How I Learned to Love Fear at Home and in the Boardroom
A recent conversation with a CIO about a change his company was contemplating made me reflect on some of the parallels to recent changes in my own life. After spending my entire life in Houston Texas, my wife and I decided to move from the gulf coast to the mountains of Colorado. We spent some time in the area to make sure we liked it. Then we went all in, we sold our house in Houston, bought a house in Vail, packed everything up and moved.
Surprises at Every Turn
On May 23rd we arrived in Vail, and yes there was a snow storm. Wasn’t this the end of spring? This was the start of our education. Snow tires for the cars. Winter driving lessons. Learning to dress for the cold. No air conditioning in the summer. And what the heck is a boiler??? Yes in making the move there were plenty of things that we had to learn. Sometimes the hard way as an ice damn destroyed our back deck.
Despite all of those challenges, it was the most fulfilling change we had ever undertaken. We didn’t know every aspect of the change, but we had a goal and a plan for how to get there. In the end, the payoff was more than we could have imagined: personally, professionally and financially.
But it’s Different at Work
So back to my discussion with the CIO. His team made the decision that they needed to “move to the cloud”. Normally in working with groups on this type of move, I help them determine what does this mean for the organization? What does the end result of the journey look like? What is the roadmap to get there? However, this executive’s team felt that they needed to understand the implications for every application they used. So rather than identify what cloud meant to them and figuring out the best way to get there, they spent all of their time, attention and budget analyzing the changes needed in each and every application to move it from their data center to the cloud. Their fear that some unknown factor might come up and prevent one application from moving paralyzed them from making progress.
What was the result? The business continued on without them. Instead of IT bringing an amazing solution to the business, the business brought in new Software as a Service business partners and instructed IT to implement them. The Business began working with other vendors to build solutions for them in the cloud and transition them to IT when the project was done. So rather than having tools to take the organization in to the future, the CIO now had to figure out how to manage solutions from a dozen different vendors that he had no relationship or experience with. His team had been relegated from visionary and partner to order taker.
Making Peace with Fear
This IT organization let fear of the unknown paralyze them. This is a real challenge for any aspect of a business faced with a significant change or challenge. But there are some simple steps a single person or a global 100 company can take to escape this trap of fear.
Start by asking the right question
Many people point and say that the answer they came up with was wrong, but in fact it was the right answer to the wrong question. In this case the IT organization asked “what will it take to move all of our applications to the cloud?” That was a solution to a challenge, but not the one that the business was actually concerned about. The various business groups were concerned about getting solutions to their problems faster. So while IT looked to address the plumbing, the business moved on its own issues without IT.
Have a goal
It is important for any person or organization to know where they are trying to get to. Knowing what success, or “done”, looks like allows you to chart the course to get there. You don’t have to know every aspect of the journey. As you move forward you will find impediments and unknowns that need to be addressed. Sometimes what looked like the right solution last year, now becomes an obvious error.
Another important aspect of setting the initial goal is to also set boundaries to help guide the organization. Based on culture, industry or customers, there are some options that are not appropriate. Understand what these limits are up front and make sure that everyone is clear on what they are and why they are important.
Failure is an option, but only if you learn
In this rapid journey, there will be some missteps. Allow your team or yourself to make mistakes. The important thing is to align the organization to quickly learn from these mistakes, communicate the lessons and move on.
Changes in the market are driving decisions that have to be both faster and better. Effective executives and organizations need to change how they operate and embrace this new uncertainty instead of trying to control it. Providing team members with a vision and the power to participate in achieving the vision is crucial to corporate and personal success in the current economy.