This is a guest post by Neil Farmer, a director of Informal Networks Limited. The company specialises in ‘switching on’ organisational intelligence.
Once the new CIO has assessed the challenges of the business environment, the strengths and weaknesses of the IT function and which colleagues to trust, s/he can move on to the biggest challenge of all: how to move beyond technology and become the key catalysts for effective business change.
The first question to answer on the road to becoming proactive business change catalysts is: “Where do business change ideas come from?” Certainly some will come from new technologies that create new business opportunities and the new CIO can draw on key innovative individuals within IT. However, most change opportunities come from elsewhere – from other organisations or from natural innovators across the business.
Using a variety of informal network techniques, it is relatively simple for informal network specialists to identify natural leaders of different types across the organisation. In this case the key individuals that will make up the new CIO’s innovation network will be those who are naturally innovative, influential with colleagues and who take an active interest in new external ideas.
There will not be crowds of these people: perhaps 2% of the total employee population. The mechanics of setting up this network will require cooperation from other senior managers, but participant enthusiasm is always very high: light the spark and watch as these (previously unrecognised) individuals thrive and generate more good ideas than existing procedures can cope with. Then change the procedures that are restricting effective change.
The new CIO will become increasingly comfortable working with natural leaders, both within and beyond the IT function. Get your informal network specialists to refine the selection criteria and they will readily identify a slightly larger population (perhaps 5%) of individuals who are the real natural change agents across the business. These will be those key individuals who are strongly influential with colleagues (sideways and downwards, not just upwards) and are by nature change-positive or at least open minded on change. Use them! At least on all large IT projects and change programmes.
The results will change the organisation’s view of IT: Poor designs will be recognised early, difficulties will be flexibly overcome, timescales and budgets will increasingly be met. Most important of all, if treated honestly and like intelligent adults, these key influencers will consistently win the hearts and minds of most of their colleagues.
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