However, organisations - CIOs included - are not very good at change. Depending on the research you read, anywhere between 50 per cent and up to 70 per cent of change initiatives fail to deliver the benefits they were designed to deliver.
Whenever I contemplate that statistic, I find myself involuntarily shaking my head in disbelief.
The business world has spent millions on leaders and the best minds that business schools can offer research how to successfully lead change and still our success rates are less than half. After my initial disbelief, I begin to wonder how this can happen. How can we invest so much in this one problem and continue to produce such appalling results?
As the famous phrase often attributed to Albert Einstein goes, “If facts conflict with a theory, either the theory must be changed or the facts.” The facts above are pretty stark so I wonder, is our theory of change fundamentally wrong?
What is our current theory of change? The current theory of change is largely based on creating and resolving crises. This notion is reflected everywhere in the literature from Winston Churchill's quote, “Never let a good crisis go to waste” through to John Kotter's famous eight-step change process where the first step is “Establishing a sense of urgency”.
I believe the alternative is to lead change through aspiration and learning rather than fear and crisis.
I look at this and wonder, is this really the way to lead change? Sure, if there really is a crisis (a time of intense difficulty or danger) then fine. However, creating a crisis where one actually doesn't exist doesn't seem very authentic. I suspect our teams intuitively know this and treat the crisis and the leaders who call for it in the same way as the villagers treated the boy who cried wolf. Besides, crises create fear and fear while useful to motivate basic survival instincts does not set a solid foundation for people and organisations to thrive.
So what’s the alternative? I believe the alternative is to lead change through aspiration and learning rather than fear and crisis. So, drawing heavily from Kotter’s work, and sprinkling in some of Peter Senge’s 5th Discipline and Ken Thomas’ Intrinsic Motivation what would an aspiration and learning eight-step change process look like?
1. Establish a sense of purpose/mission. The research is clear, people perform significantly better if they feel they are contributing to a greater cause or purpose.
2. Create a guiding coalition based on their passion and support for the organisation's purpose. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, calls this getting the right people on the bus. Under this change process, while skills and capabilities remain the most important criteria, the team connects passionately with the organisational purpose.
3. Define success in a clear, measurable and relevant way. People like to know they are making progress and clear measures provide feedback that show how their actions are making a difference.
4. Communicate the purpose / mission and success definition demonstrating how people and the team contribute. Having a clear purpose is one thing, but it lacks power if people do not understand what it is and how they contribute to it. As Kotter and many others say over-communicate to aid understanding.
Read more: The CIO’s first order of business
5. Empower action for individuals and teams to fulfil on their contribution. Having set the framework which shows what success is and how people contribute then get out the way and let them work, progress and succeed.
6.Generate short term learning and support teams to adjust their actions accordingly. Yes, you need to get out the way. However, teams will hit issues and roadblocks. When this happens be there to support them, aid their learning and coach them to readjust what they are doing.
7. Never let up. A direct lift from Kotter's process. Change takes time and it is difficult. If your tactical actions are not working change them, however, stay committed to your purpose and keep going no matter what.
8. Celebrate both success and learning to embed this in the culture.
Read more: Montessori at work
If you do these steps well you will create a powerful, flexible and adaptive culture that will not only allow you to survive a crisis but set you up to thrive through change.
Owen McCall is director of successfulcio.com and a member of CIO New Zealand’s editorial advisory board. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org and through his blog at www.successfulcio.com.
Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz
Read more: Focus equals progress
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.