Why CIOs Should

Become Change Manager

Change Management – the CIO’s Currency of the Future

Look around. Digital disruption is on a tear! New business models are heavily dependent on technology for delivering products and services. In fact, digitalization is the main catalyst for extraordinary change in most companies, challenging everyone’s ability to keep pace. For those that were hoping for some respite, the velocity of technology change is only getting faster. Since technology leaders are the impetus for most of this change, they are blamed for too much too fast, leading to change fatigue in their companies.

CIOs are struggling with the number of changes that they need to implement. In fact, according to global research and advisory firm Gartner, 64% of CIOs expect their very role to evolve into change leaders. Many are sensing the rolling eyes of their colleagues on them, as they bring in yet another technology change to which everyone must now adapt. Under the best of circumstances, leading change is a high-risk and low probability proposition. Only 34% of changes are successes, 16% are partial successes, and 50% are abject failures (Gartner).

The pushback to more change

Thus, in many organizations the skepticism associated with more changes is reaching a crescendo, as the benefits from such digital transformation efforts do not seem to materialize.

The sad truth is that most IT leaders are not well versed in change management techniques. Many are mystified by the resistance they encounter as they bring in all the “wonderful” technology into the enterprise. Unless CIOs recognize their role as change triggers - and begin to manage that change - failure is likely.

The challenge

Heraclitus said: “You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are continually flowing in.”

As we move to cloud-based platforms and Everything-as-a-Service models, changes are no longer occurring once a year or quarter, as they used to in the past. Today, vendors make changes to their solutions very often – sometimes many times in a single day!

The technology environment you walk into when you come to work may not be the same one you leave at the end of the day. Solutions, functionalities, fixes etc. are flowing in and out all day… In these fast-moving rapids, CIOs need to become masters of change and understand the nuances of change management. Otherwise, the speed of digital transformation is likely to consume all their efforts in a losing cause.

Change and Culture

At the October 2018 Gartner Symposium in Orlando – one of the largest gatherings of CIOs – Change and Culture were two of the main themes. Gartner even coined a new paradigm that they call “ContinuousNext”.

Here, the gaps that once allowed us to assimilate and consolidate before moving to the next change – have vanished! We are now in a perpetual, high-velocity change cycle, and ContinuousNext seeks to position organizations to foster perpetual innovation, change, integration and delivery.

In 2018, an astonishing 62% of companies have had a major digital transformation project underway. This is the new paradigm. As a result, Change Elasticity for the ordinary user or customer may soon be at a breaking point. At a keynote at the Symposium, Ginni Rometty, the IBM CEO, confessed that managing change remains one of her highest priorities and one of her biggest challenges. Change programs inevitably lead to changes in the company culture. In fact, 46% of CIOs consider culture as the biggest barrier to scale digital business transformation. How you transform, and what kind of culture you create, is now what leaders like Jeff Bezos and Rometty focus on. To them, creating an agile culture capable of rapid change is not only a prerequisite for future success, but it is the key to survival.

Story, communication and pace of change

Change stories in enterprises need to be consistent, rational and “shared”, so that everyone understands them. Executives and employees are often at different stages in the transformation process, since the vision of a change already exists much longer with the leaders when compared with the rest of the staff.

One goal must be to set a general direction, rather than a destination. Destinations invariably change. Unless everyone aligns with the change story, success is difficult. Most people respond best when they can acknowledge the present and the future state.

A big issue is often the advent of fear and anxiety, since that can deflate morale and kill productivity. Staff needs to feel in control of their own destinies and needs to determine what kinds of behavior changes they will have to make. This is necessary to create process changes and a well-managed transformation. To achieve this, employees need to be heard and must know the program’s communication cadence, and who they can go to for clarity. A master of the change plan, which is available to all staff, prevents conflicts in narratives.

Prioritization, with tangible outcomes, helps create a clear vision as well as helps manage the pace of change. Additionally, it is important to understand that new behavior and core skills take time to establish. Embracing change and uncertainty is not in our nature – yet, that is what is required of all of us. Change elasticity must be built as a core skill. Providing training opportunities to help employees shift to the needs of the transformed organization, should be a main focus.


In the current environment, speed and agility are some of the most important markers for relevance. How you change, is just as important as what you change.

The very nature of digitalization and change at this pace means that even the most proficient among us will be challenged. CIOs need to recognize this.

To take advantage of the opportunities, we all must get a little more uncomfortable with the status quo and more comfortable with uncertainty related to change.

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