Building winning coalitions amid an atmosphere of extreme urgency

You often read articles on what a leader needs to do in their first 90 days, but what do you do when you land and the reality is you have to act with immediacy? This is exactly where I found myself on one recent assignment.

The situation was this: a global software business was in the middle of a complex M&A integration. What was unusual and challenging was that the acquiring business accounted for only a third of the enlarged business. The level of change was truly extraordinary with integration, value creation and growth initiatives creating a complex landscape – however the business did not have a change capability or an IT function capable of supporting or delivering.

Compressing what I normally take 60 to 90 days to complete, I had to quickly and accurately determine functional capability, create both an operational and finance baseline and determine the strengths and gaps within my global team so I could build a plan to transform and deliver.

In building the plan a number of significant challenges were identified. These included an IT Operating Model that was not able to support the business, significant Cyber Risk that needed immediate focus, a Transitional Services Agreement (TSA) section for IT that needed to be renegotiated, an associated budget for IT Integration that needed additional funding, and a Change Management capability that needed to be created!

How did we build a strong and constructive sense of urgency that drove across the business?

Let us again turn to the wisdom of the Harvard business professor John Kotter, who in his book Leading Change advised that:

  1. Successful transformation is 70-90% leadership and only 10-30% management.
  2. Leadership involves taking risks, trying new things, and being willing to fail and learn and try again. The problem is that at a distance this often looks like you are indecisive or continually changing your mind.
  3. “Major internal transformation rarely happens unless many people assist.” People must understand the landing point, the journey and most importantly what changes for them, in order to be part of a winning coalition.
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That is the big picture. Here is how we put it into practice:

  • Given the complexity of change, it was essential that my leadership team guided people through it well – through a sense of urgency; through vision, strategy and communication; through empowerment and culture. We pushed leaders to be their very best.
  • As executives we constantly emphasise “a team approach” – but this conflicted with the hierarchical reality of the business, which meant we needed to actively develop an open culture that enabled people to ask questions. It was essential for our teams to understand the rationale behind some of the decisions that were driven by the hierarchical reality.
  • The strong sense of urgency needed to be tempered by messaging that enabled the coalition to be effective. We took time to explain and to ensure understanding. Enabling the team to sprint safely created trust and allowed for common goals to form through a sense of developed ownership.
  • We fostered the levels of trust required through actions and open communications that empowered people, from the leadership layers on down, to build a coalition that transcended the layers of the organization.
  • We set realistic goals that enabled people to experience benefits. The sooner teams experience the positives the sooner they become coalitions of the willing that drive the internal momentum required to complete the journey.
  • To validate my plan and bring focus to the actions needed over the next six months, I took part in a one-day CIO Transition Lab ran by Deloitte. While I am not the first to turn to Tier 1 consulting firms, the Transition Lab and a blind Cyber event they performed delivered significant value and allowed me to challenge my own thinking.
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This process enabled people affected by the change to become advocates for the change. Now they understood the how, the why and the benefit. As I visited my teams in Hyderabad, India and Lake Forest, California the level of enthusiasm for the change was visible though the performance of these teams.

At a personal level it is gratifying to see these projects work, to help realise a transformation and in so doing earn the respect of knowledgeable people. As one of my colleagues said after the above transformation: “Shaun is an extremely smart and knowledgeable global leader who understands technology and the digital landscape. I found his view for IT most refreshing as he sees IT as business enabler and value lever. Shaun managed to accelerate integration of the software businesses while managing day-to-day IT run. Shaun is one of most impactful IT leaders that I have seen in years.”

Shaun Taylor

Executive Interim – Chief Transformation Officer & Chief Information Officer

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