Managing change in the IT function

7 Things for IT managers to consider when implementing Change.

There is an inbuilt assumption that IT professionals are change evangelists. Well, we might have to think again. Change initiatives may be no more effective in IT than in other parts of the business. The same individual behaviours, notably initial scepticism followed by ongoing resistance and fear etc. can be exhibited in the face of change within IT teams. Whilst IT departments can be great agents for business change they might be quite resistant to change in their own backyards. Nowhere is this better illustrated than the staffing and skills implications of the inexorable move to the cloud. Computer Weekly reported recently on some research that predicted a 75% decrease in five years in the size of many IT departments caused by the shift to the cloud in all its (hybrid) forms. In particular the (combined) move to SaaS, PaaS and IaaS will seriously change and reduce a number of corporate IT roles including but not confined to network, infrastructure management and developers. This trend is posing some real challenges in IT departments and IT managers need to tackle them from a change perspective. Furthermore, there is a quiet revolution going on in within end user communities as they take control of their use of technology. Many IT departments missed the boat completely on the business impact and opportunities created by social technologies and there is now an increasing number of users avoiding IT departments wholesale and purchasing their own SaaS solutions and demanding BYOD. This is causing a real change challenge from an IT perspective as it throws up the necessity for new roles, functions and changing relationships with the business. The IT function should learn its lessons from the business adoption of social technology and try to aid the business procure, configure and use new SaaS based solutions. Combined, these factors are requiring IT leaders to both formalise and increase their competency in the management of change.


  1. Lead from the top. Managing complex change is really what substantiates the differential salaries of IT leaders and they need to clearly own the change process and take responsibility for its outcomes. IT leaders should paint a clear and vivid picture of the change and its consequences that is understood by all and give a pen picture of the journey that will inevitably unfold. A change may be so big (such as cloud migrations) that it requires a real re-think and ballsy approach to prioritisation. Sometimes you may have to clear the decks for other people to give the change time to succeed. IT Leaders need to mobilize their IT crowds’ and be inspirational and evangelical in communicating and believing in the change themselves. A quiet, diligent professionalism is not going to be enough to mobilise hearts and minds and igniting peer pressure to get everyone on board. Some major changes can often materialise through stealth. A project may kick off which from the outset doesn’t look that material in its impact but which can quickly morph into something which has more fundamental consequences for the whole IT function. IT leaders shouldn’t shirk from waving the “Change banner” even after commencement of a major initiative. Better late than never.


  1. Use a carrot and a stick. IT departments can sometimes have more flexibility on benefits and incentives than their business peers. They have (mostly) successfully argued that they are a special case for being a bit more agile and creative around benefits. Incentivising change behaviours can be one way of making change “sticker”. No one responds more positively to embracing “the new” if it’s going to be reflected in his or her remuneration. Offering a balanced package of reward for both performance targets and clear demonstration of change behaviours can give change initiatives and cultural adoption a bit more of a nudge in the right direction. This is nowhere more important amongst middle managers. Incorporating change behaviours meaningfully into the annual appraisal process will additionally motivate people in engagement with the process and ultimately hiring and firing must include a key component of demonstrating competent change behaviours.


  1. Un-block the middle. Change is often evangelised from the top and aptly demonstrated on a day to basis at an operational level but it can get stuck “in the middle”. IT Functional managers have a difficult balancing act between managing their operational duties, team leading and embracing strategic agendas and change can become a low priority. Incentives for middle managers will often be wholly performance driven and there is often insufficient time in the day for them to become change agents yet alone evangelists. Change can often be squeezed at this level, whereby top down change stalls or is watered down or bottom up change is throttled, as they perceive that it may interfere with their operational objectives. Middle managers need to be given time to both reflect on, plan and implement change and IT leaders need to consider the skills that are required to implement change and they need to be incentivised to demonstrate appropriate change behaviours.


  1. Coaching is key. Recognising that managing change requires its own particular set of skills, methods and behaviours means coaching for managers may be required. Recognition that behavioural change in particular has a skill dimension is important. Some will take to changing behaviours intuitively but many others will need some coaching.


  1. Develop peripheral vision. Change can falter where the wider affected stakeholder group are ignored. Focussing attention on those directly affected is key but thinking about the wider impact, however seemingly removed can reduce the risk of failure. Here active business communications from the outset of the change initiative is vital – and this might be all you need to do. Ignoring stakeholders who will have to work at the interface and even the periphery of your change programme will potentially undermine its successful implementation.


  1. Embrace Stubborn resistors. Change initiatives require careful consideration from the outset of how to deal with resistance. The approach to engagement needs to consider the sources and type of resistance and engage and manage these accordingly. Creating a change team that incorporates a real cross section of people likely to be affected at all levels is a first step in reducing the levels and volume of resistance. Don’t be hierarchical in your choice of core team members, so get a few members of the awkward squad on board quickly. There is a natural and understandable tendency to pick your change evangelists, direct reports and trusted performers to form your core team. This may make for an easy ride in the early stages of the initiative but it is likely to flounder once you get into the implementation stage.


  1. Subtract don’t just add. A key reason why change can fail is it’s just an additive to already hard pressed IT staff. Being able to start to think about reducing time on low priority tasks or removing them altogether will remove the reason for not engaging with the initiative. Managers love adding things and never removing them.


In summary, managing change is probably going to be key to the IT function’s success in the coming years. The inevitable move to SaaS, PaaS, IaaS etc. will  have a major impact on some job functions, roles and indeed careers. Swinging a whole IT department behind IT Leaders on these initiatives will by necessity mean you manage any major technology migration as a change initiative not just another programme. As an IT Leader you can’t just assume that all your people will line up behind you because you understand the strategic imperative of the change. Managing change requires rigour, planning and intensive stakeholder management just like any other major IT programme.


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