Thursday, January 2, 2014

Adaptability and Initiative Capacity as Resources

Earlier I suggested a model for leaders to use to assess agility and nimbleness in their IT organizations. To create the IT organizations that contribute to our higher education organizations in a time of significant change, we need to be fast to react, implement, and change in our technical environments. As a CIO, I cannot just say "think faster" and "respond quicker" and "change faster."  I need to identify and build the resources to enable that sort of nimbleness.  I suggested these resources needed to be identified and enhanced:  time, human capital, funding, space, knowledge, sensitivity, initiative capacity, and adaptability.  Some resources are easier to understand, like funding and human capital.  Other resources, like adaptability and initiative capacity, are harder to assess and develop.

As an IT leader, have you ever encountered that staff member who was enamored and protective of an IT system that had outlived its usefulness?  I have encountered this several times in my career. The first was a highly talented employee who believed that all MVS terminals should be under his control, even when the automotive employer wanted to distribute controls to speed growth. Then there were the developers who believed in continuing with full system development, even after the university decided that unmodified package implementation was the preferred direction. There were other developers later who insisted that only mainframe technologies were worthwhile and client-server had no future. There were talented staff members who simply could not adapt to changing technology frontiers.

Also, there have been moments when I've approached a team about what should have been an exciting new project, only to be greeted by silence and heavy sighs.  Fortunately, this has been rare, but it is very difficult when a high functioning, highly talented team lacks enthusiasm for a new project.  It seems to happen most when the normal cycles of project start, peak, fade are lost in a swamp of never-ending work.  When teams are stuck in the Star Wars scene where the characters are just trying to get on top of the trash pile, another exciting new project is just one more thing on a pile of stuff that is over-whelming.

As the CIO, I need to make sure that I take actions to develop adaptability and initiative capacity in the organization.  How do I do that?

Encourage staff members to develop personally, so that their identity is not wrapped up in one system or project.  Don't allow staff members to become so personally identified with a system or project that they cannot let it go without suffering abandonment and personal identity issues.   Encourage staff members to develop a full career, with a variety of tasks and projects.  We cannot just assume they understand that a project on which they spent hundreds of hours and achieved personal accolades will fade and die some day.  We need to help our staff members see that trajectory, and reaffirm their career value and contribution even when a system is eventually discontinued.

Reward change acceptance, even if it is just acknowledgement during reviews or public presentations.  Provide greater acknowledgement to those who lead change efforts.  And reward staff members who close down older systems and environments.  Recognition cannot just go to the start-up of something new, but it also needs to go to those who take on the important work of closing down and letting go of the old.

Assess the capacity for a team to engage in a project.  They may not have the energy or enthusiasm for a really needed project.  Can you rework teams to provide fresh energy?  I find adding student employees, for whom a project is new, can reinvigorate a team that is growing weary.  Timing a project can be key; capacity for a new project may not be there in December, but the same group may welcome it in May if there's a slow down in day-to-day tasks.  Perhaps some effort needs to be put into clearing the deck and finishing some projects, then allowing for a bit of a gap to breathe and think, to create mental and energy capacity to engage in some new critical endeavor.  We build in a day to pause at the end of December, as an organization, and I'm looking for ways to bring pauses into the year.

As a CIO, it is important to recognize that you may have the people, the time, the money, and the knowledge to engage in a project, but still not have adaptable staff with the initiative capacity to take on the work.  We need to make sure we assess and develop those resources as well.