Do you have white knuckles?

How often do you find yourself holding on a little too tight? Do you have a “kung-fu grip” on your project, program, responsibilities, transformation, and/or life?

In a recent exchange with colleagues, we discussed this phenomenon. Enterprise transformations have pros and cons and tendency to cause white knuckles more often than not. One of the pros is the once in a lifetime journey that these endeavors provide, and one of the cons is the once in a lifetime journey that these endeavors provide!

Enterprise transformations are launched with the goal of rebuilding companies through significant change. You might think having the right goals, organizational structure, products, feasibility to meet financial commitments, partners, go to market strategy, etc. are the key to your transformation. While all these are vitally important to the end result of the transformation, I would suggest that to truly thrive in these environments, you look inside yourself and embrace your own personal change on the following 4 levels:

  1. Intellectual – What is your capacity to deal with complexity, unexpected challenges, first of a kind problems, thinking on your feet, etc.?
  2. Physical – Quite simply, how healthy are you?
  3. Emotional – How do you deal with adversity, ambiguity, self-confidence, self-doubt, self-awareness, conflict?
  4. Spiritual – What do you believe? Who do you believe in? What are your life philosophies? From where do you draw energy?

Do you know if you are holding on too tight? How? Do you know when you are squeezing the life out of your project, program, teammates, friends, family? Enterprise transformations will undoubtedly challenge your capacity across these 4 personal levels. What investments will you make to change your intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual capacity?

If this resonates with you, you may want to check out Noel Tichy‘s famous book “The Leadership Engine”. In this book he describes that each of us lead based on three concepts: Ideas, Values, and E3 (emotional energy, & edge). Noel’s model is very useful, and put into practice can help you understand your personal leadership model, which in turn will help you navigate the intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual growth offered via enterprise transformations.

No matter what leadership model, or personalization you inject into your enterprise transformation, recall that it is unacceptable for any one person in a transformation to acknowledge that the enterprise is undergoing drastic change, but not them personally.

It’s Time to Get in the Game

It’s Time for CIOs to Get in the Game

Are you in the game or on the sidelines? In a recent article on, it is suggested that its time for CIO’s to get in the game. while I couldn’t agree more, I would encourage you to take this article one step further.

If you find yourself wanting to get in the game now, I suggest that you are significantly behind the curve. For how many years has the concept of transformation via the CIO role been around? This is not a new concept, rather a concept that is rising in importance and possibility due to the level of disruption enabled by technology…think “commercialization of IT” as an example.

So, lets presume you are behind the curve. Where do you start? How do you start? I recently fielded questions like this at the PhillyETE conference. Some food for thought:

  • Follow the pain – What are the top 3-5 problems in the business? Find a sponsor to partner with and go solve for one of them, then make it a poster child for the business value you can drive as a CIO. to help identify the pain points, think of the following areas of your enterprise: revenue, operations, client perspective, and competitive position. Surely, there are some low hanging fruit to address in these contexts.
  • Attack the white space – To avoid turf battles and resistance to your delivery of business value, find areas of the company where there is no business model, or little risk. In Adam Hartung’s book Create Marketplace Disruption: How to Stay Ahead of the Competition, he discusses this concept in detail. My simple interpretation is “white space = unexplored opportunities” in your enterprise. For example, find areas of the business where there is no risk to the existing revenue streams and drive value.
  • Innovate, Transform, Lights-On – Chances are you have projects that are transforming your company, and you are undoubtedly running systems to keep the lights on. However, what are you doing to innovate? Framing your activities within these constructs can help you focus on the innovation part. What innovations could be valued by your company? How is your budget allocated across these three areas? Can you find ways to reduce your “lights-on” spend to fund some innovation? presents a great topic that is timely given the current state of the CIO. Take the discussion a step further, get off the sidelines, and get in the game!

Defining Agile Change Management

UPDATE – Please be sure to check out the Change Management Manifesto as well.

How much process is too much process? How can you implement enough process so that you get the benefits (e.g. efficiency, repeatability, scale, etc.) but not too much so as to slow down your agility? The Change Management discipline / industry would be wise to reflect on the concept of “agile” from the software development industry to address these questions.

If you are a change leader, I encourage you to learn more about “agile” concepts in software development. You can easily search on the term “agile” and get a plethora of sites with information. In summary, the agile approach embraces

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Don’t take my word for it. These bullets originated in “The Agile Manifesto” at

Personally, I find agile principles serve as a helpful guideline when trying to balance the need for process. However, many people incorrectly define agile as “without process”. This is not true, and in some ways, agile techniques require more personal discipline than a classic SDLC approach (e.g. waterfall). Agile processes exist, but they live within the context of the four bullets listed above.

Processes are definitely needed, in particular for companies that have reached a certain scale. I have come to experience that “with complexity comes a need for increased discipline.” Processes are proven and worthy tools to deal with complexity in scale, speed to delivery, geographic distance, business risk (e.g. SOX), language barriers, technical barriers, human resource management (e.g. hiring & firing), financial planning (e.g. establishing and managing budgets), software development, etc.

So, in our current environment of a shrinking economy, is complexity going up or down? I say, up. Companies are forced to deal with challenges that they previously may have avoided due to success. Said another way, “success covers up many ills”. To deal with these new complexities, companies may look to leverage processes for increased productivity, efficiency, and most importantly transparency into their business. It is my assertion that, with process comes the law of diminishing returns. There comes a point where process gets in the way, and inhibits a business if process is not actively managed. How do most large entities (companies, governments, institutions) deal with the complexities listed above? They implement processes to manage risk and maintain a level of homogeneous execution across a diverse operations model. This will work, and many companies are proving their success with large scale process deployments today (e.g. look to the Business Process Outsourcing models of any big consulting firm and the existence of ERP software).

The challenge I want to address here is the need to balance process with innovation, delivery, and growth as a change leader. I am not sure there is an answer to “how much process is enough process?” but I am certain that the agile manifesto and the principles it aspires to are helpful to begin addressing the question.

Sacred Cow Driven Change

At multiple points in a transformation, the program / company will plateau. Consider looking to the corporate sacred cows to invigorate the transformation and breakthrough the plateau.

In leading transformations, you need to rely on your instincts and know when to be provocative, and when to live to fight another day. In the teams that I lead, we refer to these moments as “The Gambler”, named after the Kenny Rogers song and the memorable lyric “you gotta know when to hold’em and know when to fold’em.” Change Leaders must maintain a connection with the program stakeholders and the business environment to recognize “The Gambler” and take the most fitting actions.

One technique when its time to hold’em is to address a sacred cow in the company. This could be a sacred cow from any of the domains of transformation (outlined in a previous post here). Perhaps, the program has a leadership challenge, or perhaps the business model is not as compelling as suggested by industry perspectives, or maybe the “not invented here” syndrome is pervasive. Some people refer to these issues as “the emperor has no clothes”. If you see your transformation stalled, idle, or in a plateau, a sacred cow can be an effective “sacrificial lamb” to get the program out of paralysis.

A change leader’s ability to apply this technique is also heavily reliant upon the relationships they have built throughout their environment. Imagine a new change leader with no relationship, or even bad relationships trying to challenge a sacred cow. It is not hard to speculate how that dialog may play out. You may have experienced this in your transformation experiences. When change leaders approach a sacred cow without the requisite trust in their relationships, they undermine their leadership and influence. Comments like “why should we listen to johnny-new-guy? We have been successful for years without their ideas” can be heard by the water cooler. Frequently, the discussion turns to the lack of confidence in the leader or the fear of change”, resistance to the change rises, and the sacred cow becomes further entrenched.

Contrast this with a discussion of sacred cows amongst two or three leaders with a strong relationship as reflected by a high degree of trust and respect for each other. Defenses are down, and the sacred cow can be discussed in hypothetical terms, frequently resulting in “mind-expanding discussion” and a potential breakthrough for the program.

If your transformation is stalled. If you are facing “the Gambler” and find yourself folding your cards over and over again, look to your trusted relationships and consider if they are strong enough to withstand a sacred cow discussion. If they are, engage the leadership opportunity, create a non-threatening environment, disarm the potential negative emotional reactions of a sacred cow discussion and make your wager. Lead the change, breakthrough the plateau and invigorate the transformation to a new level.

Do you differentiate the type of change are you facing?

“With increased complexity comes a need for increased discipline and capability.”

In Beyond Change Management and The Change Leaders Roadmap, by Dean Anderson & Linder Ackerman Anderson, three different types of change are described:

  1. Developmental change,
  2. Transitional change, and
  3. Transformational change.

Developmental change means doing your current role better. Transitional change means doing your current role for a different “chain of authority”. Transformational change means completely redefiing the orgnization, strategy, and all the associated roles, products, processes, systems, cycles, technologies, skills, and culture. With this quick definition of change established as the context, diagnosing the degree of change across these three areas is 50% of the challenge. Providing a solution is the remaining 110%!

Why is this differentation of change  important? Developmental change happens everyday. A certain percentage of people seek to develop themselves naturally everyday. Business management classrooms refer to this as a “Theroy Y” management philosophy. For more on this topic check out the Wikipedia summary here. People come to work and want to do a good job, and grow themselves. Developmental change can be addressed through many traditional approaches. Give people the opportunity to make their skills better via classroom training, online training, etc. This has traditionally been supported very well by companies. I propose that classic training approaches have grown out of developmental change. It would be hard to find a person or team that does not have experience with developmental change.

Transitional change is more complex. Shepherding teams through transitional change has a greater impact on the affected companies. Examples of transitional change include being involuntarily outsourced, or “re-badged” in the IT or BPO outsourcing space, changing employers voluntarily, or even working overseas in a new culture. These transitional changes require a bit broader and more comprehensive learning experience. Learning a new language may be required for an overseas assignment. Learning new values and goals will most certainly be required in the case of voluntary or involuntary job change. All of these changes require more than a 3 day training class, an online tutorial, or podcast.

Now consider the case with Transformational change. How does an organization cope with change that redefines the orgnization, strategy, roles, products, processes, systems, cycles, technologies, skills, and culture? Where do you start? Will developmental approach work? Will transitional techniques suffice? Launching a new business in a new country is an example of transformational change. Another can be seen in with the success of Amazon’s Kindle. What type of impact do you this this change has on the traditional publishing industry? One last example can be found in the newspaper industry and how they are coping with online presence vs the traditional print product.

Most likely you have developmental change in your business everyday. You may or may not have transitional or transformational. Although to compete and win in the current global busines environment, you probably are dealing with these concepts. Recognize the type of change you are facing and put different capabilities in place to address the different types of change. This simple technique will greatly assist your change activites and help your stakeholders understand their environment a little better.