The need for strong influence skills doesn’t end once you have convinced colleagues to accept a new business process or system. A common mistake that CIOs make once a project gets underway is to rely on “the ye ol’ generic change speech,” says Jerry Jellison, a social psychologist and professor at the University of Southern California.
The typical exhortation that “we’ve got to do this because it is good for the company” doesn’t work, he argues. In his recent book, Managing the Dynamics of Change, Jellison outlines for executives a five-step process for using their influence to improve the chances that any change will be successful. Jellison calls the process the “J curve,” which describes how any large-scale (read strategic) change affects productivity: lowering it at first, then later raising it.
Following are the stops along the J curve and Jellison’s advice for what CIOs can do to influence the outcome of any project.
The plateau. Colleagues are comfortable with existing systems and processes and resist new ideas. Method of influence: Inform business leaders and the CEO that change will temporarily decrease productivity and morale, but both will improve over time. Identify the smallest barriers to change and remove them.
The cliff. A new system or process has been deployed. Users are making mistakes, and new processes are not fully understood. Staff and business leaders are highly resistant, and fear of failure is common. Method of influence: Walk users through new procedures in minute detail. Communicate that mistakes are expected.
The valley. Users are beginning to learn from mistakes. Although these users are becoming familiar with new processes, it’s hard for business leaders to see the improvements yet, and they attribute any progress to luck. Method of influence: Point out small successes. Acknowledge criticism, and follow with suggestions for improvement.
The ascent. Employees begin to praise the system, and productivity nears predeployment levels. Method of influence: Reinforce reasons why the system was put into place, and publicize progress.
The mountaintop. Employees become proficient with new processes, and productivity surpasses past levels. Method of influence: Don’t gloat. Encourage colleagues to think strategically how processes can be improved even more. Use your success to influence future change.