Change management leans on leadership

Creating an effective climate for cultural change when companies are faced with new IT projects depends not on good 'management' but on good leadership, where the focus is not on execution but on nurturing desired behaviours.

Speaking to IT executives at CIO Magazine's Fifth Annual Conference in Sydney, Dan Cohen, a partner with Deloitte Consulting (US), said the management of a project was not the way to guarantee buy-in, as managing simply suggested "implementing".

Instead, leadership is at the crux of creating effective change within an organisation because leadership was all about vision, Cohen said.

A true leader of an IT project was one who focused on doing the "right things".

"Leaders ask what you want to do, why you want to do it, how it's going to impact behaviour, not just 'how to implement'," he said.

"Those executives know the journey is not over once the organisation has inplemented a project." They will know whether they're done by "going through the milestones they've set in a project and seeing if they've reached the end state".

Cohen said there had been huge emphasis on technology-led change over the past few years, which convinced managers that behavioural change and better performance could be achieved merely though infrastructure and analysis.

But what companies are realising now, he said, is that while that approach to cultural change may have been appropriate, more benefits will come from focusing on the human element of performance.

Pointing to current scepticism surrounding recent large ERP project failures, Cohen said: "Ever wonder why these projects fail to meet expectations? It's not the complexity of the technology or high implementation cost, but the biggest challenge is creating ownership for a project."

Citing a global survey this year of 700 IT executives by Deloitte Consulting, Cohen said most respondents struggled to achieve meaningful change in their organisation when faced with new IT projects.

Cohen said what most IT executives failed to see was that they could not get people to adjust their behaviour if there was no sense of urgency or commitment from above.

He argued many managers believed projects would succeed based on a business case alone.

"As you move deeper from the top of the organisation into the field, people want to know why they should get excited about a new project. You need individuals who are going to be barrier-busters," he said.

"The soft stuff is the hard stuff," Cohen said, quoting re-engineering exponent Michael Hammer. "And a new behaviour is not going to stick unless it's nurtured," Cohen said.

The best sign of successful cultural change after an IT project was completed was when companies allayed their people's fears, anger or complacency.

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