If you're in any way involved in IT, you are acutely aware that change is in the air. Not just cosmetic change; we're talking deep, structural change.
Some are in denial, some are watching from the sidelines to see what happens -- but a handful have latched on to the emerging opportunity at hand, and are busily fashioning themselves into self-styled agents-of-change. Rarely is it a formal role; more often it's a self-assumed persona.
When I meet these people, I see them in the process of becoming self-actualized: becoming more fully comfortable with the nature of their important yet informal role.
But, typically, they're not yet 100% at ease with their new brand.
I do what I can to validate what they're doing, to help articulate what they're trying to communicate, and hopefully give them the tools and self-confidence to be more effective.
And here is my best effort at a manifesto to help encourage this crucially important IT mindset.
Big changes are afoot in our chosen profession.
The fundamental role of an IT organization is shifting: from technology specialists to IT service providers. The measurement is shifting from being goaled on rationing IT consumption to being incentivized to drive intelligent use of IT capabilities throughout the business. Most every critical IT role is being redefined as we speak. And business leaders are now expected to be intelligent consumers of this critical business input.
But the current crop of IT functions weren't built for this new world, they came of age in a very different time and with a very different mission. They were built as monopolies: to control technology consumption, deliver big IT projects, and do so in a largely self-sufficient manner.
Now the game has clearly changed, and strong IT leadership that can drive meaningful change has quickly become one of the most prized skills in the IT job market.
Enter The IT Change Agent
Maybe these people have an important title that accurately reflects their true role, far more often this isn't the case. Maybe they've been brought into the organization to drive change; maybe they've been there for a while and see the opportunity that's being presented. Quite frequently, they're buried a layer or two down in the org chart. Their official disciplines may vary: applications, infrastructure, security, whatever.
What does not seem to vary is their mindset. They see themselves as agents of change. Their true role, their value-add, their secret sauce is to help the organization learn how to do things in new ways.
They do not always get a lot of encouragement and positive reinforcement as they work in this direction. Obstacles are everywhere, as few IT organizations were built to rapidly flex and change. Not only are the processes excessively rigid, so are many of the mindsets throughout the organization.
And, in many cases, it can get downright personal as highly motivated change agents encounter equally motivated defenders of the status quo.
Getting To The Core
When I have the opportunity to meet with these people in a smaller setting, we often end up talking about the same things: them, how they see themselves, what challenges they face, and so on. I find that I can do a lot to help validate what they're seeing, and give them some decent ballast for the stormy seas.
For those of you that I have not yet had the conversation yet, here is my best attempt to boil it down.
I hope you find this useful.
#1 -- I accept that things are the way they are for good reasons, but also believe that there exists better ways of doing things.
Ideally, you'd have a foot in both camps: a good understanding and empathy as to why things are the way they are (no bad guys here), as well as clearly articulate on the existence of potentially better models, and the rationale for pursuing them in an intelligent fashion.
#2 -- I take a personal responsibility for driving change in all of my interactions. I don't think it's entirely someone else's job to go do.
Change isn't fun: it's messy, uncomfortable and inexact work. So it's easy to make it someone else's responsibility: another group, an external set of individuals, executive leadership, and so on. Sure, everyone has a responsibility to support and drive change, but you don't want to fall into the blame game.
#3 -- I may not be in a position of authority, but I can influence positive change in a variety of formal and informal ways.
Yes, one person can make a difference -- if not directly, than indirectly by encouraging and inspiring others. I have seen many examples of this in my travels, but see far more examples of people with the visible potential to drive change, but don't feel empowered or capable to do so.
Take it from me: it's all about your mindset.
#3 -- I will get comfortable in speaking up and communicating widely. I will focus on the positive potential, and not devolve into sharp criticism.
They engage, they speak, they write, maybe they blog. If you listen to the good ones, they also don't make the mistake of falling into being overly hyper-critical.
Anyone can throw rocks: who can arrange the stones into a foundation?
#4 -- I will learn from others outside my immediate function, do what I can to bring new thinking into my current context, and share what we've learned with other stakeholders.
I've come to the sober realization that there are very few new ideas (or new problems!) in the world today. There are just familiar themes in somewhat new contexts.
The answers you're looking for are out there: another part of your group, another part of the company, maybe another company or another industry entirely.
This extremely useful discover/connect/amplify behavior is well understood in the social and knowledge management world. It's not difficult to learn. And it seems to be what every change agent inevitably learns how to do.
#5 -- My goal is to empower others to lead change in their own worlds. I am not out to take credit for myself.
Through word and deed, you need to make in abundantly clear that you're after the team win -- collectively and individually -- and you are just a humble servant trying to help.
Trigger that particular defensive reaction in people, and progress will be visibly impeded.
#6 -- I will strive to be patient -- as change takes time -- but politely impatient as to the sense of urgency. I will try not to annoy people too often.
I sort of describe the ideal mindset as "persistently impatient". I try not to get frustrated with the seemingly glacial pace of change, realizing that it takes significant time to meaningfully change perspectives, and even longer for those changed perspectives to manifest themselves in organizational behavior.
And there's a fine line between patiently pushing your points, and being seen as frequently annoying. I'm not always sure which side of that line I'm on, but I'm aware of it.
#7 -- I will take small victories as signs of progress -- and celebrate them -- while holding out for larger and more meaningful structural changes.
I've been involved in maybe a half-dozen strategic initiatives here at EMC. The pattern is always the same. #1 a lot of communication, #2 a painful silence, #3 small-scale alignment to the desired pattern, #4 significant change, and #5 eventual operationalization of the change as the "new normal".
People tend to lose heart as they wait out #2 and #3 hoping for #4. Don't fall into that trap. Victories -- no matter how small or insignificant -- need to be celebrated with all stakeholders. That sort of positive reinforcement is essential to sustain any change initiative.
#8 -- I will empathize with people who are uncomfortable with, or resist, change. I will try and bring them along, but I will not be held hostage to their mindset.
All of this change agent stuff can get very polarizing: us vs. them, good vs. evil, etc. Everyone should keep in mind Newton's third law: a force applied to a body results in an equally opposing force. True in the physical world; also true in the organizational world.
It's not a mere rationalization, it's the law!
I've learned to make decent attempts to understand that there will always be individuals who are resistant to change for any variety of reasons. I do my best to empathize with their perspectives, and try to address their myriad of concerns: voiced and unvoiced.
And then it's time to move on ...
#9 -- I'd rather be seen as an unsuccessful change agent than a successful defender of the status quo.
Yes, we all have to do a bit of both, but you should be comfortable with that underlying personal perspective -- if it exists.
#10 -- I will give it my best shot in my current role. If it doesn't work out, there are always other places that will value my abilities and my passion.
It's amazing what you can achieve when you're not overly concerned about the personal consequences.
Surprise them. Show a little initiative. Maybe you'll make them uncomfortable in the process -- that's to be expected. Change involves a certain degree of discomfort -- that's how you know you're doing it right.
But at some point, you may come to the recognition that the current situation you're in isn't going to meaningfully change anytime soon. And there's that time when you cash in your chips, and go find a better game to play.
Trust me, there are plenty of those out there these days ...