CIOs must be prepared to look beyond the glitz and glamour of implementing new technologies -- and focus on the big picture.
A panel of experts presented this insight and more during the "CIO as Chief Change Maker: Driving Successful Change Programs at Scale" session at the 2023 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass., on May 16.
The key to focusing on the big picture is to understand and be open to solving problems.
Organizations that are successful in driving change understand it in a dimension and a depth that separates them from less adaptable organizations, said Barry Platzman, managing director of Strongbow Consulting Group, an enterprise IT consultancy headquartered in Wyckoff, N.J.
For a deeper understanding of technology's effects on employees, customers and stakeholders, the panelists shared their thoughts on meeting people where they are. A supportive organizational culture is beneficial for innovation and encourages a smooth process for tech implementation. They also discussed strategies for identifying and minimizing potential risks.
Understand how modernization enables business transformation
Technology underpins business success, but IT leaders should think about modernization as a means of transformation and examine exactly what that means for their particular organization.
"Modernization for us is things [like getting rid of] technical debt, being innovative and making wise technology decisions so that you can be transformative in how you run the business," said Tom Peck, chief information and digital officer at Sysco, a Houston-based wholesale restaurant food distributor.
Get C-suite and board support with easy wins
IT leaders should find small, quick wins to show the board that their pursuit of change management behaviors is working. With these quick wins, IT leaders can lay the groundwork for the big picture.
Find a simple platform that everybody can use to address a few small business issues, said Shadman Zafar, CIO of personal banking and wealth management at Citi, a financial services corporation based in New York City.
"Then you can take that platform for a broader vision [when] you go talk to the CEO [or other leaders]," Zafar said.
Don't overlook the need for employee buy-in
One critical task that CIOs and IT leaders must keep in mind is that gaining support for a cultural change starts with the employees.
"People can be pretty willful," said Michael Parks, executive vice president of foundational hosting platforms at Wells Fargo Advisors, a St. Louis-based financial services firm. "They don't [want to] change -- change is uncomfortable."
IT leaders should be ready to help employees navigate toward the future with a clear understanding of the past and the present, Parks said.
One way to accomplish that is for CIOs to earn the trust of their teams by being empathetic and approachable.
"When you try to transition from being a traditional CIO and delivering technology to more of a transformative person driving change within a company, it's really important to win the hearts and minds [of your employees]," Peck said.
Prepare for risk by thinking ahead
No business transformation is flawless. Companies must be prepared to adjust processes on the fly. But IT leaders -- as change agents -- should think about embracing risk as part of the overall strategy.
"[Risk] can be a powerful tool," Platzman said. "[It's] a really healthy exercise which can unleash not just creativity, [but] maybe even [become] a mechanism to prioritize ... fun things that normally might not be addressed."
One way to prepare for risks is by examining the organization's specializations and identifying overlap.
"Most of the time, emergencies that you can't see [coming] around the corner do not happen in a discipline," Zafar said. "They happen at the seams of the discipline."
For example, organizations should look at where the marketing team meets IT, or where the operations team meets the legal department, and remove any boundaries to minimize potential emergencies.