4 ways CIOs can lead change management now

For more than a year, IT leaders have had to be extra nimble with change management, writes Atlanta Housing Authority CIO Brian Benn. Explore his team's thoughtful four-step process to drive change
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These days, change is not novel. It is something that IT leaders have learned to embrace, accept, and even welcome, which has become particularly important over the past 14 months. We have had to be nimble and flexible in nearly every facet of our job and change management is no exception.

Leading change management requires a solid foundation before moving forward with a strategy and these most recent challenges have accentuated the need for leaders to focus on being more intentional. This means being flexible with respect to employee schedules, understanding of the challenges they may have had working remotely or in their personal lives, and being deliberate about reaching out to them to make sure they’re happy, comfortable, and adjusting well to the different dynamics that the pandemic has introduced.

Beyond the emotional well-being of employees, IT leaders need to ensure that employees have the tools necessary to be successful. Are they happy with the equipment they received at the start of the pandemic to facilitate remote work? Do they need anything else? Are they satisfied with the technical support that is available?

[ Want more real-world advice on managing change? Read also: 7 change management tips: Houston CIO of the Year winners share. ] 

A four-step process for change management

Once you have a baseline for their well-being, only then can you plan for leading change management. At the Atlanta Housing Authority, our IT leadership team employs a four-step process to drive change management: demonstrate value, involve every layer, engage, and assess and adapt.

1. Demonstrate value

Leaders need to show value – whether that’s in the initiative they’re leading or a new process they want to introduce. Demonstrating value – whether it’s monetary or an increase in productivity – is how you achieve consensus. That consensus needs to come from the top.

When you’re looking for that consensus and support, it’s important not only to show the direct value for the organization, but also how it’s supportive of the organization’s strategy and how it helps execute that strategy.

2. Involve every layer

After achieving that consensus, we involve every layer. Sometimes it’s easy to be myopic and direct our focus to our directors or those who will be directly involved in our initiative, but it’s important to understand that involving secondary and tertiary resources is necessary. They will either be involved in the change itself or the change will somehow impact them and looping them in is key.

This is a step that people often miss. Everyone understands that culture is set by leadership and consensus also comes from the top, and often that’s where people stop. They fail to consider involving a key function, person, or practice – all integral to successful change management.

3. Engage

Once we have involved every layer, we need to continuously engage them, whether they’re at the executive or board level or whether they’re a third party hired to help with the change.

If there is a third party, it’s important that they too are engaged and involving the necessary resources at all applicable layers. While we try to ensure that we are setting clear goals and expectations, we also try to articulate that people are central to the success of our efforts – those we partner with, those on our project team, and most importantly, the people we serve whose needs should always remain paramount.

4. Assess, adapt, and change

With change management, everyone has a plan that they have charted and are following. As you do this, it is important to be willing to lead outside the lines you have created, particularly if you see that something isn’t working. Communication along the way is critical also. You would rather not wait until you completed a 12- or 24-month project to inform everyone that it’s done and working well; people want to see the progress along the way, understand where the value will be, and know that you are progressing.

One way we do this is through a balanced scorecard. This helps us communicate the progress of the initiative, keeps us accountable, and enables us to manage expectations. It also helps us assess and adapt – we can see where we are, where we need to make some changes, and where the timeline might slip. If we can share that information as soon as possible, we have a better chance of adjusting and making changes, which also helps us to continue managing the expectations of everyone involved.

The four steps in practice

Not long ago, the Atlanta Housing Authority embarked on a business process assessment. The goal was to ensure that each of the individual units had their internal processes identified and documented in a consistent fashion across the enterprise, and that any integration or interoperability among units was identified. Ultimately, this would inform our technology needs – a critical step before we tackled anything else in our enterprise information management implementation.

As leaders, it was incumbent upon us to make sure that the people and processes were working effectively together by documenting the processes by discipline. We also ensured that they were cohesive where there was going to be interoperability, and that we understood all the different departments’ needs and challenges at least on a cursory level.

Clearly this was an effort that required executive-level support. After garnering the support, we involved every layer to ensure that their business processes were documented. Then we had to engage every layer, regularly re-emphasize the value of this initiative, and reaffirm that we would be available to assist with process documentation so that there would be consistency across business units – we were not just going to leave them to do it on their own in a vacuum.

This was not an undertaking that anyone was necessarily excited about being part of – some were certainly nervous – but while they did not want to go through the time-consuming process, they did so because they saw the value in it. This is why it was important for us to reiterate how the business process assessment would increase productivity, introduce certain efficiencies, and help with succession planning.

These four steps have been crucial in our change management efforts. Demonstrating value, involving every layer, engaging, and assessing and adapting have been a useful framework for us to follow and these steps have enabled us to be thorough in our planning and execution of change management.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Brian Benn is Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President of the Atlanta Housing Authority. Brian is responsible for the development and implementation of technology strategies that are aligned with and anchored by the overarching strategy of the agency, ultimately supporting the 25,000 households and 70,000 participants served.