CIOs who cannot can’t get their teams on board with the digital transformation agenda will have big problems, writes Pete Waterhouse of CA Technologies.

If you’re a new CIO, my congratulations. This is a wonderful time to be driving the digital agenda in both the public and private sectors. But on the other hand, I feel your angst and concern.

Sure, businesses are craving innovation through the transformational soup we call software, but if your IT squad is change resistant you’ll only end up with an empty ladle.

Maybe it’s time to start toughening up.

What would Chuck Norris do if he was in your shoes? Well, as we all know, he can take a horse to water AND make it drink, so he might come in all change guns-a-blazing. He could lob in some massive organizational restructures, enforce new tools and maybe even smash the operations group with cloud computing dictates. Of course CIO Chuck realizes he can’t do everything himself, so he might empower new autonomous agile teams to start scorching some development earth – because when he writes software code with bugs, the bugs fix themselves. Oorah!

And since he is the strong-willed and convincing type, it’ll all be done by getting everyone behind his new business survivalist, “who dares wins,” 90-day tactical action plan, right?

Well probably not, but we can all dream.

Calming the Fear and Uncertainty of Massive Change

Getting staff on board with a frontal change assault isn’t going to be easy. Just remember, you’re taking folks out of their comfort zones; replete with old infrastructure, applications, processes, metrics and incentives that have served them well for years. And if you’re hurriedly enforcing methodologies like agile, lean and DevOps, no ‘digital-first’ pep talk will make any of those concerns disappear.

It’s critical, therefore, that any ninja style strategic vision is tempered with something that’s hard-wired into most of us, but which some in the C-suite seem to have lost – empathy. As a digital leader, you probably take digital transformation and change in stride, but have you forgotten all those very human feelings of excitement, fear, uncertainty and doubt? If you have, then you’ve lost empathy – without which there’ll be lots of collateral damage and you’ll never be a fully effective change agent.

So as a CIO, how can you ensure that empathy is part of your ‘kick-ass’ transformational agenda? There are a number of new moves to master:

1. Test yourself with a digital workout

It’s easy to sit back in CIO ‘big chair’ and wax on about a digital change program. Like some general from the Napoleonic era, you stay well back from the action; figuratively directing strategy over a bloody battlefield - all while sipping chilled Chablis in the company of analysts and business consultants.

Time to get some blood rushing. Rather than holding sway from some lofty strategic vantage point, real leaders get down and dirty. They find and lead a small change initiative that takes them well out of their comfort boundaries. This could be something new or perhaps risky, like an Internet of Things incubation project – anything where they have had no experience and have to stretch themselves. It’s called skin in the game, and the empathetic, transformational CIO uses it to show they’re driving change by example.

2. Gather field intelligence across the software factory

IT has traditionally been something of a blame game. Operations blaming development for defect riddled code, and development blaming operations and security for slowing everything down with rigid audits, inflexible process and standardization mandates. CIOs have to end this impasse, but again it’ll take some empathetic smarts.

New leaders will walk the software factory, figuring out what causes these unnecessary conflicts. They won’t hurry to lay the blame in one area - rather, they’ll look across the entire software value chain - identifying every people, process and technology element causing bottlenecks and delays. Here again empathy plays a big part for CIOs, since by understanding and demonstrating what constraints lead bad behavior to become normalized, they’re in a perfect position to gain agreement on a change agenda.

3. Rally your troops behind metrics that matter

Operating in functional silos, teams use technical diagnostics to demonstrate their value – like new software functions delivered or problems fixed. That’s all fine, but empathetic leaders use a set of business relevant metrics to instill a shared sense of purpose across teams. To this end, new CIO leaders not only get everyone behind real business challenges, such as increasing customer satisfaction scores, they also help folks recognize that change is being harnessed for competitive advantage.

In a tough, bad-ass digital business world there’s no time to delay a change agenda. But if you can’t get your teams to accept and internalize it you have a big problem. No matter how ninja-like you think you are at business model innovation, enterprise architecture or lean thinking, having no one in your corner will only lead to more bruises.

But take heart. If you add empathy to the cultural mix, you have a powerful force - so powerful, you can even stop worrying about all those digital wanabees and nimble startups – because like Chuck Norris, you enjoy meat so rare you only ever eat ‘unicorns’.

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