Disruption – Overcoming Cultural Hurdles takes Patience and Persistence

As innovation and disruption continue to be leading themes in business and technology, one component that’s essential for success is that change needs to be a part of your company’s DNA. If not, patience and persistence better be some of your core traits. Today’s CIO should always be focused on building better business value through innovation, but change is hard for many companies. As the CIO for a very successful 60 year old investment firm, just getting acceptance that change is needed is a hurdle at times. However, we all know nothing good comes easy, and with patience and persistence, disruption is possible anywhere. Don’t give up.

Although not every company moves as quickly as a start-up, it doesn’t mean your company won’t come around so keep your dose of patience handy. I’m seeing firsthand how the consumerization of IT is not only changing our users requirements and expectations, but it’s also changing executive attitudes. Disruption is all around us and times are changing for every industry. Don’t also expect true disruption to come easy. If you’re championing fundamental change, keep after it.

I’ve championed change since I started at our company in 2007 and I’m currently leading some disruptive projects, but just getting to this point wasn’t easy. We recently completed an extensive cloud ERP implementation that ripped out many of our legacy apps and drastically improved our core processes. After completing the implementation last fall, we reduced our application footprint 63% and our infrastructure needs 35%. We automated and digitized our major end-end processes. Additionally, we’re now truly set up to move to a zero footprint infrastructure by the end of this year. These are huge wins that have raised our firms’ disruption quotient significantly. We’re also now full steam ahead with new major changes, moving our whole document management foundation and key related processes to Box, while also integrating our processes to electronic signatures throughout our organization, both rarities in our industry. We’re a very complicated company structurally, with significant document centric processes driving our core processes, and these newer disruptive projects would not have gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for the push to strive forward despite delays, setbacks, and resistance to change.

How was this major feat accomplished? Our company was able to make such a tremendous transformation because the foundation was laid years before. We had successfully been using a cloud first strategy for over 5 years, so we were already focusing on critical business objectives instead of managing servers and infrastructure. Moving to a predominately cloud based environment had opened the eyes of many in the company on what was possible and the business value of such a move, but the full digital impact hadn’t been fully felt yet. There was, however, an appetite for a new way of doing things if it meant getting work done more effectively. One of our biggest hurdles in overcoming change was altering the culture of unyielding perfection in everything we did.

Moving your applications to a SaaS based environment does mean giving up on “nice to have’s”, at least initially. This clash is a good thing for many businesses though, as it forces a company to focus on what is truly core to their business. With customized, in house developed apps, there is always a tendency to accommodate and build every feature asked for. With our cloud ERP move, the focus was on ensuring that the core processes were accommodated and supported day 1. This new way of thinking was very transformational for us. The lesson learned here is to ensure that you’ve worked closely with the business in focusing on what’s core to success. Get to your change event as quickly as you can so you can begin learning from it.

To disrupt a company’s “change culture”, it will be important to get buy-in at the top. There can be small wins and some change without it, but true organizational disruption needs senior executive buy-in. If there isn’t an appetite for this at the top level, then there’s automatic cover for any senior executive who is resisting change. The result is too much headwind for a successful endeavor, so persistence in leading change is critical.

Building partnership and trust with the business is also needed here. This has always been a key critical competency for a CIO, but change requires it; you can’t go it alone. Once buy-in as been established, communication continues to be critical when going through change. Just because it was endorsed by the CEO doesn’t mean every manager or employee understands what is happening, or why. Old fears are hard to break and non-productive behaviors are hard to change. Ensure there is proper top-down communication early and often. Changing a company’s culture is hard, but nothing worthwhile is easy so don’t give up if you find yourself swimming upstream sometimes. Build the relationships, demonstrate the value, and keep after it.

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