ICYMI — IT modernization: Winning staff buy-in matters as much as what technology you choose


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As a government CIO or IT manager, you are likely under pressure to modernize the legacy systems that support your agency’s operations. When it comes serving citizens, 21st-century government requires 21st-century solutions, which are all about the customer experience — and today, people expect to do their business online, not waiting in line.

But what about the people working at your agency? Crucial to your enterprise, they are at least as important as external customers; in fact, they can make or break the success of your project. An estimated 75 percent of workplace change initiatives fail, often because leadership has neglected to get the organization to buy in.

Casey Coleman

Change is difficult for most of us. When it comes to changes at work, especially involving technology, people might resist for numerous reasons, such as a loss of control, concern about their skills becoming obsolete or skepticism bred from past initiatives that may not have gone smoothly.

Overcoming these obstacles can be tricky. During my years in CIO and IT leadership roles, however, I’ve found these techniques and tools can help people to understand and embrace new technology projects in the workplace:

  • Run a “campaign” for change. Don’t assume that people are onboard but actively seek their support, like a candidate for elected office. Your colleagues and your team are key to the success of any change initiative, so consider how to win their vote. Show appreciation for and celebrate those who are supporters. Try to convert neutral “voters” into advocates by addressing their concerns. Minimize or reduce resistance with focused empathy, information and engagement.
  • Understand what motivates people. We instinctively think that people are motivated by compensation or advancement opportunities. However, those factors may be important but are not the primary drivers for employee engagement and motivation. In his book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us,” Daniel Pink lists three primary motivators: Autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives; mastery, the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and purpose, the yearning to be of service to a cause larger than ourselves. When employees have the opportunity to increase their autonomy, mastery and purpose they will be more likely to support your modernization “campaign” and boost the likelihood of success.
  • Listen and learn. Being listened to, feeling heard and understood, is both uncommon and powerful. Especially in a world where everyone has a social media microphone, it is easier than ever to talk and harder to listen! Yet, as leaders, we send a positive message by our openness to other views. Give people permission to disagree with you. As a CIO, I explicitly asked my team to “challenge my authority.” I was seeking candid debate, and it certainly worked, sometimes too much for my comfort level! But by valuing disagreement, we ended up with better outcomes and a higher commitment to the final decisions.
  • Over-communicate. It is estimated that 75 percent of managers have to be supportive in order for a transformation to succeed. To reach them, and get their support, you need a simple and urgent message, delivered by multiple leaders over multiple channels (e.g., emails, newsletters, town halls, videos, internal social media, and in person). Even better if the message is catchy and memorable. We once used a “Drive to the Cloud” campaign, with early adopters designated as Pace Cars, or Pacers. We sought to create a friendly competition among different offices to lead the field with adopting the new systems, and as a result, the change became appealing and successful.

Change management is the cornerstone in the foundation for any project’s success. Without it, everything you’ve worked to achieve may come tumbling down. If winning hearts and minds feels daunting, just remember this: Chances are, the reason you entered public service — to serve the public — is why your colleagues are there, too. Though there may be disagreement over the methods, everyone supports the organization’s mission and cares about improving service delivery. That’s also the fundamental basis for digital transformation, and a starting point for creating a transformation that will succeed.

When it comes to technology, it’s easy to forget the human element of successful change. New technologies are exciting, but not everyone sees it change that way, or even a good thing at all. Unlike the computers we work with every day, people are not machines, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for winning their support. Instead, we need to meet people where they are, respect their perspectives and feelings, and not shortcut the change management process.

Learn more about the methods to foster change and the tools to engage citizen engagement.

Read more about steps government agencies can take to modernize their IT systems to improve citizen services.

This article was sponsored by Salesforce.

Casey Coleman leads Salesforce’s Global Government Solutions business. Previously, as CIO at the U.S. General Services Administrations, she successfully drove the integration of GSA’s infrastructure operations into a single program and led the first federal migration to a cloud-based email and collaboration platform. Look for more of her blogs here.

Learn more about Salesforce and trailblazers in government.

Article originally published January 30, 2018

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Casey Coleman, executive perspective, IT Modernization, Salesforce, SalesforceITMod, Sponsored Content, Trailblazers in Government, workforce
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