Monday, August 18, 2014

Getting to the point of change

One of the key things I have observed over a couple of decades in the IT world is that even though change in organizations if often imperative, it seldom happens. Deliberate planned change, no matter how essential seldom occurs.  I have seen countless major IT projects involving information and processes undertaken, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on software, hardware and services - and yet the status quo remains at the end. Take a typical SharePoint project that was all the rage 5 years ago, these projects were going to transform the way organizations managed and shared information - making companies more efficient and collaborative.  Few of these projects delivered on that promise.... It wasn't Microsoft fault, in fact the same is true of most projects.  Though there are many reasons projects fall short of expectations, poor project management, poorly set expectations, the over reliance on technology to fix business problems etc - I think the number one reason is. People don't like change.

A firm I have worked with needs to change. It is profitable (sort of), it has grown like many in this sector over the past 10 years or so from start up to employing a few hundred people. It's established, it works and its unlikely to fail anytime soon. It has a window of opportunity that will close soon to make a step change to the next level. It's competitors are not doing so well, customers like the firm, it has a good reputation and good products. But for the last several years its business has stagnated, and when this window of opportunity closes the firm will likely move to a slow and ultimately terminal decline. It needs to change now to secure its future and to grow.  The firm has brought in new management, it has a new and ambitious strategy - in fact the firm knows EXACTLY what it needs to do to transform itself into a bigger stronger and better company. But despite all the talk, all the meetings, all the planning, all the spend - its not changing.

Like many firms it is run by a charismatic and very smart CEO who knows where the company needs to go. But the staff of the firm, see things differently. The staff are comfortable, life is good enough for them, the company is good enough for them, the way they work has worked well enough to this point, so why they say, do we need to change? Or rather they don't openly question the need to change. In fact they openly and volubly support the change, but they never seem to do anything about it. Their day to day concerns always seem to take priority. Risk is scary, risk means things might go wrong and change means changing, and they don't want to change. Even senior hires who enter the firm full of enthusiasm and passion for change are fairly quickly reigned in by their subordinates, pulled into the nitty gritty of today's work - and not the future shaping work they need to do.

The challenge for any leader or advisor is to communicate a NEED to change to a willingness and PASSION for change. Folks who are complacent need to be re-energized, reminded of the the enthusiasm and passion they first had, excited about the next chapter, and eager to turn the page and close this chapter out.  In tech projects this sort of thing is usually poorly understood, dismissed as 'arm waving' or 'management theory' - but without it nothing ever changes.

I would love to see and maybe even be a small part of changing this mindset - or at least developing new tools and processes to better enable it. Enterprise technology today (and anyone who has heard me speak or read my research over the years will know my position on this one!) is way ahead of the folk that buy it - its potential is incredible, but failed or disappointing IT projects remain the norm. Surely its time for the industry as a whole to re-examine where its at and maybe look again at the success and failures of the 90's era of Change Management & Re-Engineering. Much was wrong then, but not all - many lessons were briefly learned but then all too quickly forgotten. I believe its time we need to start this discussion again, pick up the pieces and stop accepting mediocrity, stop tinkering with the system and move again to mindset (to quote Tony Robbins) of massive determined action. Tech for tech's sake is of very limited value, the Silicon Valley bubble that is disconnected from the real world is once again a bubble full of hot air ready to pop. If ever there was at time to change, it is now. 

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