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Importance of behaviour change in IT transformations

Author: Ralu Elena Nistor-Lustermans MSc, CISA, CIA

There is no IT function that I came across in the last 15 years that did not go, at least once, through a major transformation. And there is no IT professional that I speak with today, who does not talk about a current transformation he is somehow involved in within IT. 

When we talk about IT transformation, our minds quickly go to digital transformation, outsourcing, cloud, onboarding and offboarding of suppliers, third party management, IT Governance, security risks, SLA, etcetera. But how often do we talk about behaviour change?

As IT transformation sponsors and stakeholders, we might not spend much time discussing how our way of doing things will change from what we do now to how we will do things in the new operating model. What behaviour do we need to stop, which behaviour do we need to continue, and which new behaviour has to arise? Behaviour has a direct impact on our results, as it shows our values, beliefs, stories, and the purpose we defined for ourselves. Our work behaviour is impacted by the organisation and team culture, and by the processes and the technologies we use.

As an IT Auditor I had the opportunity to review several IT transformations programmes. Some of the most common issues I came across were:

  1. Transformation purpose and strategy not clearly defined.

    Lack of clarity on why the transformation is needed, which issues will be resolved by changing from status A to status B, and how the transformation links into the organisation vision and purpose, can lead to silo changes within an organisation.

  2. Transformation plan and timeline not clearly communicated to all stakeholders.
    It often happens that not all stakeholders are aware of the transformation’s stages and its timeline, which leads to delivery delays as tasks dependencies are not fully understood.
  3. Lack of transformation sponsorship and ownership.
    Ensuring there is clear ownership and sponsorship, enables also an easier and clear delegation of power for decision making; lack of ownership and sponsorship will delay important decisions.
  4. Roles and responsibilities not fully understood and/or assigned for those involved in transformation leads to delay in decision making and delivery of the needed change.
  5. Stakeholders’ resistance to change due to the emotional conflicts that change triggers.

While the first 4 issues identified above can be solved relatively easily, one of the biggest challenges transformation programmes encounter is number 5: stakeholders’ resistance to change. This is a complex issue, which in my view is possibly the main root cause of transformation programmes failure (and some programmes don’t even consider this risk as part of their transformation risk register).

Any transformation and change, involves moving from where we are to where we want to be. It involves stopping doing something, to start doing something else. And when those involved resist change, the move from A to B will not happen easily.

In IT transformations the focus is on the technology and the way processes change. It is often forgotten that by changing the technology and the processes, we change behaviour; we ask stakeholders to stop doing certain activities and start doing other thing. We maybe stop managing IT inhouse. After outsourcing a system, or a whole service or process, we do not execute the daily activities we used to do, but we need to start governing IT, designing the expected controls, guidelines, etcetera and managing third  parties. This means our interaction and behaviour needs to change, to ensure we get the results we want and land a successful transformation.

I wish every IT transformation started with announcing first that a behaviours change is needed.

For us to deliver on our purpose to enable the organisation to achieve its goals, we will need to change the way we behave in our daily activities, transform the way we deliver our services which requires a re-set and re-purpose of our internal IT culture, we will need to change the way we do things around here and then transformation will follow its defined path.

Some behaviour characteristics which are in my opinion central to a successful IT transformation are:

  1. Creating a psychological safe environment where IT specialists can share their views, worries and challenges regarding the transformation and its impact on them.
    As humans we crave for certainty and what we know; therefore, it is normal that we get scared and feel resistance when we are faced with change. As a normal first reaction to change is to go in fight mode (to preserve what we know), having the save environment where those involved and affected by change can share their worries and views; allows not only for inclusivity and engagement; but also for people to get over their first instinct of preservation and feel empowered that they will be able to deal with the change; and opens up new perspectives where change might be regarded as new opportunities.
  2. Healthy and relevant debate.
    Due to our instinct of preservation and fear of change, change can bring up emotional debates, therefore allowing for those debates to occur in a constructive way strengthens the psychological safe environment mentioned above.
  3. Ability to make tough decisions, while still showing compassion (empathy + action) for those affected.
    As transformations, involve doing things in a different way, sometimes stopping completely some activities to start others, this might affect the activities of some stakeholders. Being able to understand the way change can emotionally affect people and support them through the process is an important attribute of successful transformation.
  4. Re-evaluation of current roles and responsibilities.
    A new state of art often requires new skills and new roles and therefore a re-evaluation of responsibilities and new advised behaviours is needed to ensure the new operating model will operate effectively.
  5. Alignment of inner purpose of all those involved in the transformation with the bigger picture, of the team and organisation mission and purpose.
    Being able to align the personal and individual inner drive to the team/organsiation purpose and creating awareness of how the employees’ daily activities contribute to the bigger purpose, allows employees to have an enhanced feeling of fulfillment and well-being at work, and this is always important, but even so more important in times of uncertainty and change.

These behavioural characteristics are a starting point to awaken awareness of the need for and importance of behaviour change while transforming and transitioning for state A to state B.

What other behaviour characteristics do you think are important during organizational / IT transformations?

Ralu (Elena) Nistor-Lustermans is a seasoned Internal Auditor, Board member, Coach and Mentor and founder of ERNL, a business advisory and coaching consultancy. In the last two decades Ralu held various Internal Audit roles in well known international organisations (Deloitte in Italy, Smurfit Kappa in Ireland, Atos in France and Grant Thornton and Post Office UK the the UK) which gave her the opportunity to develop a deep interest in the impact of organisational culture and behaviours on results and performance. To pursue her interest in organizational culture and performance Ralu also trained in business coaching, NLP, applied neuroscience and positive psychology.

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