The third article in a series of eight about Change Management for IT projects focuses in-depth on creating a clear Vision. Having a clear vision is essential for positioning your IT projects from the right perspective. Having a clear vision is even more essential for generating the required motivation for your people to make changes in processes and embrace new technologies.
The experience from many different sources tells us that 75% of System Implementations fail to deliver their expected benefits. The one constant factor is that Change Management for People, Process and Technology is not appropriately addressed. Business leaders often do not realize enough how important this is or don´t know how to achieve it. Simply stated, but not so easily done.
In this article we will look at step 4 (out of 8) of the model of Kotter: Communication.
You are encouraged to read further if you want to ensure your project ends up in the 25% quadrant.
The model of John Kotter for Change Management
This model was introduced by John P. Kotter, leadership and change management professor at Harvard Business School, in his 1995/2012 book, “Leading Change”. The model defines eight key steps for change management, arguing that skipping any of the steps can be enough for the whole project to fail. Below we will go through step four of the model and show what it means for IT projects.
- Establishing a sense of urgency
- Forming a powerful guiding coalition
- Creating a vision
- Actions needed
- Walk the talk, practice what you preach
- Inconsistent actions
- Consequences for IT projects
- You must really start on time and explain your communities and stakeholders your plans. This followed by a structured project management approach, explaining all steps to your audience. For any project this is relevant, almost always there are many people involved whose daily work will change. An exception might be infrastructure-related projects that only affect a few people in IT itself
- Actions needed
In a successful transformation effort, senior management uses many different ways to communicate the vision. This can be townhall meetings, memos, posters, emails, social media, etc. Another way is to incorporate messages into daily activities: as an example, a routine discussion about a business topic where they talk about how proposed improvements fit (or don’t fit) into the vision. Another example is a performance appraisal where they talk about how the employee’s behavior helps or doesn’t help to make the vision come true.
Perhaps even more important, senior management has to learn to “walk the talk”. That means that they have to practice what they preach and become a living symbol of the new culture that they envision.
The risk with communication is not so much little undercommunication of the vision, but massive undercommunication. Kotter indicates that in many companies senior management believes that communication of the vision is done enough, but it does not arrive noticeably in the rest of the organization. If communication of the vision is not taken seriously enough and not getting the understanding and the support of a large part of the organization, the change will never materialize.
Kotter warns that “nothing undermines change more than behavior by important individuals that is inconsistent with their words“.
Methods & Tools
For the reasons mentioned above, you will need to apply a proper approach for communicating your vision. The toolset that Kotter applies for this is a set of seven key elements for the effective communication of the vision. These elements are summarized below:
- Simplicity– All jargon and technical language should be avoided. Communicating a simple and clear message however requires a lot of thinking (e.g. by the Guiding Coalition) and even some courage. But only then you are sure, you potentially reach everybody with your message.
- Metaphor, analogy and example- A verbal picture is worth a thousand words. Well-chosen words can really make the difference, otherwise, you would end up with a much longer message and that is for sure not appealing nor convincing.
- Multiple forums– Big and small meetings, newsletters, formal and informal interaction and social media— all are effective for spreading the message. Communication just via the formal or usual channels is simply not enough, everyday communication is required to get the message of the vision across.
- Repetition– Ideas sink in deeply only after they have been heard many times. Even the best-designed message is not remembered well if it is only communicated once. There are always many competing messages that also require attention.
- Leadership by example– Senior Management should show behavior that supports the vision; nothing is more undermining the communication than inconsistent behavior. Walk the talk is essential here and small things have a big impact.
- Explanation of inconsistencies– Unaddressed inconsistencies undermines the credibility of all communication. It is therefore important to either address these inconsistencies or explain them in a simple and honest way if they can’t be eliminated.
- Give-and-take– Two-way communication is always more powerful than one-way communication. People tend to have more buy-in on a new vision when they have the chance to chew on it, ask questions and provide feedback, and for this reason, it might give the impression that the vision needs reformulation. If so, this would still be far better than implementing the wrong vision. Please remember that when creating your vision, input from many different stakeholders is required.
Consequences for IT projects
As stated in the previous article (“Creating a Vision”), IT projects are often underestimated because Business Leaders do not realize enough how integrated People, Process, and Technology are. A successful IT project always requires Change Management for all three.
An IT project is almost never 100% IT-oriented. Business is in almost all cases involved and therefore the communication should not be left to the IT function, thinking that IT can solve it alone. Communication on IT projects is of utmost importance as they can have a significant impact on the way the company operates. The Guiding Coalition has a clear task here to explain the sense of urgency and the vision behind the IT project properly applying the seven elements as described above.
Without alignment between People, Process and Technology, it is almost certain that you will not be in the 25% of successful projects.
Communication of the vision for IT projects is key. There is usually a high risk of massive undercommunication and therefore it is important that Communication is really taken seriously by business leaders. The seven key elements of Communication of John P. Kotter can support you in avoiding making expensive mistakes. Even if you are not a communication expert, simply applying the key elements will already result in a much better IT project.
Did you realize all this when you started your last IT project? Proper Change Management is key for successful IT projects! If you want more information or you have specific questions, you can book a free consulting session on our website.