In a recent conversation with an umbrella organization about building capacity with their member organizations, I started sketching a matrix. Their capacity-building effort focuses on improving information technology, a goal I’ve been working on for over eight years at the Bayer Center. The more I fleshed out this spontaneous framework, the more I liked it.
When we think about creating IT change, it’s tempting to focus so much on the IT that’s in place that we don’t consider the readiness of the organization to change. If anything, that readiness influences the ease of change and the “stickiness” of the change more than the current state of technology. In fact, in my conversation with the umbrella organization with scarce resources for its capacity-building efforts, I told them to ignore the unwilling band of the matrix, working instead with the Willing and the Ready. That sounds harsh, but trying to get an organization that’s unwilling to move out of BWADITY (because we always did it that way) thinking is incredibly difficult. Better to work with an organization that has almost no technology but is upset enough about it to want to change than to work with one with a shiny new network and no will to change the information silo behavior that the network could help to reform.
The key goal regardless of the current state of IT should be to help them move in the direction of IT progress. I would argue that the amount of progress is going to be greater in arrow 1 than arrow 2 because the organization is ready for change. It matters less that they start with very little IT. Progress will look different for different organizations, but one indicator that IT is strong is that it gets more visbleinvisible. Did you think that was a typo? It wasn’t. It’s a new word. Good IT is both visible in that people plan on using it and do use it in their work, but it’s also invisible in that it becomes less of an obvious barrier to organizational progress. Bad IT feels like riding with a new driver; passengers are more aware of the tentative, dangerous driving than anything else. Good IT becomes dependable enough to be invisible. Can you remember the last server outage that kept you from doing work you wanted to do? If not, your IT is in pretty good shape.
The more profound transformation of an organization occurs not when the the IT gets better but when the organization gets more willing and ready for change. That’s arrow 3. If anything, Internet-based cloud computing requires more willingness to change than any of the platforms we’ve used before. The tool we use today may be replaced by something different (better, please) tomorrow. In my experience, organizations most often move up the readiness scale when there is a change of leadership. Absent turnover at the top, the good executive realizes that she needs to create an atmosphere that is ready and willing for change. Two building blocks help create that atmosphere: success in previous transitions and employees feeling supported with the tools, time and resources they need through transition. Building on small IT success can lead to more success and more willingness.
What block are you in, and what will it take to move laterally and vertically in the matrix.