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CIO upfront: Continual change or 'why the road cones are always out!'

CIO upfront: Continual change or 'why the road cones are always out!'

We all need to dispel the assumption that change is transitory, writes 'change junkie' Vaughan Robertson.

The 'disruptive' solution to any problem is seldom produced by the incumbent.

Have you noticed that slightly annoying, frustrating feeling you get when you look up the road and see the beginning of a line of those orange and white fluoro striped road-cones?

You know you’re likely to be slowed down; that you’re going to have to concentrate on your driving and be more careful of the environment, and that there is even a likelihood that you could be delayed by people holding signs saying STOP, and simply not be allowed to go where you want…

While this natural response is obviously not heart attack-inducing, the visceral knot of frustration does nag you, making you subconsciously tense and uncomfortable.

The same reaction is often true in our current working environment.

These days we are continuously exposed to incremental changes to systems, processes, software applications, organisation structure and even business purpose, as our work environment just keeps on and keeps on changing. Every day we find the things we were familiar with before are no longer true, while we are expected to remain current with changes described as “incremental improvements”, or come up to speed with new things described as “step changes”.

While training or familiarisation is on offer, invariably such effort is made available at times that clash with your “day job” or worse, are “self-paced learning” … expected to be undertaken in your own time or only when you can carve time out of your already busy day!

Of course you couldn’t be seen as anti-training. So you fit it in as best you can, and skip over the detail whilst ticking all the appropriate boxes. Did you actually learn? Meh…

Change is inevitable, and we all recognise that, but there has been an associated assumption that I believe needs reviewing - that change is transitory, and that eventually it will be over, and we will settle back into “BAU” – Business as Usual.

Change will NOT be over, will NEVER be over, and the only thing we can guarantee is that the rate of change will increase, the uncertainty we strike will grow. The degree to which we understand our working environment and succeed in it will correlate more with our ability to cope with the new and unfamiliar than with familiarity, our historic skills or our past experience.

The world rotates at roughly 1700 kilometres per hour, even leaving speed round the sun and speed of the galaxy spin aside… we need to move faster to keep pace!

Read more: The disruption of Disney

It is argued that young people are more comfortable with this environment than more mature people, but I don’t believe that. The young, Gen X, Y and Z, millennials and/or digital natives – however you describe them – are more familiar with the current status quo having not had as much to change from, but I would suggest they are no more comfortable with being subject to constant increasing rates of change than any previous generation.

Vaughan Robertson at a CIO roundtable discussion
Vaughan Robertson at a CIO roundtable discussion

Develop a comfort, an acceptance, that we’ll find out what we need to know, when we need to know it, and not worry about it before then.

So – how to adapt?

Read more: Digital transformation must move beyond the hiring of a CDO

First, a significant degree of relief is available from simply acknowledging the fact. By recognising that things will continue to move, we stop stressing about when it will stop. It won’t. It’ll keep changing. Build a bridge. Get over it. Ha! It’ll also mean we’ll take slightly less affront when whatever we are using is obviously only 85 percent of what we think it should be. How many times have you heard “It’s coming in the next version!”

Second, develop a comfort, an acceptance, that we’ll find out what we need to know, when we need to know it, and not worry about it before then.

Arthur Conon-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes refused to fill his brain with “irrelevant knowledge” in order to keep it free for data that might contribute to his deductive insights.

We are in the fortunate situation to have access to Google, Siri and the internet, and so have no need to memorise Pi to 15 digits or remember telephone numbers, as they are available to us at the touch of a button or a voice query. We can rely on YouTube or our intranet for instructions with the new, unfamiliar process, and can rightly complain bitterly if it is not available on demand.

While the ramifications of the current environment on learning and development are momentous, experts in the field will make themselves famous writing books on the subject, so I’ll leave it to them.

The key comforting element for the consumer of training is to assume that the knowledge required will be made available when, where and to the extent that, I need it, and if it is not, then my efficiency degradation is not my problem!

“I don’t know!” … should be an indictment on the organisation, not you. (I call it the Angry Birds learning method, but already Angry Birds is out of date!)

Third, keep your eyes open! The “disruptive” solution to any problem is seldom produced by the incumbent. It’s the new players, the people with little skin in the incumbent game, who typically have the motivation and the chutzpah to change the rules.

Read more: ​Prepare to be disrupted - and to fight back

With careful attention you can often see this happening before these disrupters gain the scale to actually challenge your business, and if you have developed the flexibility with changing environments suggested above, you may well be there before them!

While this sounds like applying to a major corporate strategy, it applies just as well to the individual. If you hear from industry or collegial sources about innovative opportunities, be the one that brings them to your management. Worst case, you will be accused of being too dedicated to your job.

Finally, and most importantly, be tolerant with your “slow to change” colleagues. While many will acknowledge their discomfort with change and need to be shepherded through the ever-moving environment, the most unfortunate are those who will profess to be leaders or change agents, but actually promote same-state or even past-state positions in practice.

Regardless of their forward-thinking slogans, these people are drowning in discomfort and confusion as they spend more and more resources bolstering past paradigms with nothing left over for change.

Like a smoking or drug addict, nothing you can say will change this attitude. They will only come to realise the inevitable requirement when the strategies they employ fail enough to open their eyes to the alternative. Depending on the position of the person, this could well include failure of the whole organisation.

You however, will survive this informational holocaust, and look down the road through your slightly opaque yet rose tinted spectacles, and murmur delightedly: “Oh look – more road-cones... here we go!”

Vaughan Robertson, Group Manager - Technology Strategy at Beca, is a futurist, technology evangelist and change junkie.

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Tags change managementtraininggen YmillennialsdisruptionAngry BirdsGen Xbecafuturistupskillingchange management. strategydigital nativesVaughan RobertsonBAUGen Zskills management

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