Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Give up inertia and take the first step !

A long time back I wanted to write a book on Organizational Inertia; it was to be an expression of angst from stories captured from many IT teams on theirs and my experiences in large enterprises. The funny thing is that large enterprises have a peculiar life of their own which makes interesting case studies. They rarely surface and get buried in the stifled cries and whimpers of the frustrated who try to find solace in greener pastures. When I wrote No decision, the biggest enemy to progress, it appeared to have stories of many encapsulated into the anecdotes.
Organizational inertia manifests itself in many ways; pushback to innovation, new ideas and change, is the norm with justification that is final in its utterance. If that does not work, Committees are setup to review feasibility, or research commissioned to validate the assumptions, or a Consultant hired to benchmark and recommend best practice, or just keep asking for more data; anything to maintain status quo almost as if life depended on it. Let me give you a few examples of how they manifest themselves, I am sure you can add to the list:
1.    That’s the way it is done here
2.    Current process was written/endorsed by the Chairman/Founder/CEO, how can we change it ?
3.    It was tried earlier and it did not work
4.    There is no budget allotted
5.    How can you even think about … you don’t understand this company !
6.    This requires approvals from global headquarters … and you know how it works …
7.    It is not relevant to our industry/company …

Almost two decades back as I remember some bright consultants created a practice around “Change Management” to address these issues which plagued the industry. How to manage change, how to get people to embrace new ideas, and how to institutionalize change. Every large enterprise went through some kind of workshops, management consultants adding value, and attempting to coerce people to look at things differently. The inherent pushback from the change averse (that’s what they were called) was WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) ?

Fair amount of the change was created by automation and force fitment of processes into technology solutions that integrated processes and functions (ERP). The next layer of function specific solutions like CRM or SCM and then broad based solutions like BPM added to the change which started accelerating. Post the initial chaos emerged clarity on the benefits and the ease of use with early adopters enjoying market leadership or an agile advantage. Things were beginning to settle down and enterprises were at peace with themselves.

Change being the only constant, the next level of disruption was thrust upon enterprises from outside with the changing dynamics of employees, contractors and customers embracing technology in their personal lives. The now ubiquitous smartphone in the hands of the masses catalysed by exploding plethora of applications forced enterprises to accept this force multiplier. CIOs and others were challenged to accept the new wave which required not just adaptation to the technology but also a change in process.

From the internet led disruption to mobility to Clouds to now the Digital hype, IoT, and wearables to name a few, enterprises and CIOs have never had a dull moment. Doomsday did happen for some though not because they did not embrace the hype, but because they did not change when they should have or when they could have. Stories of such companies shall remain case studies in organizational inertia. In the new world of digitally defined success measured by valuations among other things, everyone wants a share of the pie.

This is an opportunity for every company and leader to introspect and take some uncomfortable decisions to give up the good old ways of working and explore how the hype can be tamed and applied within. The CIO more than other CXOs is well placed to take steps towards creating a dialogue that puts the elephant in the room and test hypotheses on impact to customer, employees, partners and stakeholders. In the new age some of the fundamentals cannot be forgotten; finally for every company it is about creating value for the ecosystem.

"A year from now, you may wish you had started today." - Karen Lamb

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