Change Channelers

First we had reengineering and mega-applications; these days, it's the Internet and knowledge management. Who knows what will be hot next year? If you ever wanted to crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head until it all goes away, you're not alone. Change can be daunting - but it's inescapable.

Navigating change tests the mettle of virtually every CIO because change leadership is fundamentally different from the command-and-control delegation management that succeeded in the past.

Although the CIO's leadership and team-building skills can make or break IT change, few CIOs talk openly about the challenges of leading change. What specific traits does it take to lead IT change? In our work with Fortune 1000 companies, we've captured the change wisdom of IS executives who are experienced in leading corporate change. Here are five fundamentals of change leadership.

1. "If I'm comfortable, I know something is wrong."Change naturally involves a certain degree of discomfort. Veteran IT change leaders get comfortable with being uncomfortable all the time. In fact, those most effective at changing IT performance recognise that there's a problem when the journey feels too smooth. As an IS transition leader at a major regional bank coached her colleagues, "If we don't feel anything, we're not doing anything."Another IS leader in a financial services company believes that the more uncomfortable a change work session, the more reason to celebrate. How do you distinguish between a run-of-the-mill unproductive session and the kind of discomfort that moves you toward change? If the session raises important - albeit uncomfortable - issues related to the change, persuades sponsors to fulfil their roles and allows for the emotional cycle of change - from uninformed pessimism to informed optimism - to play out, it's a positive step forward.

2. "Create visible evidence of the change in the workplace."Change leaders communicate change in tangible ways, ensuring that people see what's different. And they use a wide variety of methods to reach people who absorb and process information differently. Change leaders know it takes more than a few memos or meetings to engage people in the change.

Spencer McIlmurray, vice-president of IT services at Avon Products in the US, has led an IS turnaround over the past three years, moving the group from constantly catching up with business demands to creating business/IT application and infrastructure alignment. One small but significant element of his comprehensive approach was to create visible evidence of transformation by changing the IS work environment.

McIlmurray introduced brighter decor throughout the department. He framed the group's vision statement and core values, displayed them in the new learning centre, and added spotlights to highlight a display of charts tracking progress against key performance measures. These outward changes remind Avon's IS professionals of the more intangible aspects of the change program, such as new methods and skills expectations. The visible signs are coupled with mechanisms for helping employees internalise change, such as the framework of cascading priorities that Avon uses. IS professionals identify three top priorities, which are linked to the company's strategic business goals. If those goals change, so do the priorities. That way, employees feel as if they're directly involved in the change as they contribute visibly to the organisation's mission.

3. "Repetition never spoils the prayer."It is nearly impossible for change leaders to over communicate. As one CIO told us when reflecting on what he would have done differently in leading a transformation in his organisation: "I would have paid more attention to communicating what we were trying to do. The advice I'd like to offer others is communicate, communicate, communicate and, when you think you're finished, communicate some more."Repeated communication is particularly important because change occurs in waves. Just as there is an adoption cycle for new technologies, the introduction of change follows a similar path. Early change adopters quickly accept the new way of doing business, while the majority will lag behind. IT change leaders need to reach everyone in the adoption life cycle no matter how long it takes. JoAnn Ashman, CIO of Amdahl's Enterprise Solutions Group, uses the Muslim saying "Repetition never spoils the prayer" to remind her change leaders of the power and value of sustained communications and the need to persist through the full adoption cycle.

4. "I can't force people to change, but I can give them choices." Conventional change management wisdom emphasises encountering and managing resistance. Yet resistance comes from workers' natural inclinations to want to know what's going on, to make decisions about whether or not to participate and to feel themselves competent and successful. "Managing" resistance ought to mean encouraging mature people to make informed choices and move with the change rather than trying to sell people on why something is good for them.

When introducing a change program designed to upgrade IT skills, the CIO at an insurance company division presented a broad curriculum to the group rather than forcing people through a training regimen on new tools and techniques.

Individuals could then develop their own course of study. At the same time, the skills requirements for new projects were published so the IS professionals knew which skills they would need in order to get the assignments they wanted.

It was up to individuals to acquire the skills that would win them places on the most interesting new development projects.

Effective change leaders respect people as competent professionals. They recognise that sometimes resistance is the only way that employees who feel powerless can participate in a change. And they recognise that leading change isn't about forcing people to change. Rather, they make it desirable for people to choose to support change. As Avon's McIlmurray says, "My job is to create an environment where people can contribute in a way that enables the organisation to meet or exceed its objectives."5. "I must be an outwardly steadying force amid the turbulence."When the world seems topsy-turvy, change leaders help people see how the new environment fits together by serving as integrators and translators. As one IT executive put it: "When Joe is panicked, his staff gets panicked. He must be the steadying force during these changes."Stellar IT change leaders create images - both graphically and in conversation - that help people connect changes with their day-to-day work. Images provide people with anchors, answering the question: "How does this fit with my role?" They talk about the changes in concrete terms that make sense to the person with whom they are conversing. Effective change leaders might position a proposed client/server migration in terms of its technical benefits to a programmer and emphasise its business benefits when talking to an IS customer.

Change leaders also watch for contradictions in their environment that cause people to panic and help people either resolve or learn to accept those contradictions. For example, Perrine notes, one of his managers helped his group see IT architecture as an enabling, as opposed to controlling, force for projects.

Being an effective IT change leader requires the courage to change personally, the ability to make tough choices, and the creativity to overcome hurdles. It also demands discipline, patience and recognition that change happens one person at a time. Change leaders must be reflective and honest about their leadership capabilities in order to adapt as needed to the shifting demands of constant change.

Sheila Smith and Mary Silva Doctor are managing partners of Omega Point Consulting, an IT management consulting firm based in Massachusetts. They welcome your comments at and

Sure-fire Ways to Derail Change Efforts by M Silva Doctor1. Communication by Vulcan mind meldMany IS leaders seem to believe that as soon as they think of something, everyone in the organisation automatically knows it, too. While this would be a huge productivity booster, unfortunately communication just doesn't work that way.

2. The rational person view of change

"If it makes sense, people will do it" is a variation on "If we build it, they will come". Change is unsettling at best and downright frightening at worst.

The emotions that accompany change can stymie rational analysis.

3. Cuckoo clock leadership

Effective change leaders create a very personal presence even in very large organisations. Those that are less successful tend to isolate themselves in their executive office and communicate primarily through their staff. One company refers to these change sponsors -who pop out on occasion to champion the cause but otherwise remain hidden - as cuckoo clock sponsors.

4. Sponsoring the concept, not the implementationSponsoring the recommended solution from any change program is necessary but far from sufficient. A CIO leading major change must also sponsor the implementation journey. Championing the concept is the easy part; the actual implementation tests even the strongest of change leaders.

5. The best-laid plans

Yes, a transition plan is important. But the plan is not the be-all and end-all of making change happen. The most beautifully constructed, thorough plan isn't worth much if you don't recognise that much of the real change is opportunity-driven, and the opportunities present themselves in day-to-day conversations, hallway gatherings and meetings.

The Emotional Cycles of Change

For or against change, workers move through predictable responses to acceptance or espousalWhen people are asked to change their skills, behaviours or attitudes, they will naturally respond at a deeply emotional level. These emotional responses vary, based on whether a person views the change as welcome or unwelcome. In either case, as the change unfolds, people begin to see ramifications they had not anticipated, and they will move through a cycle of emotional responses. For example, when a change is viewed positively, the cycle of responses includes the following: Uninformed optimism: People exhibit initial enthusiasm, high expectations, and confidence in the ability to deal with the change. However, their lack of information gives them a false perception of what the change actually entails.

Informed pessimism: As employees learn more about the change, reality sets in, as well as grave doubts about whether the change can be accomplished; people often check out of the change (either publicly or privately) at this point.

Hopeful realism: As the changes begin to take hold, workers gain a more balanced perspective. People understand the challenges involved in the change and have realistic hope that those challenges can be met.

Informed optimism: As the change momentum builds, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes visible; people reach a higher level of optimism and self-confidence about the change, based upon actual experience with it.

Completion: People have achieved their goals for the change, are strong supporters of the change and are willing to help others through it.

When a change is unwelcome, a different emotional cycle kicks in. Based on the emotional reactions observed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in work with terminally ill patients, this cycle also reflects the emotional cycle of workers who must assimilate unwelcomed change.

Immobilisation: From initial emotional stability, people become emotionally paralysed by the shock of the impending change.

Denial: Workers then move into denial, and they try to convince themselves that the change will not happen.

Anger: Next comes anger, where individuals begin to accept the impending change but are angered by it.

Bargaining: Employees then begin to bargain about the conditions of the change as they try to figure out how much they must really change in order to get by Depression: As change kicks in and workers start to give up old ways, they shift from bargaining to depression. Here they begin to accept reality and mourn the loss of the old ways.

Testing: As they start working in new ways, people start to test the change.

Individuals typically experiment with new methods, or explore the scope of the change.

Acceptance: Finally, people accept the change as the new status quo, and reach emotional stability.

Although the emotional response cycles are defined here as separate elements, people often shift between cycles several times during a change. When people understand these emotional responses, they are better equipped to deal with them and to move quickly through the transition. These models can provide IS leaders with the knowledge to help their people cope with new ways of doing business.

Copyright © 1997 IDG Communications, Inc.

Security vs. innovation: IT's trickiest balancing act