation “tachometer” and update it weekly.

13. Communicate everything – Nobody outside IT is paying any attention to your transformation gambit. Same goes for many in IT. Communication is a necessary part of the transformation overhead. You’ve got to communicate intent, progress, leverage your transformation brand, celebrate wins and explain setbacks.

Don’t even think about doing this in a newsletter. Create a Facebook page and invite followers. Ask for advocacy from your business partners, who can speak to the program wins and share in the glory. Get external recognition through awards programs. Tell your story publically via the media (here is where the CEC’s Global Media Bureau can help). Don’t assume you can’t talk about it till you’re finished—people want to know what you are up to and how you are going about it. This will attract attention and, potentially, talent.

Transformation and change leadership are not new rodeos for CIOs. Neither is the threat of irrelevance and of being sidelined. But, never have CIOs faced an inflection point like this one, the digital remaking of the entire business landscape. A future-ready IT organization led by a Future-State CIO™ is the only solution that will serve.

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