Elise Olding

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Elise Olding
Research Director
7 years at Gartner
32 years IT industry

Elise Olding is a Research Director covering the complex challenges of organizational change and business transformation from a people perspective. Her areas of focus include organizational change, communications strategies and emerging trends in employee engagement from a hands-on practitioner view. Ms. Olding provides research on a worldwide basis, advising clients on best practices to achieve sustainable change and business transformation. She is a member of Gartner's Business Process and Transformation team. Read Full Bio

Avoid Change Fatigue in Digital Business Transformation

by Elise Olding  |  July 23, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

Too much change. I hear it from clients and conference attendees. It’s causing change fatigue. Change fatigue is characterized by an inertia or paralysis in the organization that affects each individual’s ability to embrace the next set of changes. Digital business is all about change. Get good at dealing with constant change or perish.

One cause of change fatigue and the topic of this blog, is overusing “go- to” employees. You know who they are – when you get into a bind and the stakes are high to come up with a fix – their names are on the list. Maybe you are one of them. You get pulled in once things have gone bad and put into the tough position of fixing a mess you didn’t create.

How to get out of this bind? If you are leadership – put a plan together to develop the other 80% of your employees. You will need them for the long term and they will all have to contribute to the big change that digital business will bring. Put together mentoring programs, understand where skills may need augmenting and give them on the job training or classes. Let them fail and learn from their mistakes in lower risk scenarios. Start giving your go-to employees a break from fire-fighting or they will soon be in the change fatigue camp too.

If you are one of the go-to employees – don’t hoard your expertise. There is no room for heroes in digital business. Be a hero by sharing your insights and expertise and helping someone gain the needed skills, rather than doing it yourself. Don’t wait for a formal mentoring program, find an eager partner and pull them in. You will not only be doing them a favor, but also yourself, perhaps starting with some work/life balance.

And…to stem this particular problem all together, do things right the first time. Collect the best practices from employees and use the knowledge of your 20% to instill quality, not just firefight. They likely have a lot of insights so set up mechanisms to share. Start this practice and you will not only broaden the base of talented employees, but also not burn out your precious 20%. You need them and the other 80% for the long march to digital business.

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Category: BPM digitalization employee engagement Organizational Change     Tags: , , ,

One Sure Fire Way to Make A Change Effort Fail – Appoint a Change Agent Leader

by Elise Olding  |  July 15, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

It all starts innocently enough. Senior executives have formulated a new strategy, now they need to move that vision to the execution phase. It starts with appointing (aka coercing) an individual or group who will be the leader of the change, the “change agent.”  Nothing could be more detrimental to the success of the initiative.

A few examples:

  • A manufacturing company was dramatically reinventing the company to be able to respond to quicker to market changes and better align with changing customer demographics.  A group of executive leaders were appointed to lead the change. Several hundred employees were moved from their day jobs and assigned to the redesign teams. They diligently worked towards the vision and were making good progress, even implementing some major changes. The effort began to lose its luster during the second year. Change is tough and some of the changes underway were proving to be difficult. This was the time for the executive team to step in. Instead it was revealed that they were not really on board and had been required to support the effort, with part of their compensation dependent on this. After that, it all fell apart and the organization was left with a foot in both worlds, never to fully recover.
  • A financial services firm was examining back office spend and looking for ways to be more competitive, perhaps even be an outsourcer for its future state of the art back office functions to other agencies. After about six months of design work, which included engagement from all levels in the organization, the senior leader of the back office area admitted that he was not on board with the changes and could not support the implementation of the new design or organization.
  • A group of government agencies was engaged in creating a shared services organization to enable better scale across the agencies and provide more services for citizens. The deputy director sponsored the work being done by a competent executive who reported to him. When the elections came, the current party was replaced by the opposing party, who had very different political motivations. The deputy director promptly made a turn-around in his support for the effort.

Change only happens when the head, heart and emotions of those leading the change are genuinely bought in. I talk to many clients who are engaged in a program that is truly transformational however they are struggling to get the needed buy in from the executives who are “responsible” for the changes. This should be a big red flag. Change is hard and it can only be navigated by someone with belief, passion and tenacity. Monetary incentives, bonuses or other extrinsic rewards will not be sufficient to garner support when the going gets tough…and it will.

So, don’t make this fatal mistake, find a passionate change agent who goes into the program with their eyes wide open, can weather the ups and downs and will deliver the vision.

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Category: BPM Organizational Change     Tags: , , ,

Employee Adoption Starts with Leadership Empathy

by Elise Olding  |  May 27, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

Here’s the scenario…

The leadership team at R#*3P Enterprises has been locked in strategy meetings for months, creating a new vision and direction. There have been a lot of heated debates to get to the point of alignment. The direction for the enterprise transformation has been set. Now it’s time to share this with the rest of the employees, partners and suppliers.

A much anticipated email is crafted. It took the executive team several days to craft and hits everyone’s mail boxes on Monday morning. It lays out the imperative for the change: the competition is attracting customers and gaining market share. Its offering is far superior and much easier for its customers to access. It goes on to detail what the chosen direction is (a re-organization, revamp of legacy technology and outsourcing) and lists the executives responsible for the decision. The email closes with advice to “get ready to be part of the change” and “stay tuned for further information.”

By noon on Monday the R#*3P Enterprises is thrown into chaos. Rumors are rampant. When employees go to their supervisors for more information, they are greeted with blank stares and the familiar phrase “I’m sure we will know what we need to do and when we will need to do it.”

Back at the leadership team’s offices, they are perplexed. The imperative is clear and the direction for the future seems straightforward and necessary. Why don’t they trust our insights? What is causing this reaction? Why can’t the employees just get on board and support the direction?

The next time the leadership team assembles, they blame their organization for being “change adverse” and lacking the skills that will be needed in the future. Tactics are discussed to remove “dead wood” and hire the right people who will be ready for the changes.

Sound familiar? What the leadership team is missing is empathy – empathy for those not in the room making the decisions for the last several months. The leadership team has had plenty of time to understand the threat, discuss the options they can take and form a common direction. There were plenty of times when the direction was not clear and many of them were not on board. It took a lot of discussion and working through examples to align on the chosen direction.

What they missed is that their organization (and partners, suppliers) all need this same time to “adjust” to a new way of thinking. Unfortunately the leadership team at R#*3P don’t recognize this and continue to forge ahead. This transformation will be one of the 70% that fail.

If only the leadership team had allowed the time for employees, partners and suppliers to embrace the new ideas, make them their own and be part of how the implementation would happen. There are many proven techniques to introduce a transformation effort to an enterprise. The first step in the journey is to bring others on board – early. That starts with allowing them the same time to adjust, understand and embrace the changes that the leadership team granted themselves. A little empathy can go a long way.

What do you think? Any of this resonate?

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Category: BPM digitalization employee engagement Organizational Change     Tags: , ,

Can Government Change?

by Elise Olding  |  May 1, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

Whenever I am visiting government clients, a common theme emerges –  that it’s harder to make changes in the public sector vs. the private sector. That’s one myth I’d like to quell right now. I may have been open to believing that during my first year with Gartner, but now that I’ve been here almost 7 years the evidence points to that being more of a myth than reality. 

I have plenty of interactions with clients in private sector with virtually the same story! Maybe quite unbelievable, but the same sentiment has been relayed by leadership of high-tech companies (I will admit I was pretty shocked!). 

There seem to be some commonalities among government organizations that make them feel they are doomed to change aversion: 

1. Leadership has developed some really good “stories” about why they can’t help their organizations change. One pervasive story worldwide is that the government leadership changes every X years and that isn’t enough time to be able to lead changes in their organization. Another is that the changes are mandated and being done to them. There is a belief that the hierarchical command and control structures inhibit the ability to change. and since employees have been there for many years that they aren’t capable of change.

Want to bust through? Challenge your stories. Be really honest and pick them apart, are they true? The stories we tell ourself are powerful inhibitors to forward action. If we tell ourselves we aren’t good at something it can create a self-fulfilling prophesy. Many private sector companies would love to have a strategy set for four years!

2. Leadership loses sight of what they can control and what they can’t control, often with most of the energy and focus on what can’t be controlled. This tends to have a spiraling effect and after while it’s hard to make the distinction. It creates a mentality of helplessness.

Tape two circles on the wall of your cubicle/office. Title one “things I can’t control” and the other “things I can control.”  Control or influence – it doesn’t matter. Whenever you start to discuss a situation – immediately label it. If you can’t control or influence it, you might be wasting your precious cycles. Steer your time to things you can control and influence and chart some positive movement. 

3. A pervasive memory exists that remembers every past failure. The first answer to a possible solution is usually “we tried that once (eons ago) and it didn’t work.” There are also some very strong beliefs about what can work and a lot of pre-empting possible solutions.

Bust through by catching yourself when you begin to answer solutions in this manner. Think about what is different now and what can you learn from the last time?

The examples above above aren’t just limited to government, but they seem to be a recurrent pattern. 

What is always refreshing and reinforcing for me is that for every government agency I meet that holds the beliefs above, I meet two that are tackling change head on. I’m also seeing an interesting trend with successful private sector CIOs joining the public sector – in the UK and North America. I know it’s possible, let’s breakthrough the myths and turn the ship around.

 Who is on board? Can we help change government? Share your tips and best practices and let’s tackle this together. Follow me on Twitter


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Category: Communication employee engagement Gartner Organizational Change Uncategorized     Tags: , , ,

Change Resistance is a Myth!

by Elise Olding  |  April 9, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

Yes, that’s right! I believe change resistance is a myth. It’s an easy way for those leading change to blame the organization for not changing. I’m going to suggest that as a change agent, the buck stops with you. To be effective with “Big Change” you will need to be adept at influencing change and make this #BPMshift. If your organization isn’t changing – examine your tactics.

If you gave someone in your organization 10 years of salary, do you think they would change? When an employee gets married, has a baby or moves – do they change? Of course they do! We are confronted with changes all the time, and regularly adapt to embrace them. Research points to neuroplasticity well into our adult years. As human beings we are built for change and will change!

I’d like to assert that “change resistance” is the by-product of two things:

  • A lack of choice
  • A fear of the unknown

People aren’t resistant to change, they are afraid of the unknown and not having a choice. Play with these two levers in your organizational change activities and you can begin to crack the change code.

Choice:  In the examples above – getting married, moving, etc., these events involved some element of choice. (Well hopefully!) The individual is an active participant and makes choices about how things are done and when. Create points of engagement and inject the opportunity for those involved in the change to have input about how things will get done.

Fear of the Unknown: We fear what we don’t understand. It feels “safer” to stay in a place that is uncomfortable, than to move towards an unknown state. Increasing the certainty of what the end-state looks like can decrease this fear. It’s not necessary to get into all the details, but frame the journey from where people are today to where they will be tomorrow. Tell a story about what tomorrow will “feel” like as an employee.

Some Ways to Start

Do a Pilot: Rather than a big bang change, start small by doing a pilot. Initiate the pilot in an outlying group – outside of corporate or in another country. Once you have some successes, share these. The success stories can help to increase certainty that this change can really happen.

Make Participation Optional:
Don’t mandate change, invite employees to participate. This gives them a choice. Leverage the early adopters to “encourage” the laggards to get on board. Peer pressure is very persuasive as is competition – particularly in the ranks of business leaders. Use these liberally.

Paint a Picture of the Future:
Create a story about what work life will be like in the future. What will be the “employee experience” – that is, how will it feel to come to work, to accomplish outcomes, etc.?

What Changes from Today:
Create a “From/To” diagram. What are the five defining attributes of how things works today and what are five defining attributes of how they will work in the future. This helps frame the change journey, again giving more certainty about the future. It also gives enables employees to assess where they are in relation to each change pair and create an action plan for them to make the changes.

These are just a few of my ideas and future research will cover some of these topics in more detail. What are your tactics? What #BPMshift will be needed to enable our organizations to deal with the increased pace of change? Please share!

Follow me on Twitter @eliseolding

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Category: BPM employee engagement Gartner Organizational Change     Tags: , , ,

Introducing BPM Shift – BPM is Dead, Long Live Big Change!

by Elise Olding  |  April 2, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

At Gartner we believe that BPM practices as we know them won’t cut it in the future. Tinkering for efficiency has run its course. Digitalization and the Internet of Things (IoT) are just a few of the disruptions that will require RADICALLY rethinking work. Companies that didn’t exist 10 years ago have massive market capitalization. The pace of change is increasing and our BPM practices aren’t evolving at the same pace. We must jump the chasm or perish. We need a shift. At Gartner we call this “BPM Shift” and it is part of our emerging Business Transformation agenda entitled “Big Change.”

Our working definition is:

  • Big Change involves significantly altering ongoing operations in a high risk environment characterized by elevated volatility, ambiguity, disparity/diversity and novelty/scope.

What are some concepts that will frame the shift? Here are some of my thoughts:

  • There is no longer a front and back office – all of your enterprise is the front office
  • Every employee is customer facing
  • Hierarchy will fall to the wayside – emerging organizational structures like holocracy will replace traditional org structures
  • Our view of end-to-end processes will be obliterated – order to cash will not exist
  • Behavioral analysis will replace process analysis

Your Turn – Calling for Participation

Today we are launching via Twitter and our Gartner BPM LinkedIn Group an open brainstorming invitation. What #bigshift do you envision? What are your thoughts?

To participate on Twitter – use the hashtag #BPMShift 
To participate on our LinkedIn group click here or find “Gartner Business Process Management (XChange) under Groups. (OK, and yes, the name does need to change!)
Please also comment via this blog.

Let’s invent! We want to hear your radical ideas and scathing comments!

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Category: BPM digitalization employee engagement Organizational Change process improvement     Tags: , , ,

Distractions: The Next Stop for BPM

by Elise Olding  |  December 10, 2013  |  Submit a Comment

For decades process improvement has focused on efficiency. The thing about efficiency is it is finite. What’s next? I think identifying and removing distractions.

In a digital world, the process model is dead and will inhibit capitalizing on “business moments.” Gartner describes these as “competition that appears from nowhere, disrupts, disappears, or transforms.” A focus on increasing creativity, harnessing innovation and capturing business moments will require a different approach.

Might we be spending more time at work being distracted from what we need to do than actually accomplishing what we set out to do? Even if distractions erode 20% of a workday, this comes up to a lot of brain power left on the table. Jackie Fenn and I completed a Gartner Maverick Research project. Some interesting research we found suggests that in general, we focus on a task for three minutes before being distracted. It then takes more than 20 minutes to get back to that task. (Gartner clients see Maverick* Research: Living and Leading in the Brain-Aware Enterprise )

This will definitely require rethinking BPM techniques. A process model won’t identify distractions. A forward thinking healthcare provider used co-creation and observation (e.g. following people around) to understand what happens when nurses distribute medication. Nurses were interrupted many, many times on their way to distribute medicine to a patient. Sometimes this resulted in giving the wrong medication to a patient. Working with the nurses to brainstorm solutions, a “do not disturb vest” was identified as the solution. The nurses now don the vest when distributing medications.

We need a “do not disturb” mode for many activities in our daily work – from making strategic decisions to solving a customer problem. A number of organizations are starting groundswell movements to help focus and let other employees understand what a co-worker is trying to accomplish during the day. This can help mitigate interruptions. What can you do?  Some ideas:

  • Stop accepting a solution and doggedly seek the root cause. Do not just automate paper intensive work without challenging why it’s needed. Challenge if standardization is what is needed – is the process brittle or adaptable? Is the process broken because those doing it can’t focus on getting the work done because they are being constantly interrupted?
  • Get outside the process model – literally. Go and hang out with the employees in the area you are tackling. If you are helping to redesign sales, go on sales visits, help input information and do administrative paperwork. Observe how many times a salesperson is pulled in multiple directions and distracted away from what they were trying to do? What errors occur from these distractions? What useful information is not recorded or lost because of limited time? Assess how many distractions are interfering with optimal performance and ask the salesperson what are the distractions. How much time is an employee spending “doing their job” vs. time addressing email, IM interruptions, etc.
  • Don’t try to “fix” things until you have a good understanding of the bigger picture. (I’m not saying don’t make things better, but don’t make something that’s useless easier to do!) Look at the other factors that may invisibly influence how the work is done – the wrong metrics, lack of accountability, fractured decision making, etc. Align the work that is being done with the outcomes.
  • Can work processes be redesigned to let others know that an employee is focused on a task and should not be disturbed?

Your thoughts? Anyone looking into this now and want to share?

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Category: BPM Gartner Organizational Change     Tags: ,

Is Using Jargon Hindering Your Communication?

by Elise Olding  |  November 21, 2013  |  1 Comment

A big barrier to communication is using language that you are familiar with but may not mean anything to your intended audience. It’s easy to fall into this trap, whether it’s the dreaded TLA’s (three letter acronyms) or technical IT terminology. Whatever the source, it makes for a one-directional conversation and often one that ultimately causes the receivers to shut down and tune out. It makes communications complicated, can leave the receiver feeling foolish because they don’t understand and may be afraid to ask for clarification. All this leads to a “threat” response – not at all the purpose of communication.

A client called today to discuss how to move a business transformation forward. They were challenged with reaching their stakeholders and getting adoption. Given it was a technical implementation it was loaded with jargon and acronyms.  There was a big “AHA” here – on both our parts! Sometimes for me it takes an interaction to realize there is a nugget of value in there, so thought I would share.

So what can you do?  Here are a few tips:

  1.  Jargon check your communication. Look for acronyms and technical language that you may be comfortable with, but your receiver may not. Try it out on someone you trust who will give you feedback.
  2. Step back.  Rather than telling your recipient about what you are going to do, start the conversation with what are their challenges? Create a conversation hook from the start. Let them lead and answer their questions.
  3. Frame your conversation from the business outcome perspective.  How can what you will be doing help them achieve their goals and address their challenges? And…do you even know what those challenges are?

And…the definition of jargon is “gobbledygook” and “nonsense” – so it merits taking time to either remove it or get your concept across in plain, understandable language.

What other tips do you have? How do you “jargon check” your communications? Love to hear from you.


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Category: Communication employee engagement Gartner Organizational Change     Tags:

Brain Awareness Will Be Essential to the Enterprise of the Future

by Elise Olding  |  October 3, 2013  |  Submit a Comment

Would you be OK with your neurologist surfing the Internet and responding to email while doing surgery on your brain? So why is that behavior the norm in important executive meetings that determine the future of a company?

Beliefs about how we work, and when we work, are being shattered by cognitive neuroscience research. Enterprises that understand the limits and needs of the most valuable and underutilized asset in their organizations — the brain power of employees — will capture a competitive advantage. Profits will follow. The brain-aware enterprise will structure work, configure office space and take into account the holistic needs of employees. It will recognize the many factors that cause unwarranted stress in the organization, decrease cognitive functioning and reduce employee performance.

The path toward a brain-aware enterprise has started with sessions at The World Economic Forum at Davos, and through initiatives at organizations such as Intel, Google, Facebook and NASA that will soon spread to other organizations around the globe.

This Gartner Maverick research was conducted by Jackie Fenn and me. It takes a peek into the future of a company that has based its culture and leadership around brain awareness. It then examines the underlying principles behind leading with the brain in mind, and identifies the opportunities and challenges of creating a brain-aware organization. These are organized into five key principles that will guide the development of brain-aware enterprises:

1. Brain state can be manipulated directly to optimize performance.

· The first step in developing a brain-aware enterprise is to acknowledge that the brain is something that can be actively observed and deliberately influenced. Practices like mindfulness are being practiced at leading organizations such as Google and Intel.

2. Knowing how to categorize brain states is essential to self-regulation.

· In enterprise settings, managers are always (and usually unknowingly) creating threats for their employees, and are experiencing threats as leaders. A key element of self-awareness is having the language to describe one’s own mental and emotional states, and to recognize (and influence) them in others.

3. Brainpower is a limited resource, and requires planning and scheduling.

· The human brain consumes a massive amount of our energy for its size, and tires easily. Structuring one’s day to take advantage of the two to three hours of quality cognitive power, where distractions are limited, is key to optimal performance in the brain-aware enterprise. This will require personal discipline and cultural change.

4. Peak brain performance demands mental, social and physical well-being.

· Brain-aware enterprises are realizing the importance of developing the “3D employee” by focusing on mental, social and physical well-being. The studies that show the relationship of the brain to exercise, sleep, nutrition and social interaction are a growing body of research, and create a compelling case to look beyond just an employee’s job performance. Brain-aware enterprises will look to strengthen social connections between employees, the enterprise and social responsibility. Napping at work will be in vogue: studies have shown that a short nap can reduce errors, and have a refreshing effect that can last a number of hours.

5. Building new neural pathways is essential for long-term change.

· Even when we embrace the principles of a brain-aware lifestyle and workplace, it is extremely challenging to make the long-term behavioral changes required to shift a culture. Leaders need to very consciously go “out of pattern” — even when old management styles are suboptimal, people tend to revert to long-established habits of leading and communicating. The easiest way to avoid old habits is to create new ones, and to reinforce them regularly. As techniques to analyze — and to even influence —brain states evolve further, technology will become an increasingly powerful way for enterprises to drive and to support critical behavioral change and performance enhancement.

Leading enterprises are already beginning to capitalize on this trend and we believe: By 2020, 50% of the highest-performing leaders and employees will routinely monitor and modify their own mental state to optimize their effectiveness.

The fact is that people can really work smarter, rather than harder. The brain-aware enterprise will adopt these techniques and reap the profits.

If you are a Gartner client read our research here. Jackie and I will be glad to discuss with you further.

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Category: employee engagement Gartner neuroscience Organizational Change Uncategorized     Tags: , , ,

Move to the “3D Employee” and Embrace Well-being

by Elise Olding  |  June 26, 2013  |  1 Comment

There’s an abundance of chatter these days about employee engagement. It has become the “fix” for many of the ills identified in our workplaces. I would propose that this view represents only part of what is really needed. The “3D employee” needs mental, physical and social well-being. This goes beyond having clear objectives and being acknowledged for a job well done. We’ve got to expand the engagement playing field and embrace holistic well-being to fuel creativity and productivity.

The 3D employee gets enough sleep, exercise, optimum nutrition and time for play. At work, the 3D employee needs time to singularly focus on assignments without distractions. The research on multi-tasking is compelling yet we continue to pile yet more work on our employees and wonder why productivity suffers.

David Rock lays out an interesting concept called the “Healthy Mind Platter” that includes seven ingredients for optimum brain functioning. Rock states “We’re entering an era of an epidemic of overwhelm. A time when too many people’s mental well-being is being stretched through multi-tasking, fragmented attention and information overload.”  I think we can all relate to this.

One CIO I recently talked with bought FitBits for her team. They get out for at least two 15 minute walks each day. Some meetings have evolved into “moving meetings.” The team loves this. Again, the emerging research is certainly supporting taking exercise breaks and changing the scene from monotone conference rooms to spur creativity.

Stay tuned as a number of us at Gartner explore these topics in our upcoming Maverick research. Jackie Fenn and I are working on “Living and Leading in the Brain Aware Enterprise.” Carol Rozwell and Deb Logan are doing complementary research on socially centered leadership. See Carol’s blog for more. We will be publishing research of our findings in September and conduct workshops at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo events in October and November.

Comments?  Any 3D employee experiences you want to share?  What would you like to see added to your workday to support well-being? Comment on the blog or answer via Twitter @eliseolding

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Category: BPM employee engagement engagification Gartner Organizational Change     Tags: , , , , ,