CIO change management challenges involve more than just technology aspects

Satish Pendse, CIO of Hindustan Construction Co. (HCC), shares advice on how to handle change management with SearchCIO.in.

SearchCIO.in: Can you detail the challenges faced by a CIO during the change management process?
I look at change management as the psychological aspect of any IT implementation. All change initiatives pass through technical challenges and psychological aspects.

New initiatives require people to perform processes in a different manner. For example, organizations usually have disintegrated systems prior to an ERP implementation. Things change drastically after the implementation due to automation of different processes. The project might mean job losses. In other cases, the affected person may have to acquire new skills or be assigned to other responsibilities. So he will obviously resist this change. As a result, your good technology initiative may fail.

So a CIO has to face many issues before and after change initiatives. Senior management may create more of such hindrances, since they have a far higher ability to cause hindrances.

Technical challenges can be resolved with technical solutions. So I will not term them as change management challenges. The challenge is that most people from the IT community are not aware of existing psychological challenges. We take foremost pride in addressing just the technological challenges. However, it's not the technology but the human brain which works behind every initiative. So address those challenges first, and then motivate the involved people.

SearchCIO.in: So how can a CIO overcome these psychological challenges?
The solution to overcome these challenges differs across organizations and initiatives. However, there are general change management principles from a technology perspective.

One such principle which plays a very important role is 'involvement'. These should be people who are impacted by the implementation, since they feel part of the initiative.

Once we were implementing an organization-wide initiative, and we publicized it even before we started the implementation process. We asked people for their comments and queries. We visited critical locations and gave brief presentations. Thus, we got to know the people who are in favor of the project, and those aren't.

The feeling of 'I am being asked' is crucial. In one of our projects, we tried to create excitement around it. We required a name for the project, so we held an organization-wide contest where the top three names would receive high-end gifts. We got 500 names in seven days. So you already have the involvement of 500 people in the project. We also formed a committee with heads of all the impacted departments.

'Communication' is the second principle. It can happen through organizational review meetings, training programs, annual events, internal journals, mass mails, etc. Thus, top management such as the managing director or senior members get acquainted with the various people behind the initiative. Such proper communication helps avoid misconceptions associated with the project.

The third principle is 'education'. When you educate and train users, half the resistance towards your project goes away. For example, we had taken an initiative a few years back when the IT literacy level across a company's remote locations were low. So we did not train the users on ERP. Instead, we trained them on Windows, Microsoft Office, email and Internet chat. With this exercise, we cured their fear of computers.

These three elements are necessary to overcome user resistance. It takes care of the psychological aspect of any IT deployment.

SearchCIO.in: What goes wrong in a failed change management effort?
Many a time, IT people want to take credit for the project. I remember one such failed initiative where the IT team snatched away the credit. IT should understand that it is just one of the functions. Other people who may be impacted are also equally important for a successful project.

The right training and education budgets are also important. Generally, only 5% of the project cost goes into training. Successful projects will require a larger training budget.

SearchCIO.in: Do you have any more change management tips to CIOs?
Make it an organization-wide initiative; don't make it your initiative. You should be behind the scenes and give credit to people who actually make your initiative work. In terms of team allocation, if you give the job of looking after the technical changes to 70% of your team, 30% of the team should be assigned to change management. A CIO should look beyond just a technology deployment or implementation.

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