Three ways CIOs will lead culture change in 2019 | Gagen MacDonald

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Three ways CIOs will lead culture change in 2019

Dec 06, 2018

We observed a persistent running theme during this latest conference season: our human struggle with the new era of non-stop business change. This two-part blog series shares key takeaways by our CIO Molly Rauzi from these conferences as well as conversations among IT leaders. This first post will focus on three takeaways for CIOs as leaders of culture change. The second post will explore how CIOs are collaborating across the C-suite to deliver on the mandates of their expanded role.

The IT world is still thrumming with excitement over the latest disruptive technologies explored at this year’s Gartner Symposium / ITxpo. From artificial intelligence, blockchain, and quantum computing to digital twins and continuous adaptive security, the possibilities are thrilling. Underneath this excitement, however, hummed a different feeling entirely. As drivers of digital transformation, CIOs in the audience know that these breakthrough innovations all require change.

Change is always difficult, especially when it is perpetual. As soon as we ground ourselves in a new strategy, the ground beneath us seems to shift. Change fatigue is real and a huge obstacle to the employee engagement so crucial for success. At The Conference Board’s 16th annual Change & Transformation Conference, nearly half of change leaders polled indicated change fatigue as a top challenge they will have to overcome in the next five years. Below are three takeaways for CIOs as leaders of culture change.

  1. Digital business initiatives drive today’s most significant culture change within organizations.

As technological innovations continue to disrupt business models, they are also causing the most significant culture changes and pushing CIOs further into the change leadership role. According to Advance2000, 57 percent of organizations say that integrating key digital technologies is critical to enabling their digital business. Gartner research suggests that fully 37 percent of organizations expect to undergo deep culture change by 2020. CIOs occupy the center of this maelstrom of change. It’s no surprise that CIOs are focusing on becoming more adept at managing change fatigue and at leading culture change.

  1. The biggest obstacle to success CIOs face is culture.

As our founder and CEO Maril MacDonald observed, technology is both the driving force and a great facilitator of change. Yet in leading organizational change, there is no substitute for human-to-human conversation. CIOs will have to overcome the same hurdles faced by other change leaders, and those hurdles often come down to motivating people and changing organizational culture. In fact, 46 percent of CIOs report culture change is their biggest barrier to change.

I loved Gartner Distinguished VP Kristin Moyer’s presentation about “culture hacks”—quick, agile things leaders can do to shift culture rapidly and support their change initiatives. Hacks—like canceling all status meetings, a 48-hour decision rule, even “culture hackathons”—show how classic IT concepts are infiltrating the broader organization to erode the barriers holding back culture change.

These hacks are great shortcuts, but to create lasting behavioral changes and complete alignment, hacks should be deployed within a larger change initiative and reinforced by strong change leadership. It’s this integrated approach that shifts beliefs and mindsets toward desired behavioral change, fostering transformation into a new, more agile culture.

  1. Leaders at all levels need to be proficient in leading change.

As non-stop, disruptive change pushes forward, it will touch all departments and all employees leading to the largest mind-shift of all: the idea that all leaders across an organization must become effective communicators. CIOs have embraced change and recognized the need to lead culture change the same way they have always led technology changes. But truly agile organizations will develop change leaders at every level—leaders who are adept at relating everyday work to the company’s overall strategic story and who can model and inspire behaviors that drive the organization forward.

Enabling culture change requires unprecedented collaboration between departments. Gagen can help. Contact us.

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