Guest Post

The CIO's role in leading organizational change

There's room for IT leaders to support a business transformation by keeping the focus on people. Discover why CIOs are critical to organizational change.

The CIO's strategic view of technology, people and business is constantly evolving, and that intentional view is essential to an organization's continued success.

In the era of generative AI, 5G and increased investments in cloud and edge computing, CIOs should be central to an organization's efforts to transform and deliver long-term value. The challenge is that CIOs and their teams often find themselves on the margins at the initiation of transformation projects and new initiatives.

CIOs should strive to represent the organization's voice and deliver change during a business transformation project. Managing conflicting demands on their time and attention while balancing the demands of the role is the key. Thinking about the people affected by the newest initiative is an ideal way to move the conversation forward.

So, how can CIOs have a voice around the table and help deliver change even as people across the organization grapple with the challenges of their roles and the competing pressures on their time and focus?

Six key levers rooted in human behavior can help increase the likelihood of a successful transformation when deployed at the right times and in the right ways, according to "The future of transformation is human," an October 2022 report from EY in partnership with the University of Oxford's Saïd Business School.

A successful transformation project involves critical tasks, such as managing employee, client and supplier relationships; fostering a collaborative culture; and building a common vision to help lead the effort. A CIO's contributions to a project's success can include these six steps.

1. Become the maestro of connection

One of the CIO's biggest roles within the organization is as the orchestrator of ecosystems. Within the business and with clients, partners and suppliers, CIOs are positioned to connect organizational outcomes with supply ecosystems. To succeed in the role of the maestro and increase the likelihood of transformation success, CIOs should acknowledge that they may not always have all the answers and seek ideas from their extended teams.

Forty-seven percent of respondents that experienced high-performing transformation said leaders accepted ideas from more junior members of an organization. However, that number dropped to just over a third when CIOs were the transformation leaders in question.

2. Build a shared vision for transformation

One of the top challenges CIOs face in delivering a successful transformation is innovation. CIOs may not drive transformations themselves, but they can bring innovative, technology-led solutions to the agenda.

Forty-seven percent of CIOs said their workforce understood and believed in the transformation vision and strategy. Only 39% of the IT workforce said the same.

A clearly articulated vision created alongside the business and building connections with primary and secondary buyers can help both the company and the CIO's technology team in delivering toward that joint vision.

3. Provide care and support

CIOs' focus has been on implementing technology rather than the longer-ranging impact it may have on people's lives. This might lead to short-term thinking -- do the transformation, and move on.

Fifty-one percent of CIOs said that their organization provided an elevated level of emotional support during the transformation. Only 41% of the IT workforce agreed with the statement.

That gap in perceived emotional support may translate into lower stakeholder buy-in, lack of user adoption and loss of functionality. Taking a step back and proactively listening to their teams will benefit CIOs and IT leaders. Employees should be able to come forward with fresh ideas in a safe environment during periods of change. Through deep listening, CIOs may discover new ways of working and learn innovative solutions from others within the organization.

4. Share the responsibility equally

Within many organizations, IT teams are under strain and chronically concerned about system failures. These organizations should move beyond a mindset of tickets and transactions to establish KPIs that measure the outcomes that are most important to the company goals.

The focus should be on technology and functionality that makes the lives of their people easier. A shared understanding of the organization's goals can establish shared responsibility for success between CIOs and their teams.

5. See the humans beyond the technology

CIOs tend to focus transformations based on the technology and neglect to ask what the end user wants or needs. But technology isn't the vision of a transformation -- it's the enabler that brings the vision to life.

Forty-eight percent of respondents in successful transformations said that their organization had invested in the right technologies to meet their transformation vision versus 33% of respondents in underperforming transformations.

CIOs need to be able to see the human elements of the transformation -- the impact it will have on the employees' experience, the customer experience and the teams delivering technology solutions. A way to achieve this could be by enlisting early adopters to bring customers and employees along to show the value of the new technology-enabled approaches.

6. Create a culture of collaboration

Today's constant state of transformation requires interdependency and collaboration. One of the first things cut during a transformation is the budget for fostering a new culture. CIOs should acknowledge that people respond to information in different ways.

Forty-four percent of respondents in high-performing transformations said that their organization's culture encouraged new ways of working, compared with 28% in low-performing transformations.

CIOs should work closely with the organization to implement a range of communication platforms that facilitate new ways of working. These platforms can help enable leaders and employees to share their experiences and key wins throughout the transformation journey. CIOs can help build interdependency across teams and help manage both the emotional and rational elements of change.

Business transformation is not about technology for CIOs, but about the people. Using these six levers, CIOs can work closely with the organization and across the partner, supplier, customer and employee ecosystem to make purposeful decisions about technology in transformation. These decisions can reduce overlap, increase efficiency and support improved employee experience, customer experience, engagement and fulfillment across the entire organization.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.

About the author
Errol Gardner is global vice chair of consulting at EY, a multinational professional services firm, advising clients on transforming businesses with a human-centered approach. He co-chairs EY's Global Social Equity Taskforce and is a member of the Executive Leadership Council.

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