By Susan Paul
I recently saw a quote by Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and it rang true, both personally and for the IT initiatives I see in many organizations. On the personal front, for several Januarys in a row, I set a goal to lose weight and exercise regularly. The first week, I was gung ho and doing great. A few weeks later, I found myself falling back on old habits. After a few years of this, I decided that my goal was right, but my approach hadn’t cleared the obstacles that kept tripping me up. I was undermining myself and had to figure out a way to modify my own behavior. I did, and met my goal.
Loosely, I equate the goal to a personal strategy and my old habits as culture. I had the right intentions when I set my strategy, but I needed to change my personal accountability and culture to succeed.
Most organizations have accountability as a core tenet of strategy. It is often expressed in slogans, such as Conseco’s “Step up,” or Pepsi’s “Performance with Purpose.” Implicit in those slogans are strategies that keep the organization accountable to customers. The challenge is to drive strategy from the abstract and bring it to the everyday so that each of us takes personal accountability.
It is at this intersection that culture often gets in the way. People say, “it isn’t done that way here,” or “once a project is funded, it won’t die unless new management comes in and kills it,” or just unspoken passive resistance. Strategies are developed by executive leadership and then cascaded through an organization with projects and processes to make them actionable.
Factoring in what works in a culture is a critical to developing strategy. Any change is slow and the more it affects an entrenched culture, the more difficult it is.
Technology projects inherently introduce change. How well that happens impacts both the perceived success of technology projects and how an organization thinks of and interacts with IT.
Where does the need for change come from? At the highest level, a business strategy drives the need for new business capabilities, some of which have a technology component. The technology plan is created; the code is written, tested, and put into production. IT may consider accountability completed at that point. To a degree, they would be correct. However, until the identified business capability is a reality and producing the impact the business was looking for, there will be no success.
Without the business impact, the technology was a wasted investment. All too often the finger gets pointed back at IT.
Where was the disconnect? The strategy may have been right, the plan and the technology, also right. But everyone assumed the technology would bring about a particular change in behavior and it did not. An example is custom relationship management (CRM) systems, often implemented to get a sales team following sales best practices. In the handful I’ve seen as sales management, CRM is a stick, not a carrot, to give management visibility into sales activity.
When the investment doesn’t produce the desired results, it becomes the system’s fault.
What’s missing is the plan for changing the culture—people, organization structure, processes, and accountabilities. IT is not a group prone to those types of conversations. The technology itself is neutral. It can facilitate a process, but resistance comes from people using it differently than anticipated or not using it at all. Technology is undermined when the data is bad, used incorrectly, or not used at all.
Avoiding these traps requires that you review technology initiatives to assess whether you are taking the necessary steps to allow the business strategy expressed through the technology change to succeed. The best practices are known. Take accountability for helping drive the overall effort and do not let culture undermine your IT success. SW
Susan Paul is a VP at Pariveda Solutions, Inc., a consulting firm delivering strategic services and technology solutions. Pariveda provides services around developing IT roadmaps and business systems planning. Visit www.parivedasolutions.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org, 214-777-4653, for more information.
Jul2014, Software Magazine