Teaching IT to embrace change: 9 execs share advice

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When we asked IT leaders how they cope with and prepare their teams for the pace of technology change today, we heard the same message over and over: Change is a constant in IT. CIOs have to be comfortable with uncertainty and quickly refocus when thrown off course. Those who can coach these skills throughout their organization are the ones who will excel. 

Read on for tips from IT leaders who are embracing change in unique ways. 

Be a partner

Chris Bedi, CIO, ServiceNow: "Progressive CIOs know they can’t control everything and that change is a constant. I’ve learned to embrace it by focusing on the following:

  • Be a partner. IT needs to be an internal service provider that encourages innovation. Find ways to work with the business to deliver the best outcomes that drive the organization forward.
  • Focus on the opportunities. Change gives us the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective. We can use this to help our team acquire additional technical and digital skills. We can use it to transform a department’s business processes.
  • Integrate. Through change, IT can evolve from builder to brokers of applications and services. IT can become business enablers that have a direct and measurable impact on the bottom line."

Lead with a sense of urgency

Brian LeClaire, CIO, Humana: “I keep a clock on my desk that is inscribed with the phrase, 'The only constant is change.' It reminds me that while the productive management of time is one dimension of my responsibilities, driving change is an equally important one. Not only is technology changing at rapidly increasing rates, but it is also driving fundamental business model changes across a variety of industries – the health care industry being one of them. Perhaps the greatest consideration once one accepts the ever present need to change is the speed with which you embrace it. Your success will be measured by how well you bring the organization along in managing technology change at the speed of business model change across your industry. What's the winning strategy? Scan for relevant technology change inside and outside of your industry, test and learn, fail fast, scale quickly, and lead with a clear sense of urgency.”

Help others deal with change

Cynthia Stoddard, SVP and CIO, Adobe: In IT, we’re always changing, looking around the corner, and anticipating future changes. We have to stay ahead of the business so that we can be an enabler, not a roadblock. And part of staying ahead of the business means supporting a constant state of change. We not only have to show that we can deal with ambiguity and that we’re comfortable stepping outside of our comfort zone, we also need to help people deal with change in their own worlds. For example, moving into cloud is a big change for some organizations. It takes a lot of time and effort to help people understand that their skills are being expanded versus being replaced. It takes time talking to individuals, showing examples, helping them learn new approaches, etc. This starts at the top with a CIO who is a change agent and reaches into all levels of the organization.  

Be consistently resilient to change

Art Landro, CEO, Sencha: "The one thing I have come to realize after decades of working at home and abroad is the only constant is change – especially in the IT Industry. Some change we drive ourselves, but most change is completely out of our control. So, it is important to understand that how we react to the 'out-of-our-control' change is 100 percent under our control. Your ability to be flexible, adaptable, and, more importantly, consistently resilient to change is critical to your success in any career or path you take in life. As a CEO, I coach these skills in my organization by setting an example through my own actions. No matter what, I choose to react positively to change and try to drive it to my team’s advantage." 

Embrace agile

Frank J. Garofalo, principal consultant, Garofalo Enterprises, Inc: "Adopting an agile methodology for projects has allowed us to embrace uncertainty while providing focus. Using a two-week iteration cycle allows us to have focus within those two weeks, with the ability to adapt to changing business needs. At the end of each iteration cycle, we can refocus efforts through an iteration planning meeting in addition to having a retrospective meeting to learn from situations. The goal of the retrospective meeting is to be better prepared to navigate future situations. To coach the organization through these skills requires everyone involved to be knowledgeable about scrum methodology. An additional benefit of embracing a two-week iteration cycle has enabled us to encourage team members to take calculated risks. Then at the end of the two weeks, we review the results and plan accordingly for the next iteration cycle."

Create life-long learners

Heather L. Cole, business analytics coach, speaker, president, Lodestar Solutions: "Uncertainty is the new certainty in IT! This is an opportunity for leaders to create an environment where life-long learners will thrive. As a leader, I've found that managing in four-week sprints allows for team members to have structured goals and certainty while providing the flexibility required to respond to change. Leading by example and investing in training and coaching are essential to help IT transition to the new world we live in. I host regular coaching calls with my team and require everyone in the organization to get certified as an Agile Scrum Master."

Make expectations clear

Michael Witt, director, Riskfound.org: "Understanding that uncertainty is constant is critical to its management. Having defined processes and checklists in place to guide the organization is necessary to managing IT in a stressed time. All levels of IT should be appropriately trained to react in alignment with management's expectations when change is present. Management must be clear in its intent and monitor its personnel to adjust as needed and continuously improve."

Plan for the unknown

Erik Gfesser, consultant architect, Centric Consulting: "Being comfortable with uncertainty is a must in IT. Early in my career, I attempted to eliminate all uncertainty but came to realize that this goal is unrealistic in most scenarios. Some might recall the Donald Rumsfeld quote that addresses what is known, what is unknown, and the four permutations consisting of known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns, and unknown unknowns. Recognizing that these latter two permutations exist but cannot be discovered is necessary as an IT leader. I remind myself that working in an agile manner helps enable the ability to steer in a different direction than was otherwise planned. While planning is important in IT, creating detailed plans that are likely to change can lead the creator to think about the sunk costs involved in this type of activity, potentially increasing the likelihood of change resistance."

Lead by example

Rich Fitchen, GM North America, Bizagi: “Recently, a lot of the change we’re seeing in IT stems from the corporate need to digitally transform. In this case, change is not a bad thing, however, it does need to be properly managed. Starting at the top, executives need to lead by example and work to create a culture that embraces change and can pivot quickly. One way leaders can empower their business and IT teams to do this is to arm them with adaptive technological platforms that are built for change and can provide insightful data that can help push through the ambiguity of digital transformation.”

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.