The Art of People-People, and the Power of ‘Why’Paige Francis | Associate Chief Information Officer, University of Arkansas
“I have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can’t you understand that?” shouted Tom Smykowski in the movie Office Space. As hilarious and unnecessary as that position appeared to be, imagine where we would be today without most key staff armed with the ability to form deep, reciprocal relationships in the workplace. When asked about the most significant roadblocks that may rear their heads amid major IT change, I say it begins and ends with communication and engagement.
At my last institution, we were in the market for an implementation and integration partner to help us roll out a new ERP system. Not unlike when asked spicy or mild at a Mexican restaurant as they dole out salsa, we were given two basic choices. Two flavors. Did we prefer a partner who would focus on change management or a partner whose primary goal is escalated completion? Obviously the first option would take more time, be more deliberate and thoughtful in the execution, dedicate time to expanding on the “why” and communicating continuously for optimum campus engagement. The second option was literally sold as fastest start-to-finish. We’ll have you up and running in no time flat. It felt like a trick question—who wants it simply done the fastest? Is that still a thing?
I can attest after several interviews with institutions that had selected one of the two vendors, there was a shocking number of customers who said “THAT ONE!” to the git’r done provider. Naturally, me being me, I inquired further.
After deeper conversations, in all instances, the institutions that went for speed over care were in a position hovering somewhere between failed execution and early stages of re-implementation.
The price tags for both options were not significantly different.
Why in the world would anyone choose faster over seemingly stronger? My guess? Because that’s the way it has always been done. Historically, significant change is reactionary, especially in higher ed. We get angry and frustrated with current processes and want improvement immediately. In addition, old-school technology’s target was completion, not the user experience. At all. So, if you have, let’s call it “vintage” IT alongside similar style leadership, awards are given for the short-term win—the quickest implementation—while eyes are rolled at having to talk about actually getting there.
Specific roadblocks to watch for:
1. Forgetting or ignoring the “why”
It’s important to remember that the success of a project often aligns with the consumers’ excitement and eventual adoption of the new thing. Without crafting the why message beforehand, projects often flounder playing catch up and, as we all know, you can’t un-ring a bell. If the first impression is change for the sake of change, it typically sticks, and garnering engagement remains an uphill battle throughout.
2. Scope creep
Define up front what will be accomplished. My recommendation always? Vanilla. Out of the box. As close to basic as it can be. Agile implementation. New ideas and possibilities will pop up every day but they absolutely cannot be added to the active project scope or deadline will never be met. When in doubt, phase two it out.
3. Ignoring the importance of change management
Managing the change is imperative. As leaders, you traditionally get one opportunity to set the stage and tone. You need to communicate where the current solution is, what the pain points are, why we are moving, how we are going to get there and what resources will be available to ensure a seamless transition. And it’s never one-and-done. This is continuous and repetitive.
Each of the above roadblocks are easily avoided—with communication and engagement.
Unlike the very uniquely-skilled Tom Smykowski in Office Space, the ability to be able to “deal with people” is a very basic requirement in today’s business world, regardless of industry and especially in the IT realm. The feeds and speeds folks and programmatic “cave dwellers” are nearly an endangered species as tech work now assumes the ability to effectively engage any size audience in the period of transformation. It’s no longer unique; it’s quite integral to possess the ability to engage the crowd in addition to doing the tech work.
This need for soft skills exemplifies not only the changing face of IT leadership but also clearly demonstrates the impact technology has on business and vice-versa. Historically disparate industries continue to move in a more symbiotic direction and it’s important to ensure the “why” is communicated throughout. Smooth change mandates it. The ol’ act now apologize later mantra isn’t quite as enviable as it once was.
Author Perspective: Administrator