Change Don’t Cost a Thing

A few months ago I was in a meeting where we were discussing the future vision for a set of technologies that would help enable employees in a variety of contexts. The challenge of course, is the ideal state of all of these technologies requires infrastructure – and it’s usually not cheap. As a result,just about every conversation came back to “Our infrastructure won’t support it.”

The default position of many organizations is to adapt the users behavior to fit the infrastructure rather than building an infrastructure to support the desired behavior. I suggested in the meeting that we needed to do a lot less of the former and really focus on the latter which of course, predictably, was responded to with “Do you have any idea what that would cost?”

Actually yes, I do.

Nothing.

The reality is, this isn’t a financial problem – it’s a mindset problem. If you approach a given problem from the angle of all the various reasons that it won’t work – you’re doomed before you even get off the ground.

Have Do Be > Do Be Have

I think a major challenge is people have a hard time separating the ideas of acting and being. To paraphrase a colleague of mine – many approach problems from the angle that if we HAVE ‘x’ we can DO ‘y’ and BE ‘z’. In their minds we can’t adopt a behavior until the tool is there to use.

The problem with this mindset is the future state never gets to the forefront and the same story plays out year after year.

In reality, we should be approaching the issue from the opposite direction. We should figure out the behaviours we want to encourage, adopt and model them as best as we can and the tools will fall in line.

Going back to the conversation I was having the other day, we were talking about ideas that ranged from tomorrow to five years out. Sure, some of the ‘tomorrow’ stuff can’t be supported right away, but to shoot down ideas on a five year horizon based on existing infrastructure and challenges means nothing is going to change (or at least not at any appreciable pace)

If you instead adopted the approach that we are going to BE ‘z’ which will mean we will DO ‘y’ and ultimately HAVE ‘x’ then change will happen on its own over time.

You Become What You See

If you decide ‘this is the behavior or capability we want to encourage or support’ then suddenly the decisions you make start to change – you apply your desired behavior to everything you’re doing and make minor course corrections as you go. Like driving a car around a corner, if you’re looking right in front of the car you’ll make rough, jerky corrections. But, as soon as you take your eyes and look further around then corner your adjustments smooth out and low and behold your cars ends up exactly where you were looking.

This is exactly why businesses have Vision statements, it’s their statement about which way the employees should be rowing the boat. Your projects need that same focus point to contextualize them for everyone involved and decisions need to be made through that lens.

What needs to happen in Enterprise IT Groups

Enterprise IT groups have a horrible habit of viewing everything through their own lens and agenda and theirs alone. Instead the lenses of the two groups really need to be combined and a common vision needs to be created. I think often IT Groups get so caught up in their own dramas that they often miss opportunities to leverage or use projects that are being brought to them to further their own goals.

It’s a hard place for technology minded people, feature sets and capabilities are often a very black and white environment. It either does “x” or it doesn’t.

What we as technologists need to practice is putting ourselves in the users shoes and understanding the behavior or capabilities they require. Occasionally we may even need to probe further to help the person asking understand why they really want that specific device or feature. If you can better understand what they’re actually trying to accomplish then you can much better inform and support them in achieving it, even if the specific ‘solution’ they’re asking for isn’t something that can be supported right away.

What To Do When Approaching an IT Group

Get out of the Features discussion and come to the table with a vision that can be understood by everyone at the table.

People often approach the problem from a very specific feature problem which immediately throws the conversation into a very binary state.

You ask the technology people for feature “x” and they can easily say “No, that’s not supported” (which, at the time is probably true, after all if it existed you probably wouldn’t be asking) – but imagine if the conversation started with “We’re trying to create an environment to allow ‘y’ behaviour, how do we get there?” – now you’re into a roadmap conversation, and those are much harder to just switch off.

To do this though, you also need to be coming to the table with a clear vision of where you’re trying to get. I often see people coming to the table asking for something that can be easily dismissed as ‘the cool new thing’ (ie “I need iPads”) rather than a clear vision of what they’re trying to accomplish (ie “We want to increase productivity & connectivity of our mobile workforce”). It’s easy to say no to the former, but the latter starts you on a conversation that includes everyone in your vision and gives them a reference point to begin to offer you suggestions for how to proceed.

Money is never the problem

Will the change truly cost “nothing”? Of course not – the change in mindset is free but the reality is, in a company money is never an issue. It’s a convenient way to say No to things but I’ve already seen it time and time again in my own work – if something aligns with or advances the corporate vision, has a clear vision itself, and can demonstrate value to the organization the money will be found.

By approaching your challenge in a manner that is behavior centered, focused by a clear, shared vision and allows for dialogue you’ll likely find there are much better outcomes in your future.

  • http://twitter.com/iamjoedee Joe Dee

    I loved this post Ryan. The title alone would have sufficed, you coined something lovely in that statement.

    The core of my job is to navigate between the worlds of corporate IT teams and the business objectives we’d like to meet with our clients. I really like the shared vision part, the way I approach that is to try and get both the client IT team and our development team to be part of the creative process. By doing that, they also have ownership and are more emotionally invested in making it happen.

    I also invest a lot of time in building personal relationships with IT teams. Getting to know them as individuals and learning about their passions. That has helped me tremendously in getting through perceived constraints.

    Great post, thank you bro.

  • http://ryancoleman.ca ryancoleman

    Thanks Joe – love your point about the personal relationships… Such a key component to getting stuff done in a big organization – not nearly enough time is spent by many to get to know folks outside their respective teams and that small effort would pay huge dividends in the long run.
    – Ryan