Change: Not for the Faint of Heart

Let me give you advance warning that this column will not have a single reference to technology acronyms, performance or standards. As a matter of fact, it may at first strike you as being misplaced in a publication called TV Technology.
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Let me give you advance warning that this column will not have a single reference to technology acronyms, performance or standards. As a matter of fact, it may at first strike you as being misplaced in a publication called TV Technology. But hopefully, by the time you finish it (and I am optimistic that you will), you will agree it addresses issues intimately linked to everything we do on a daily basis.

In my last column, I wrote about the need to recognize the effort put forth by the end users of the powerful new enterprise-level systems that so many of us are currently deploying. I wrote of praise for nontechnical individuals who, through enormous effort, help in determining the ongoing requirements, the new workflows and the efficiency enhancements. But as many of you pointed out, not a single one of these massive deployments could ever be compared to a walk in the park on a gorgeous autumn afternoon. Actually, you must expect quite the contrary.

Much like one has to experience all the stages of grief, so must institutions slog through the multiple stages associated with the implementation of massive change. I am sure you recognize them:

Immobilization: What?

Denial: If I don't do anything maybe it will go away!

Anger: Why are they doing this to me? I work so hard for this company!

Bargaining: If I change this, can I keep that?

Depression: You are going to ruin everything!

Testing: Hmmm... how does that work?

Acceptance: Hey! Not bad. How about if we also do this?

Although these processes are well-documented, replicable and demonstrable, you can count on them surprising, shocking and even appalling the same people that you've warned about their impending arrival. So make sure you warn them often.

This is a direct result of the natural correlation between the relative agility of the institution undergoing the process and the magnitude of the process itself.

INCORPORATE CHANGE

An agile company that proactively and regularly incorporates change into its ethos continually undergoes a series of smaller iterative processes that improve systems and workflows.

Conversely, a more traditional institution that embraces change as a reactionary response to marketplace shifts will often find itself facing massive overhauls as it tries to adapt to the constantly accelerating maelstrom of each industry's change.

In other words, the more an organization is change-averse, the more likely it will require massive amounts of change. Unfortunately, in the long run, this dichotomy is only resolved through extinction or a painful and traumatic series of internal paradigm shifts.

Fortunately for all of us, history is rife with examples of both resolution paths.

IBM faced this type of a choice in the late '80s when it became obvious that its "big iron" business could no longer sustain an enormously bloated bureaucracy. Led by an outsider, it underwent massive layoffs and internal struggles before it emerged, reinvented as a company whose emphasis was placed on striking a balance between consulting services, software and hardware.

Digital Equipment Corp. refused to budge in the face of enormous marketplace shifts and was swallowed by Compaq, once an innovator that, in turn, quickly became sclerotic and was absorbed by Hewlett-Packard.

Ultimately, bureaucracies geared to provide routine competence are, invariably, violently allergic to the risks associated with the substantial changes necessary to achieve the operational excellence. So although it may appear that everything is progressing, the very foundations of the business are being eroded.

So when you decide to move forward with that large project that is necessary as well as unavoidably painful, you would do well to ensure the following:

Enlist your organization's senior management in the effort from day one.

Establish the appropriate governance structure so that the appropriate stakeholders can make the crucial decisions on a timely basis. Establish senior-level project sponsors in the functional areas affected by the process.

Confront resistance with honesty and disclosure.

Be prepared to endure a painful process of self-discovery and occasional self-doubt as you try to move the rock up that quasi-Sisyphean hill.

Above all, you would do well to remember what Machiavelli said back in the early 1500s:

"There is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old system and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new one."

Count on IT!