In many businesses and public organisations, attempts at transformation only partially succeed - or fail completely. Can change professionals really bring about transformation where the in-house management hasn’t succeeded?
The answer is yes, and one of the key reasons is that they are much better at spotting and overcoming change resistance. They have a stronger sense as to where that resistance is likely to come from and the subtle ways in which it can manifest itself. Surprisingly, change resistance is often found among those in the IT department who are in a strong position to stop change in its tracks. And frequently do.
Although IT often lies at the heart of business transformation, it’s also frequently at the core of the most entrenched resistance to change and transformation. The department’s employees may be wedded to particular technologies and fearful of having to acquire a completely new skill-set. These are generally well-paid people and they may feel they have a position to defend. The more outdated their skills and the longer they have spent in the department, the more threatening it is to contemplate a completely different way of doing things.
Partly, this is because of an unspoken but reasonable fear that their skills are not very marketable in the world outside their existing organisation. In the public sector, they may have become used to a rather cosy life with few sudden changes and a secure job. It’s often in IT departments like these that change managers may find themselves facing a culture which dislikes big IT companies and sees some IT providers as “good” and some as “bad” - not in terms of their efficiency but in terms of their perceived corporate values.
These workers are aware that real transformation is likely to involve a lot more than tinkering at the edges, moving a few applications to the Cloud and declaring the job done. In both the public and private sectors, transformation can mean that IT services are entirely outsourced, and employees’ jobs are “TUPE’d” - that is moved over to the new private company that is running the IT department under the “Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment” legislation.
Little wonder that many IT managers fight tooth and nail against this. However they do so in subtle ways, often involving passive resistance and quiet but determined attempts to derail the transformation process.
The benefit of employing experienced change professionals, whether as contractors or on a permanent basis (if the programme spans several years), is that they have seen all of this before. They know the ways in which managers can resist change while speaking enthusiastically in support of it.
Organisations sometimes think that change managers spend their time on some vague concept such as corporate culture. More likely, they are in the trenches of the transformation project, providing reassurance to those who are fearful, dismantling myths about what the new organisation will be like and helping leaders and managers to control risks and reap business benefits from the change process.
Change managers need to be resilient, smart and goal-oriented but at the same time, they need to have empathy for the fears and uncertainties that underlie attempts to stop transformation happening. It’s a demanding job but uniquely satisfying when real change occurs and an organisation becomes much better equipped to face the future.