3 ways to make IT change more palatable

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CIO Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life

Often, when an organization embarks on a large-scale culture change or transformation, there is so much detail and information to digest when there is only one thing the people involved really want to know: “What does that mean for me?” Before they get any clarification on this question, they may struggle to interpret anything else you are trying to communicate.

The three-C principle can help you overcome this challenge. CIOs should ensure the changes they are communicating are clear, compelling, and credible. In doing so, they will cut to the heart of their transformation efforts – the “whys” behind the “whats” – that will make change personal for everyone involved.

Clear – Your first step in implementing change should be to ensure your messaging is well defined. Use simple language. Spell out what the transformation will entail on both the personal and the organizational level, and be specific about what needs to change.

[For additional wisdom from CIOs, see our related article, Teaching IT to embrace change: 9 execs share advice.]

Compelling – It can be tempting to think of transformation in terms of the transactions, processes, and systems that need to change. But don’t get too far ahead of things. Change is about people. You need people to implement the technical sides of change, so before you can hope to get there, you need to make a strong case for why they should want to change.

Credible – Fear and doubt are natural human reactions to change, whether positive or negative. Imagine if I told you that you just won a large sum of money. On the surface, that’s a good thing. But you may immediately question if I’m telling the truth, and if so, what’s the catch? To accept the message as positive, you need to build trust.

Trust in an organization happens when there is an active engagement of leaders at all levels. It’s not enough for the CIO to build and champion a case for culture change. He or she needs to convince both informal leaders and influencers throughout the organization, as well, and ensure messaging is clear and consistent at all levels. That way, individuals can turn to someone they trust to better understand the change. This, in turn, builds credibility of the messaging. That’s why, I believe, transformation of any kind is more about culture and communication than change management.

The three Cs in action

Recently, I worked with a client on a major set of regulatory changes mandated by CMS (Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, part of the federal government that affects over 100 million in the United States). There were over 200 pages of complex regulation changes that would potentially impact the organization. It was apparent they had work to do before they could implement the three-C principle.

As a first step, they needed to truly understand the regulations because, in this situation, one change could affect multiple areas of the company. Once all aspects of the regulations were interpreted, we divided the changes into organizational impact areas, which we used as a starting point for our discussions with the key leaders of the organization. This was critical to get to the point where we could clearly say, “Here are the federal regulations, here’s what’s changed, and here is what we would like you to do.”  

To make it compelling, we worked to ensure it was straightforward and simple for them to analyze the change and what it meant for them. We outlined several steps to perform a gap analysis and come up with an action plan so that they weren’t just left to figure it out on their own. We had a structure in place, and it involved several group meetings and individual discussions, as well.

Through this process, I personally gained a lot of insight into the various perspectives across the organization. It also enabled us to build relationships at all levels. This added to our credibility factor as we worked with the organization to clearly articulate why changes were happening. It enabled us to build the trust we needed to be successful.  

Why the three Cs matter

I’ve personally seen the adverse effects when CIOs neglect to follow the three-Cs approach. It goes together with the perception that IT is slow to change and not adaptable to business needs. I certainly understand that it takes more time and effort to ensure changes are clear, compelling, and credible, but it’s worth it.

For instance, often there is a strong understanding and consensus among CIOs and their most forward-thinking IT leaders, who are all supportive of the change. But when it comes to the people who are executing on the change – the customer-facing staff and those in other areas of the business – they don’t hear the same messaging or understand the change in the context of their work. And as a result, there is a gap between what the leaders say and what the business sees from IT on a day-to-day basis. This negatively impacts the perception of IT and your credibility as a leader.

It is the responsibility of the CIO to ensure change is implemented at all levels. The three-Cs principle can help you get there.

Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP, is a senior level PMO executive, leading high profile innovation and transformation portfolios and programs for a Fortune 25 health information technology company.  She has over 18 years of professional experience in enterprise PMOs across a healthcare, life sciences, and financial services.  Ms.