5 Pitfalls in Large-Scale IT Transformations – and How to Avoid Them

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Transformations must be managed thoroughly. Not only the operational and technical side of things, but also the people side, including leaders and employees at all levels. OCM focuses on the people side, addresses people´s needs, encompasses change leadership topics and thus contributes to a successful transformation.

ISG´s years of experience successfully delivering OCM has led to an insightful observation: while every organization undergoes transition a bit differently, many of the challenges seem to be common, regardless of nation, industry or company.

Here are the five most common pitfalls we find in large-scale transformation environments and how we advise enterprises to avoid them:

1. Communicating only after everybody is already informed

“Corridor radio” is a popular and inevitable communication channel in organizations no matter what size or industry. It is an informal kind of communication that fills the void when there is a need for information but no formal way to share it. The less formal communication there is in an organization, the more the grapevine intervenes. If unguided, informal communication about a planned transformation can seep into the organization. People become more anxious, insecure and agitated than they would if the communication had been officially released, structured and dialogue based. When official communication channels are not available, communication between people and management is blocked. Team members usually do not ask their department or division to comment on rumors they’ve heard, so people answer questions themselves and create more rumors. In the meantime, management is losing credibility. As credibility is a main prerequisite for leading people successfully through a transformation, this is a serious cause for concern: You wouldn’t follow people you don´t trust, would you?

2. Destroying trust and motivation

Let´s stay on the topic of trust: In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni explains that trust is the foundation for building a high-performance team. Of course, trust is the basis for successful human interaction, within the family, with friends – and with colleagues. People want to have trustful and fair relationships with each other, everywhere and all the time.

In large-scale transformations, there is great risk of destroying trust. As managers oftentimes are under enormous pressure to translate a transformation into more company growth, EBITDA and shareholder value, they mostly focus on KPIs. But the KPIs are based on the engagement and motivation of people to deliver and perform accordingly. It is the people who create the growth of turnover, EBITDA and shareholder value. Thus, their trust and motivation should be regarded as carefully as the KPIs are.

Providing change leadership and appreciative and interactive communication is a direct way to secure trust and maintain motivation during a transformation.

3. Lack of participation and loss of change leadership willingness

Let´s talk about trust some more: Have you heard of the “Not invented here (NIH)” syndrome? NIH can be understood as the tendency of people and organizations to dislike things they didn´t create themselves. There seems to be an inherent tendency to distrust programs or plans with which people haven´t been involved personally. Looking at this the other way around, we can assume there is a high likelihood to increase trust by involving leaders and other employees early in a planned transformation. Often, for large-scale transformation programs, the opposite is true: leaders on lower management levels are left out until the latest possible point in time even though they are the ones who, in the end, will lead teams through the transformation. The reasons for this are often underestimation of their importance, a miscalculation of priorities or exercising a hierarchical leadership style. The result is that team leads may feel resentful of the change. Moreover, they might come up against roadblocks in the middle of a transition that could have been prevented because they were not asked or involved before. 

4, No room for discussions

Have you ever participated in a workshop about people issues that have been ignored for a long time? Though the longed-for workshop can work wonders and untie the knot, it is difficult to facilitate. The facilitator must withstand, manage and structure a wave of emotions such as anger, frustration or anxiety. Concerns and worries must be addressed, discussed and solved – unfiltered on all levels, including top management. Only then, is there a chance for resolution. Otherwise, impacts and consequences evolve unmanaged. Shying away from discussions only hinders the transformation. OCM can contribute with planning and facilitating suitable set-ups: workshops, town hall meetings, employee/leadership meetings, etc.

5. Not answering the central question: What´s in it for me?

Managers might be motivated by ROI, EBITDA and growth of sales. Employees are usually not. Unless they have a quota to meet. Instead, they are motivated by safety of their individual financial situation, their chances for further career development, possibly by learning or by having an offsite with their team. Whatever the individual person is striving for, change communication must pick up and answer “What´s in it for me?”  

ISG´s proven OCM framework helps companies avoid these common pitfalls. Interested in learning more about our OCM approach? Contact us to schedule some time to talk. 

About the authors

Ursula Zeppenfeld

Ursula Zeppenfeld is ISG EMEA team lead for Organizational Change Management. Ursula has accompanied numerous IT transformation projects as a change manager over the past ten years, including extensive reorganizations, digitization and sourcing projects. As a certified trainer, she is experienced in designing and moderating workshops and large group events. As a certified business coach, she has accompanied numerous executives in change situations or supported them in their positioning and leadership tasks. As an experienced communicator, she has already advised numerous companies on internal and external communication.

Sandra Riedter

Sandra Riedter is working in the IT industry and is specialized in Organizational Change Management and Communication (OCM). As OCM Manager, she advised clients on change projects and designed, planned and implemented appropriate change, communication and training measures. Ms. Riedter has experience in stakeholder group-specific support through the various change phases and develops creative concepts, individual measures and activating communications to support change projects. Clients benefit from her extensive project experience, her communication skills and her positive and motivating personality, which she has demonstrated in numerous moderations of workshops and trainings, SCRUM and project retrospectives as well as virtual events.

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