Mark McDonald

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Mark P. McDonald
GVP EXP
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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30 Rock Finale shows that it is hard to end on a high note, perhaps it is better just to move on.

by Mark P. McDonald  |  February 4, 2013  |  Comments Off

Last week I missed the series finale of 30 Rock due to bad weather delaying my flight by a few hours.  Good thing for HULU.  After watching the episode it became clear – wrapping up anything of any size or duration is difficult.  I will not review the final episode, which lacked originality, but use it to make a point.  When its time to stop something then it is best just to stop.

We do this in IT all the time.  IT projects that slow down to a crawl and eventually fade away rather than facing a hard stop.   We all make commitments to each other that we hope to accomplish but somehow get pushed to the bottom and then off our to do list.  Relationships change.  Priorities change. Strategies change and yet we often keep doing the same things, going through the same motions not just out of habit but also out of a lack of defining moment when the past is the past and today is different.

The inability to really stop something is all around us, despite claims of executives to take away two things for very one thing they add.  IT is responsible for tending to many of the duplicate systems, reports, information and processes so perhaps we see and feel this more than others.  When we do try to end things, clean up, consolidate we often get the big fish in the pond, but leave the hundreds of smaller things in limbo or classified as long tail.

Techniques to really end something vary with many practiced by me or on me in the past.  The idea of a ‘Viking funeral’ where you gather up the past project notes, manuals, etc. into a garbage can and symbolically dispose of them is a technique a number of teams used.  One project rented a little boat and set these materials aflame in the corporate reflecting pool.  They won’t do that again after the fire department came.

Past techniques to eliminate the past have mixed results. Reorganizations, budgeting changes that feed  the future and starve the past; proclamations and eliminations are other techniques all of which has ended about as well as the final episode of 30 Rock.  The show itself reflects this ongoing limbo, even when it was alive it was showing as re-runs.

Sometime its just time to stop…                                                      and start again.

This idea is critical for IT if it is to make the transition from a business function to a Technology organization that drives growth.  IT currently carries excess baggage from the past, with the noble title of legacy.  IT will need to shed much of that legacy rather than allow it to linger and live in limbo if it is to move forward.  Losing the past not only liberates resources, but also gives everyone permission to think differently, to act differently, to get out of the type casting of IT and to cloth themselves in the future.

CIOs, IT professionals, managers and executives all have a tough time stopping something for reasons ranging from everything between the financial – tough to change budgets, to the psychological – its become part of who I am.   Recognizing that its hard to stop is natural and the first part of stopping.  Here are a few other thoughts:

Reflect on the thing being stopped before it is put to rest.  I guess that was part of the psychology of the ‘Viking’ funeral that creates an event that people talk about more than a change in what people do.  In this case use reflective reciprocity to honor past practices, allow people to remember the good, bad and the need to move on.

Rather than create a vacuum, whenever you stop something, immediately replace it with something else.  Then back up the replacement with relentless reporting, communications and questions.  Make it the center of attention rather than what came before.

Turn the spotlight and transparency toward the future.  More than just reporting under new metrics, demonstrate genuine interest in the goals, their achievement and change. Leverage the old adage, ‘what interests my boss, fascinates me’ by making the future hyper visible to executives and hyper interesting by executives.  If executives do not forcefully focus on the future, then how can everyone else.

Corporations live on actions not communications so get to work in the future and be the future.  This is a message to executives. I have seen too many situations where executives act like Louis XIV and assume that the future is here with a wave of their hand, the wafting of an email, or change in the budget.   Living in the future requires everyone to act not simply declare it and assume that it is so.

Change is not a process of grieving and leaving the past.  To assume it is, makes an organization rigid and turgid as people cannot move forward until they have taken the seven steps.  Assuming so means that you think less of your people.  Most change cycles trivialize change by assuming it’s the same as the stages of grief and ignoring that they are different things. It is a view generates consulting revenue and sells books more than changing lives. Sure change is hard, but deploying change gimmicks trivializes the transformation rather than recognizes its reality.

If you are making a break from the past, then really break the past.  Bust it up! Burn bridges, rip out old equipment, remove old systems, retrain people and stop rewarding them for continuity and consistency.  Allowing the legacy to linger only creates confusion, sends conflicting signals and supports continuation of the past.  Don’t migrate to the future, transition to it.

IT needs to change else it risks being trapped in digital amber tending the systems and processes no one else wants to do.  The last episode of 30 Rock, Seinfeld and other TV shows show how not to end something in show business.  We cannot replicate that in real business and hope to create value for customers, the company and most importantly ourselves.

What do you think?

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Category: 2013 Change on the cheap Leadership Management     Tags: , ,