Wednesday, March 20, 2013

IT: Be the Change and Culture You Want “IT” To Be

At the 2013 EDUCAUSE Midwest Regional Conference held in Chicago, CIO Mohamed Elhindi and Jim Jorstad, Director of Academic Technologies presented a session entitled, "IT:Be The Change and Culture You Want IT to Be" on how institutions can navigate an external review and develop a new IT environment based on change and a new culture.  An audience made up of CIOs, administrators, IT directors, technologists, and faculty attended the event to learn how they could positively change their own IT enterprises. The session illustrated the genesis of an external review, the stated charge, how it was integrated, and how a new dynamic and positive IT culture was conceived and implemented over a two-year period. There are eight core concepts integrated into the plan to change IT culture. They include:

Fear of Failure
Cross Pollination
Professional Development

The charge in the external review example was to investigate the state of technology on campus, to understand how IT services are used, to develop recommendations for strategic investments, that will enhance information technology alignment. A key prerequisite for the review was to “avoid undue blame or credit” and the report “should serve as a catalyst."  What is important during an external review, is to look at it as an opportunity for positive change, rather than the chance to merely be critical.

Mohamed stressed the overall IT goal was for “continuous improvement without dramatically changing current or past culture.”  This is a key observation since external reviews can create sometimes create the perception of moving too quickly for dramatic change. At the same time, it is important to recognize the history of an institution’s culture, but not to be constrained by it.  Getting employees to move away from saying “what is good for me" to “what is good for we” is an important consideration.

Another key component for IT change is to have your staff serve at the Help Desk at some time. This provides an important service component to the end user, but also provides an opportunity for each IT staff member to more fully understand important support issues that are trending on campus.

Empowering employees is important step in creating an environment of trust, and an atmosphere that promotes cross pollination of employees to share their expertise throughout the enterprise.  Developing a culture which relies less on reporting lines and more on project success helps to diminish silos and promotes teamwork.  Mohamed stressed the importance of creating an atmosphere of laughter and openness. Each of the directors and managers  literally promote an “open door policy.”  Each of manager's doors are open to promote open discussion. Providing consistent and constant access to the management team is essential. There is an important need to emphasize consistent and clear communication while promoting collaboration.  At each project meeting, it is suggested that you ask the question, “Who was not at the table last time, who should be invited next meeting?” Asking this question at each meeting will help provide a sense of community and inclusion.

There is a need to admit and celebrate our failures.  The Honda Motor Company film, “Failure-The Secret to Success” was discussed and connected the universal themes of failure in race car racing and being an IT professional.  The film graphically illustrates the importance of admitting failure, learning from it, and being proactive in changing the atmosphere towards a more productive and effective organization.

The audience was extremely engaged, and participants asked if this culture truly existed and was sustainable.  We explained it is sustainable and scalable if you carefully follow the key 8-points of success highlighted in this blog posting.  For the IT management team, it takes consistent commitment, cooperation, and communication to be successful. The key for positive change in your IT enterprise is to merely start the process and celebrate the small steps. If you make steady consistent progress, you will positively change your IT culture.

At the end of session, Gerry Bayne, Multimedia Producer at EDUCAUSE, recorded a podcast on the topic of IT Change and Culture.  In the segment we emphasized the importance of be honest with employees and helping them to understand where the stand in the organization.  Keeping communication clear, concise, and consistent is essential. After the recording we were stopped by a number of conference attendees commenting on the impact of the message.  If you need more information, don't hesitate in contacting us. Session information and PowerPoint is available for download.