Digital transformation: 4 IT leaders share how they fight change fatigue

When digital transformation work is never done, change fatigue can set in. Learn how award-winning CIOs are tackling transformation burnout head on
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One of the hardest aspects of digital transformation is that it’s never truly “done.” Being in a state of constant change and disruption can take a serious toll on employee motivation, causing fatigue, distrust, and burnout.

We asked CIOs who recently took home a 2021 CIO of the Year ORBIE Award how they are avoiding transformation fatigue on their teams. The awards were presented by the Charlotte CIO Leadership Association and the Michigan CIO Leadership Association, professional communities that annually recognize CIOs for their excellence in technology leadership.

Read on for advice that can help you keep up the pace of transformation, while keeping people motivated and connected to meaningful work.

Create a culture of embracing uncertainty

Leadership CIO of the Year

Marcy Klevorn

Marcy Klevorn, Chief Transformation Officer (ret.), Ford Motor Company: It can be hard to keep up the pace and momentum of a large-scale digital transformation. The work is never done as change accelerates faster than we can transform. Yet it is important to not lose momentum; doing so can put you behind competition, impact your brand and customers’ perceptions, and may make the transformation seem like the “flavor of the month” to employees working hard.

Digital transformation can be a never-ending journey, but there are still key milestones and inflection points. Breaking the journey down this way helps keep the momentum going and allows time for reflection to make any course corrections. While it’s important to keep looking forward, don’t forget to look back and reflect on how far the organization has come and lessons learned along the way. Additionally, maintain an external perspective on where the competition is and how customer preferences may be changing. Keeping these stakeholders at the center of your plans helps keep everyone energized and focused.

Create a culture of embracing change and uncertainty. Many large complex businesses have been focused on eliminating uncertainty and risk, but the digital transformation journey is not one of certainty and zero risk. Getting comfortable with that as a way of surviving and thriving will help transformation team members realize they are not swimming upstream, but with the current.

[ Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask.]

Celebrate, take breaks, and offer feedback

Corporate CIO of the Year

Elizabeth Klee

Elizabeth Klee, CIO, Urban Science: The pace of digital transformation is relentless not only in developing solutions that continue to lead our industry forward, but in maintaining a collaborative, supportive, and empowering employee experience that makes our company a destination for top talent.

There are many approaches to help reduce transformation fatigue:

  • Celebrate regularly and enthusiastically: Celebrate more than just the “big” wins. Pause at least weekly to highlight the wonderful things accomplished – both large and small; personal and professional; final and interim; innovative and operational – across your team. You will be amazed at what is happening.
  • Ensure work schedules include breaks: Beyond dividing the transformation journey into smaller interim deliverables, make time for training, innovation, team building, time off, wellbeing, and fun.
  • Remember winning is a team sport: Digital transformation is a business thing, not an IT thing. Interweave your IT and the business teams so they can react quickly to new needs, adjust priorities, and gain a common understanding of what drives true value.
  • Feedback is more important than ever: Remote work can cause additional challenges with getting consistent, constructive feedback. Verbally reassure people that they are meeting expectations especially as the boundaries between work and life continue to blur. Individuals often feel the need to prove they can be productive outside the office and are at risk for burnout. Simply reaffirm that they are getting the job done.

Challenge people, and keep the playbook flexible

Large Corporate CIO of the Year

Kevin Eamigh

Kevin Eamigh, CIO & VP, Global Business Services, SPX FLOW, Inc: Our IT organization has driven digital change for years. Digital transformation now aligns the entire company on the differentiated value-creation opportunities technology can bring to our people, processes, and products. This total company focus has energized the IT team to continue its leadership role.

Celebrating success is a core part of our culture and helps stem fatigue. During our team’s quarterly calls, we celebrate wins both for the team and for individuals who embody our company values. During the pandemic, we also started global team trivia, a virtual way to build relationships. It’s worked so well that we’ll continue doing it.

One thing that has kept me with SPX FLOW for over 20 years is the ability to constantly work on new things, and I want my team to feel the same way. We attract and retain talented team members by challenging them, encouraging them, being flexible with the playbook, and underscoring how we win or lose together.

Stay focused on business value creation

Large Enterprise CIO of the Year

Bill Fandrich

Bill Fandrich, SVP & CIO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan: Over the past few years, the Blue Cross business operating model has evolved significantly with IT’s transition from a reactive solutions provider to a key partner in the ideation and creation of enterprise and business strategies that encompass a full integration of IT programming. I’m proud of how we’ve been able to work more collaboratively to enable digital transformation with new process methods related to agile, customer-designed thinking, analytics, etc. My team doesn’t just manage IT – we focus on how to engage with the business to develop more efficient practices that meet the unique and ever-changing needs of our customers and members. 

The progress and commitment IT has made to deliver innovation and market differentiating solutions does not happen without the support and commitment of the Blue Cross enterprise. A key enabler to our success has been the partnership with the business to transform our current IT operating model to support business strategy and enable the future state healthcare ecosystem. The way IT has engaged with the business is the game-changer. We play an instrumental role with every business unit helping define ‘what’ and ‘why’ then ‘how’ to go about it, which helps the organization continually prioritize change efforts and focus on those initiatives with the highest priority. The IT team works very hard, believes in the vision, and always focuses on business value creation.

[ Want more advice? Watch the on-demand webinar, The future of leading digital innovation: What's next?, with Nancy Giordano, plus Red Hat's Margaret Dawson and IDC's Nancy Gohring. ]

Carla Rudder is a community manager and editor 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.  

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