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Change Management, IT Leadership

The Alignment trap – Real World Change Stories

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Many of you read my article on “Success with IT Change” which identified 9 key things to remember:

  1. Ambition – make the change sufficiently ambitious.
  2. Project Name – name the project to reflect the business change required.
  3. Structured and Coherent Change Program – ensure you have a structured approach, like Kotter or Prosci.
  4. Leadership – strong leadership from senior management.
  5. Urgency – sufficient urgency to animate the business.
  6. Ensure it Resonates with the staff.
  7. Involve Everyone.
  8. Define “what’s in it for me”.
  9. Reduce Resistance (especially when caused by fear).

As a follow-up to my previous article I wanted to provide some more concrete examples of change, what happened and what could have been improved.


The Alignment Trap

The first example relates to creating a global common procurement process supported by a single system, with dispersed operations on three continents. 


The Senior Vice President from the Americas Operation initiated the project and approved the necessary funds. The General Managers in the other smaller regions were brought on-board and appeared to buy-in to the concept (Note: these smaller regions were autonomous and did not report through the Americas Operation).


The team was formed consisting mainly of US based personnel, with representatives from each functional team within the purchasing group, and a team leader who was a Senior Purchasing Manager. The smaller regions each provided 1 or 2 people to represent them. The IT group provided an experienced project manager, plus a US based development team.


The project team painted a great picture of the “burning platform” and clearly defined the end goal (the vision of the future). They had a good understanding of the business processes and what needed to happen. However, there was a strong bias towards the US processes, with lesser recognition of those in the smaller regions.


Communications to the management teams in all the regions took the form of a formal monthly Steering Committee.  There was limited communication about the project or the potential changes to the procurement teams in any of regions.


The team pushed forward to define the business requirements and design the new processes. Some concerns about the right approach started to be expressed by the smaller regions while getting the business requirements approved. During the process design stage concerns grew, with the smaller regions expressing considerable misgivings about adopting the mainly US based new processes.


The Senior Vice President in the US continued to support and drive the project, however, support from the other regions began to dwindle. Attendance of the team members from the remote locations became more erratic. The project started to fall behind schedule.


The apparent alignment at the start of the project had not been maintained and had faded. The team and the sponsor had fallen into the trap of simply assuming that everyone would stay aligned throughout the life of the project, without putting any processes in place to maintain and nurture the alignment.


So what went wrong?

  1. Leadership – Apart from the initial discussions, no action was taken to keep the Senior Leaders aligned on an ongoing basis. This coupled with diverse reporting relationships led to a lack of consistent leadership for the project. The inconsistent messages from the Leaders led to varying levels of commitment and a lack of buy-in at the working level.
  2. Change Management – There was a lack of a formalised Change Management approach. The communications and discussions about the changes were of the “one-size fits all” type, did not account for diverse cultures plus problems were exaggerated by time zones and travel restrictions. This resulted in the change messages not being consistently received which led to increasing doubts over the benefits of the approach.
  1. Involve everyone / Reduce Resistance – The bias towards using the US processes globally, may or may not have been the right one, however, it should have been handled more carefully with the smaller regions in order to maintain their buy-in and participation.
  1. What’s in it for me – the lack of focus on how this would help the smaller regions generated increased resistance and led to considerable problems within the project.


This example emphasizes the need for strong Leadership from Senior Management which remains aligned and consistent throughout the life of the project and a formalised, structured and coherent Change Management program that ensures that all groups fully understand the change, its benefits, and its impacts.


I hope you found the above change stories interesting and insightful. For more information please see the articles on “Success with IT Change”, “Step models of change” and “Change Capability framework”.



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