One of the first things that needs to be addressed when you are a manager over a technology department is the way that you look at change. As a manager and an executive, you are most likely more resistant to change than you believe. Within the ranks of your company you are likely one of the people who delivers the message of change when it needs to be delivered. As this person, you understand that the average employee is far more change resistant then you are. Just take a moment to think of a change in health insurance benefits. If you have ever delivered the news of a health benefits change to the rank and file within a company this becomes very clear. Even if you are delivering news of an improved health plan you will expect that employees will resist the changes and will not be happy.
Executives and Change
Managers deliver details of changes like these often. This means that as a manager you understand how minimize the negative effects of these changes through positive delivery of the message mixed with a bit of politics and the occasional threat. This is something that all managers learn but few managers enjoy. We believe that we are agents of change… but are we?
When thinking about the changes that you implement and deliver you need to stop and think about how big these changes really are. Yes, a new health plan takes a lot of work, but is this truly a big change? From the executive managers perspective, you need to think of the changes you make as small changes. So what would be a big change? Here are a few ideas…
· Shut down all your current operations and rebuild your business in a more profitable industry.
· Fire the executive team (including yourself) and hire more experienced managers.
· Find a cheaper place to do business and move your entire company.
These may sound like ridiculous changes to the average executive. Yet these are all things that are occasionally done in the business world. Most executives would cringe at the thought of a change this large and the hesitation would be significant. Like it or not this is resistance to change.
Technology Staff and Change
I will now change focus to look at a typical technology department. Technology workers live in a world where massive change is the norm and not the exception. Moore’s Law says that computing power doubles every 2 years. This means that computing hardware has a limited lifespan of 3-5 years in most companies before it needs to be replaced with new hardware. Software also has a short lifespan with an average lifespan of a software system at about 10 Years. Add in software updates, security patches and maintenance releases and there is a lot of change.
As a technology worker, you must embrace change. Change is likely the reason you have a job and it will be a part of your career every day. If you’re in operations your job will require you to upgrade hardware, patch hardware and software, install updates and keep infrastructure upgraded. As a software developer, you need to constantly upgrade your software. Creating new patches for bugs will be a fact of life and you are likely making regular changes to your code to deal with the never-ending security holes that will be found. These things require major change.
If you think about major change from the technology perspective you might think of changes like….
· Replace a major business system with a new (more efficient) system. Replace or re-train staff.
· Migrate infrastructure from on-site to the cloud and eliminate on site staff for less expensive could services.
· Rebuild all your servers to change from hardware based servers to more efficient virtual servers.
These sorts of changes are very similar to the changes that I bulleted for executive above. In the executive role it is unlikely that you will make major changes like this more than a few times in your career. For a technology worker, these changes are made on a regular basis. The above examples are all changes that are commonplace. If your company has been in business for 10 years it is likely that your IT department has made all three of the changes above.
This constant state of technological change creates an environment where technology workers must embrace change. In most cases the change is the most exciting part of their job. This is a big part of the difference between technology works and the rest of the world. When most people get a new cell phone it’s a struggle and frustration to get things working. When your help desk tech has a new phone he (or she) is most likely going to be excited to show you all the new features that they have discovered in the first 24 hours. It’s a different way of looking at change in the world.
The “Resistance to Change” Disconnect
The disconnect between executives and IT staff.
The disconnect between executive management and the IT department is easy to resolve once you see it. Managers are used to managing change through soft delivery, explaining reasons for change and then mandating compliance. This is caused by the well-founded expectation that there will be resistance from most parts of the company. When this technique is used with technical staff it does not go over well. In the IT world it is better to deliver change early and in a collaborative manner. The resistance will be less and the staff will be more likely to embrace collaborative change.
Let’s use a major process change as an example. We will implement a new tracking system for both the sales team and the IT team. Starting with sales there will be a new CRM system that will be used to track performance and determine bonuses. In most sales environments, this will not be well received. The sales team will resist the added data entry into the CRM and will be skeptical of its value. They will also see the change to bonuses as a way to cut their bonus or commissions. As such the delivery will need to be after all details are finalized and delivered in a politically gentle manner. It will need to be mandated and from top management to get everyone on board. There are likely to be some people that are disgruntled by the change and this will need individual attention.
Now let’s think about a similar change in the IT department: Implementing a new ticketing system that will provide performance statistics which will determine bonuses. If you deliver this system in the same manner as the sales team you are likely to have your technology staff shut down. They are not likely to resist the change but they will not respect the manner of delivery or the new system. The better way to deliver the new system is to engage the team early and allow both executives and IT staff to embrace the changes. The technology staff will respect the management team more for engaging them and will likely work hard to find new efficiencies in the new system before deployment.
Changes made on the technology side of the business are normal and thus proper engagement allows for the staff members to collaborate on making the changes better. This is the cycle that is used throughout technical departments and it works well for business level changes as well. The added bonus is that with proper engagement you can improve the reception to a change while also getting valuable feedback on how find additional efficiencies through technology.